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Age to breed ewes.


roseviewfarm
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I have recently purchased a 3 y/o St.Croix ram. I have 5 st croix ewe lambs and a katahdin/st crois ewe lamb cross that I will be getting in June. (they were born in February). I am looking for opinions based on experience whether to let the lambs breed in late fall or wait until they are a year old. One thought was that wait until they are one, so if they have multiples they are big enough to handle it. The other was that they would most likely single if bred as yearlings (tho I doubt that is a given). Any insights would be appreiated. Thanks

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I generally wait until my ewe lambs are at least a year old before breeding them. I just think it's better for them to be physically mature themselves before asking them to grow a lamb (or lambs) inside.

 

I don't think you'll get a definitive answer one way or the other. If I wanted lambs as soon as possible out of this year's spring lambs and my sheep happened to be a breed that will breed out of season, then I'd breed them next spring for fall lambs. I'm not against breeding a lamb that's close to a year old, but I wouldn't follow the practice of breeding them so that they lamb when they are a year old (i.e., breeding them at 7 months). But that's just my personal decision.

 

J,

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My personal opinion is that overall growth of the ewe suffers if you bred at 7 months for lambing at 1 year; We generally wait until they are about 14-18 months. However, if you are in a position to feed a lot more, you can breed ewe lambs at 6-7 months.

 

We did have 2 of our replacement ewe lambs stay a little too long with the ram lambs...A little set of twins and a single; both of whom are quite small, however we weren't feeding grain over the winter, just hay.

 

Cynthia

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Not sheep but we used to breed our dairy goat doelings at about seven months (or so) to kid at close to one year of age. No problems (although I do think dairy goats may give birth relatively easily because their babies tend to be a bit narrower and more slick). And our animals were very well fed, although not fed to be fat, so they grew well - and they were from good-sized parentage.

 

I know people who adamantly won't breed a young ewe to lamb until two years of age (worries about being physically mature as well as worries about carrying a big single that could pose lambing problems) - and people who breed young ewes of the same bloodlines to lamb at about a year of age, and experience absolutely no problems at lambing time (although I couldn't say if that could affect the ewe's life-long productivity and longevity).

 

I think if you ask two people, you'd likely get two different answers...but one thing I would consider is if your ram is likely to produce easy-lambing or harder-lambing babies. Another consideration would be if the mothers of your young ewes lambed with ease or needed assistance. We select our bulls on several criteria, but an important criterion is always easy calving (expected to throw small calves that grow vigorously and wean at good weight).

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The one thing about St. Croix is that they mature early and they are very narrow sheep; so lambing at a year old wouldn't generally be a problem. Many many of the people around here will breed their ewe lambs. I also keep my ewe lambs replacements (about 20/year) here for dog training...so they have their own purpose for the first year of life

 

cynthia

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I generally wait to breed my ewe lambs until they're about 18 months old. They lamb right around their second birthdays. I have a lot of North Country Cheviot in my flock, and they have been slower to mature than the hair sheep. I've had some terrible luck breeding ewe lambs, and some good luck doing it. I'll sometimes breed a few if they're exceptionally big, but I don't feed anything other than grass, hay, and alfalfa, so I have to be careful. I've noticed that my young ewes grow better if not bred their first year.

 

I do usually breed my first-timers to a Katahdin ram because he throws smaller, very vigorous lambs. I may borrow a Texel this year to replace the Kat- the Texel seems to put a smaller lamb in the ewe, too.

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In my perfect world I'd wait till they were over a year, but in my real world anything over about 9 months seems to do ok. But I like to have older ewes around when young ewe is lambing, they can be squirrelly

MHO

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Here's a different perspective from most of what's written above: http://www.livestocktrail.uiuc.edu/sheepnet/paperDisplay.cfm?ContentID=454

 

This pretty much squares with both what I do and along with many producers in our area. My major problem with ewe lambs is that they may need a couple days to "get the hang of things" which can be problemmatic since we lamb primarily in Jan/Feb when weather conditions here are tough. That said, I think pregnancy is actually harder on older mothers (I do not cull routinely at a certain age). The key to minimizing problems is providing adequate (not excess) nutrition to both groups. Especially with a small flock, this should not pose a problem.

 

Kim

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Can't say enough about over managing with grain or to much rich hay.

I've learned the hard way that to fat is just as bad if not worse than to thin.

 

I really don't flush any ewes. I keep my sheep in a good state all the time. Fewer lambs and ewes allows me that luxury.

 

Worst thing thing I've ever done (or at least what sticks out in my mind over years of lambing) is seeing ewes die and not be able to do much to help because their lambs are to big to come out. Probably why I'd don't do much flushing, afraid that might happen again. And yes I understand you flush when they are getting ready to be bred, but the whold over weight things scares me.

 

All that was brought on by feeding to much during the last of pregnancy.

 

I will also agree with the link that Kim provided, if I let young ewes run with rams, they seem to be the last to be bred. So keeping them separate till they are over 8 months does the best for us.

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Well management is obviously the issue, as Kim's link points out. If you have the space to keep a ewe lamb flock separate from your older ewe flock so that you can meet the nutritional needs of the two groups separately then it might make sense to breed your older ewe lambs. For someone like me, who has limited space and must run my sheep all together, then I'm going to be overfeeding the older ewes to try to help compensate for the younger ewes (ewe lambs), and if I'm having to feed extra then I'm cutting into profit anyway (since increased profit seems to be the main reason from breeding ewe lambs). So what that says to me is that depending on your situation and how you can manage separate ewe flocks, breeding ewe lambs may or may not be a good choice for an individual. Smaller size flocks don't necessarily lend themselves to easier management IMO.

 

Also, if you're going to breed 8-9 month old ewe lambs (vs. 6-7 months old), then you will have to time lambing for Jan/Feb, which might raise the issue of facilities (like shelter), especially if you live in colder, snowier climes. Many folks in this region time lambing a bit later so they can safely pasture lamb and there will be grass available for nursing mothers and the lambs at weaning. I lambed in March this year (and had some terrible weather for it--cold rain), which means if I wanted to breed my ewe lambs at 9 months, I'd be putting them in with the ram in December and lambing them out next May, when it's already getting rather hot (we see a significant slow down in growth of lambs during the hottest part of the summer) and flies become a major problem, so I try to balance timing the need for better weather for pasture lambing with availability of grass for moms and older lambs. Lambing in late spring means the lambs will be weaned about the time the grass is parched and dying of thirst in the hottest part of the summer, which means loss of growth = smaller lambs at sale time = less $$. So timing--not just of breeding, but also of lambing--plays a big role as well.

 

J.

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I agree, Julie, the benefits of a small flock are relative. However, the OP has 5 or 6 ewe lambs, if I'm understanding her situation correctly. Assessing condition and separating those who need a "little extra" shouldn't be that difficult. In addition, it shouldn't be that difficult to jug them when they deliver.

 

Roseview - If you're new to sheep, I'd suggest speaking to the breeder of your ewes (or someone else local) for advice. There's no substitute for having someone experienced to bounce things off of when you run into snags. After 15 years of owning/breeding sheep, I still consult with my friends when I run into a new problem. And, trust me, there's "always something." :P

 

Kim

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I'm one of those people who breeds my ewe lambs. I keep my ram with the flock all year, as they are Dorper and Dorper X, so will breed pretty much year round (I've had a handful of ewes produce 4 lamb crops in 2 years). (As a side note, I find that all the rams I've used over the years are always really sweet and easy to handle--my hypothesis is that they are always happy guys.) The ewe lambs are generally the last to get bred (but not always); they generally breed at about 7-8 months, so they lamb as yearlings. For the most part, they single their first lambing (which is fine--it's still a lamb, which adds to the profitability of the whole project). I have to keep a closer eye on them when I see that they are close to lambing in case they need some assistance, and some of them do, but certainly not a majority. As an example, just last week, I had 4 yearlings lamb on their own, no problem.

 

I don't flush, nor do I worry about feeding anyone separately. But usually, when my ewes are in the latter stages of pregnancy (and for much of their lactation), they are on grass. The rest of the year they get hay and that's it. I'm fortunate in that I have a lot of good pasture, and most years, I get about 6 months of grazing (this year I may get lucky and get close to 7!).

 

I also have not been culling ewe lambs for the past three years, as I have been growing my flock. This year, I had 60 breeding ewes; I should have 85 next year.

 

I know this system will not work for most people, but for my climate, the breed of sheep I raise, and my grazing situation, it seems to work well.

A

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