My favorite time of the year! Where all of the hard work, time, and effort pays off, and one gets to see how all of the combinations worked with ram and ewe.
Everyone loves young lambs, but how do you keep the ewe healthy and well managed, prior to the lambs hitting the ground?
A big question that is vital to the successful birth of your new lambs. I will briefly touch on a few of the basics of breeding season: Tips that may help you prepare yourself and your ewe(s) for her lambs.
Typically, sheep carry their lambs 5 months. Approximately 147 to 153 calendar days is a good rule of thumb. From the date the ewe is bred, count these days forward in your calendar and you will have a good estimate of when to expect lambs to be born.Marking Your Breeding Ram-- If you would like the most accurate lambing date for your ewes, the best method is to mark your ram. You may wish to purchase a ram marking harness and crayons to insert on the harness or paint mark your ram each day he is in with the ewes. Harnesses can be purchased through livestock supply catalogs, or at your local feed store. There are pros and cons to these harnesses and the crayons, unfortunately, may only last a couple of days, but harnesses are an appropriate attire for your breeding ram.
Personally, we like to paint our stud rams each evening with an oil based non-toxic paint applied to the ram's brisket (chest area, right between the front legs). We leave about ½ inch of fleece on his chest in that area to hold the paint, and we repaint each day. If you use this method it is nice to have a friendly ram to work on. If you are a novice, please get plenty of help with this job! Rams become very aggressive and territorial when running with the ewes. Even the most well-mannered ram can turn nasty, so get help and never turn your back on any ram when entering their pen or pasture. This operation is most successful when 2 people are working on the ram, one to hold him still, and the other to do the painting.
Prior to turning your brood ewes in with the ram, you may wish to give them appropriate vaccinations for diseases that may be affecting other sheep in your area. If you know you are in a Selenium deficient area you may wish to use a Vitamin E/Selenium vaccine on your ewes. Perhaps you may be exposed to gnats that carry the Blue Tongue virus or flocks in your area have been exposed to cases of abortion. Preventative vaccines may be appropriate here. Check with your veterinarian for vaccines suitable for sheep where you live.
Don't Forget To Vaccinate Your Breeding Ram Too! An annual vaccination is available for them as well.
We like to give all vaccinations at least 2-4 weeks prior to the ewes breeding with the ram. Some vaccinations can cause serious adverse effects to the ewes and their unborn lambs in early gestation. It is much safer NOT to vaccinate pregnant ewes unless the vaccine is designed for pregnancy, or your veterinarian has given you the green light to use it on your pregnant sheep. When in doubt, always ask! Your best defense for keeping your sheep healthy, and minimizing lambing problems, is a good vaccination program for your flock.
Prior to breeding, be sure your sheep have been wormed with a good commercial wormer. Check with your vet for the different types, styles, and brands that are safe and suitable for sheep.
Shearing your ewes and ram with a good feet trim is ideal before breeding. This makes the ewes and rams much cooler and comfortable. Shearing can also create an excellent environment for the ewes to begin to cycle earlier. Ewes that cycle early will help bring more ewes "in" to their heat cycles and earlier lambs will result. This is a proven fact with most flocks that shear versus non-shorn ewes that are turned in with the ram.
Flushing is an action taken to slightly raise the nutrition level in your ewes prior to breeding. Giving small amounts of grain or higher quality legume feed or lush pasture 2 weeks prior to breeding can improve your ewes fertility and increase chances for twinning in your flock.
Ideally, we all try to encourage our ewes to raise twins. Sometimes they will raise a single lamb and other times you may see triplets! Triplets are a hardship for most ewes to raise, but some sheep breeds triple often, with little or no help from the shepherd, in raising the large brood. Quads and Quints are more infrequent (thankfully) and probably will need extra attention and milk supplementation. Keep plenty of Milk Replacer on hand during lambing season, just in case!!
If you wish to flush, do the following for 2 weeks prior to turning in ewes with the ram: Feed 1/4 to 1/3 pound of grain per head each day, top dressed on dry hay, in addition to the pasture, if you are fortunate enough to raise your sheep on good pasture. We like to use rolled corn or a 3-4 way grain mix. This is about 8% protein and very appropriate for getting the job done. You may also use any commercial sheep grain if you prefer. Grains vary in availability from state to state. Check around and talk with other sheep raisers near you to see what concentrates they like to use for flushing ewes.