Sharpen your Shepherding Skills with Bred Ewe Lambs!

Tim Barnes, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Marion County

As we approach the end of the typical breeding season here in Ohio, there is still a group of sheep that shepherds may consider breeding prior to the coming of the new year. Depending upon who you ask, it seems like everyone has their own opinion on breeding ewe lambs. If you recall the article from Susan Schoenian that we shared last year, To Breed or Not to Breed, Susan explains that breeding young stock allow you and your operation to exploit reproductive and genetic potential. In the same breath, do note that breeding young females may also result in some production inefficiencies such as reduced milk production and potentially dystocia issues where it may require more labor from a management standpoint. Of course its nice to breed during the latter portion of the breeding season as this allows for your ewe lambs to be more mature at the time of breeding in addition to lambing these ewes down during the spring when hopefully the weather is more desirable to work in. Regardless of your situation, it may be worth taking a look into breeding your ewe lambs yet this year. Below, Tim Barnes has provided us with a quick list of points to consider when breeding ewe lambs.

  • Ewe lambs need to be 70% of their mature body weight prior to breeding.
  • Ewe lambs have a shorter breeding season than older ewes. Ewe lambs born earlier in the year cycle earlier due to their larger body weight and maturity.
  • Select feed rations correctly! Pregnant ewe lambs are still growing and have higher nutritional requirements than older ewes. During early and mid-pregnancy ewe lambs, need 17-20% more quality feed than older ewes.
  • Make sure the ewe lambs are at their optimum body condition score 3-6 weeks before lambing.
  • Do not overfeed before lambing. Ewe lambs require a balanced diet for maintenance and pregnancy, not growth. Over feeding will create large single lambs with possible lambing difficulties.
  • Avoid multiple births – do not over feed up to and during mating.
  • You should pregnancy check at eight weeks after breeding to identify ewes carrying multiple births and to identify open ewes.
  • Group ewes with multiple lambs separately.
  • General pregnancy results for young ewes: singles 69%, twins 19%, and triplets 0.5%.
  • Lambing will greatly affect the body condition score (1 = thin / 5 = fat) and future performance in addition to the growth rate of the ewe lamb as she matures into a yearling and beyond.
  • Ewes lambing later and then weaning later may require additional body condition score recovery time.
  • Continue to manage young ewes after weaning to ensure timely breeding results in the following breeding season.

Be cautious of your decision to breed ewe lambs if your flock has a history of lambing difficulties with assisted births and cesarean sections. If this is the case, I would strongly recommend not breeding ewe lambs and re-evaluate flock selection criteria.