Sheep Breeding Considerations for a Successful Lamb Crop 

sheep breeding

Lambing time comes with much anticipation. Sheep producers get to witness the fruits of their labors and see how their mating decisions panned out as they work to create the next “great one.” However, that labor of love starts at least five months earlier as producers prepare for another exciting season: breeding.  

Sheep breeding continues to evolve as reproductive technologies in the sheep business continue to advance and become more common. However, the nuts and bolts of a successful breeding season come down to having reproductively sound ewes and rams that are in a good plane of nutrition. 

That’s why DuraFerm created this blog: to help you achieve success during sheep breeding. 

Getting Ewes Ready for Breeding 

Preparing ewes for breeding involves several important steps to ensure their reproductive health, fertility, and overall well-being.

Here are some key considerations:

Nutrition Management 

Provide a balanced and nutrient-dense diet to support ewes’ reproductive health and fertility. Ensure that ewes receive adequate levels of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals, particularly during the pre-breeding and breeding seasons. Adjust feeding practices based on the nutritional requirements of breeding ewes, including body condition scoring and optimizing body condition for breeding. 

One way to ensure your ewes are getting the vitamins and minerals they need is with a vitamin and mineral supplement from DuraFerm®. DuraFerm is a line of nutritional supplements for small ruminants that supports optimal digestion and nutrition for maximized performance at every stage of production. That means DuraFerm offers solutions for weight gain, general health and sheep and goat breeding

Three formulas are available to fit any management scenario or time of year:

DuraFerm® Sheep Concept•Aid® 

DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid is a free-choice vitamin and mineral supplement for sheep designed to support reproductive success. It contains AO-Biotics® Amaferm®, a prebiotic research-proven to enhance digestibility and high levels of vitamin E for reproductive tract repair. DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid supports embryo production and conception using organic trace minerals. 

DuraFerm® Sheep Concept•Aid® HEAT® 

DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid HEAT is a free-choice vitamin and mineral supplement for sheep designed to support reproductive success when temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to Amaferm, it contains HEAT technology, a combination of essential oils and garlic, to support animals when heat and insects are a challenge. It supports embryo production and conception using organic trace minerals and high levels of vitamin E. 

DuraFerm® Sheep Concept•Aid® Protein Tub 

DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid Protein Tub is a protein tub with vitamins and minerals for sheep designed to support reproductive success. In addition to Amaferm, it contains the Concept•Aid sheep mineral package in a 16% natural protein tub and supports embryo production and conception using organic trace minerals and high levels of vitamin E. 

Body Condition Scoring 

Monitor the body condition of ewes and maintain them at an appropriate body condition score (BCS) for breeding. Sheep have a BCS that ranges between 1 and 5, with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being obese. Ewes should be in good body condition, ranging between 2.5 and 3.5, neither too thin nor overweight, to optimize fertility and reproductive performance. Adjust feeding and management practices as needed to achieve and maintain the desired body condition. 

Health Management 

Conduct pre-breeding health assessments and vaccinations to ensure that ewes are in good health and free from any underlying health issues that could impact breeding success. Discuss any health concerns or conditions, such as parasitic infestations, metabolic disorders, or infectious diseases with your veterinarian. 

Reproductive Soundness 

Assess the reproductive soundness of ewes, including estrus cycle monitoring and breeding history. Monitor the onset and duration of estrus (heat) cycles, detect signs of heat and use breeding management techniques to optimize breeding timing and success rates. 

While planning your breeding timing and management, don’t forget to check out our DuraFerm Sheep Gestation Calculator. Based on 145-day gestation length, this calculator is a great resource for determining lambing dates based on breeding dates. 

Environmental Management 

Provide a suitable breeding environment for ewes, including clean and comfortable housing facilities, adequate space, ventilation and protection from extreme weather conditions. Minimize stressors and disturbances during the breeding season to promote reproductive health and well-being. 

Getting the Ram Ready for Breeding 

Typically, when it comes to sheep breeding, we focus on the females. However, rams have a big job, too. After all, they contribute 50% of their genetics to the lamb crop and have multiple ewes to service. 

Let’s focus on how to get your rams ready for breeding season.  

Breeding Soundness Exams  

Between 2-3 weeks before you plan to turn out your rams, it is advisable to conduct a breeding soundness exam (BSE) with your veterinarian.  

The BSE evaluates two important components of your breeding rams. First it will evaluate the structural soundness. Your rams must be sound on their feet and legs so they can physically walk to and mount the ewes does. They must have healthy feet and hooves. They should have good vision and be free of wool blindness. 

The second part of the BSE is a reproductive and semen check. The veterinarian should check the scrotal health of your ram and also collect a semen sample to evaluate. Scrotal circumference is also a good indicator of fertility. A younger ram should have a scrotal circumference of at least 30 cm, and rams over 18 months should have a circumference of at least 35 cm.  

Additionally, the veterinarian should make sure the penis is not broken or bruised. This is also a good time to tell the veterinarian if the ram has experienced a fever or any sickness, as both of these can have an impact on fertility. 

Nutrition & BCS 

It is important to ensure your ram’s nutritional plane increases prior to turnout. He should be about a BCS 3.5 before being put with Ewes. Remember he will be working extra hard during breeding and burning more than the usual amount of calories. 

DuraFerm Impacts Rams, Too 

We mentioned the DuraFerm mineral line when we discussed getting your ewes prepared for breeding, but it is ideal for the rams, too. The supplement adds extra vitamins and minerals for both females and males.  

Craig Beckmier from central Illinois shares his results with what he experienced with DuraFerm in his sheep breeding program: 

“We knew we needed to get our flock on a better nutrition program, so we went back to the DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid. We increased our conception rates in our ewes, with more live lambs. Our buck fertility was better, too.” 

Final Words of Advice 

Yes, it is exciting to see that new lamb crop hit the ground, but it is just as exciting to make those mating decisions and see your rams out in their element. Make sure your flock is ready when it comes to breeding season so you can experience an exciting lambing time. 

Reach out to your veterinarian for any local advice on reproductive soundness or the overall well-being of your flock. There is no substitute for a trained medical practitioner to give you advice on your flock. 

Get your DuraFerm Today 

Do you want to get your flock into ideal breeding shape with DuraFerm Sheep products powered by AO-Biotics Amaferm? You can! DuraFerm is available through the extensive BioZyme dealer network. Locate a dealer near you today. 

Don’t forget to refer to our DuraFerm Sheep Gestation Calculator. This interactive guide will help you plan your matings. 

You can also learn more about DuraFerm from our educational blog series or by signing up for our newsletter.  

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