The Management Continuum

Brady Campbell, Program Coordinator, OSU Sheep Team

(Pipestone Sheep Management Wheel)

According to Websters dictionary, management is defined as the conducting or supervising of something (such as a business) whereas continuum is a coherent whole characterized as a collection, sequence, or progression of values or elements varying by minute degrees. In thinking about the management continuum of a small ruminant enterprise, producers and shepherds alike must ensure progression of each task through precision management. As producers, our role as the owner or animal care taker never ends. Daily chores may seem repetitive and daunting, but as our flocks and herds progress through the stages of production, specific tasks must be completed along the way in order to ensure that we provide for our animals to perform at their optimum.

The management continuum is used to outline each phase of production and highlight key tasks that should be considered. Previously,

it was generalized that this type of management system should be followed using a calendar based approach. However, with the diversity and variety of small ruminant systems, this concept may not apply. Rather than thinking of this approach in terms of specific dates, we should look at it from the standpoint of how it fits into your specific operation – whether that be for a fall lambing flock, goat dairy creamery, raising lambs and kids for specific fair projects, accelerated production system, and all those in between. In doing so, we will consider each stage of production (Maintenance, Pre-breeding, Breeding, Early Gestation, Late Gestation, Lambing and Kidding, Lactation, and Weaning), regardless of time of year. Beneath each production stage, we have provided a brief description along with several OSU Sheep Team linked articles. Do note that some of these recommendations and considerations may change based upon time of year due to changes in environmental conditions.

Maintenance describes the time period in which ewes and does are open, non-pregnant, and non-lactating. This period of time can be variable based upon your production system. In traditional practice, many ewes and does are open during the late spring and summer. However, this may not be the case in highly prolific accelerated systems.

In general, during the maintenance stage of production, ewes and does should be fed a maintenance diet which generally consists of pasture and/or poorer quality hay. However, it should be noted that it is important to still monitor your feedstuffs during this stage of production. For those that are feeding lower quality feeds, you must ensure that the feed being provided is meeting the nutritional needs of your livestock. Nutritional needs are based upon stage of production and live weight of the animal. In feeding small ruminants, estimates for feeding requirements for every stage of production can be found in the Small Ruminant NRC (2001). For those with out a copy, send me an email, I’d be happy to help get your estimates penciled out.

Remember, there is never a time in the production system to skip providing minerals! Be sure that loose mineral is available at all times to aid in ensuring optimal performance of your flocks and herds.

Pre-breeding and Breeding:
Pre-breeding may be one of, if not, the most critical management phase in any agricultural production system. Pre-breeding for small ruminants begins approximately 60 days prior to the onset of breeding. During this phase, rams and bucks should be the top priority. Rams should be shorn and provided protection from heat stress. All stock should have their feet inspected and trimmed if necessary. For males, a breeding soundness exam should be performed as explained in the article linked below.

Approximately 30 days prior to breeding, ewes and does should be vaccinated if a problem is present. It is recommended that you discuss vaccination programs with you local and state veterinarian to help understand the needs and risks of these decisions. As a means to ensure that your females are cycling, you may consider introducing a teaser ram/buck, manipulated light exposure, or choose to use synchronized breeding strategies as explained in the articles linked below. Nutritional flushing is also a key proponent to the success of a breeding season. Depending upon source, flushing may occur 2-6 weeks prior to the onset of breeding to 30 days or more after breeding.

Once you have selected your date for breeding, remove teaser animals and replace with fertile males that have passed their breeding soundness exams. It is recommended to use a marking harness or brisket smear to monitor ram activity. For sheep, change colors every 17 days as this corresponds with the natural estrus cycle. Begin with lighter colors of paint while progressing to dark colors as the breeding season continues. Be sure to collect daily breeding marks and monitor those ewes or does that remark. If more than a few of the females begin to remark you may want to consider using a different ram or buck as multiple females returning to heat would indicate that there may be an issue with your breeding stud.

Early Gestation and Late Gestation:
During the gestational phases of production, producers should take this time to ensure that they are prepared for lambing and kidding – whether that be by gathering needed supplies, administering vaccine boosters, or managing flock and herd body condition. It is important to note that the average gestation period for sheep is 147 days, with goats being slightly longer at 150 days. During early gestation, it is important to minimize stress and nutritional fluctuation of ewes and does. For sheep, shearing should not be performed any earlier than 30 days post breeding to avoid heat and stress. Rather sheep should be shorn closer to parturition as a means to encourage ewes to seek shelter and increase intake, both of which will help lead to lambing success!

As ewes and does get closer to their scheduled due dates, one may consider administering vaccines to take advantage of the positive effects of passive immunity. Regardless of the operation, it is recommended that all sheep be vaccinated with CDT which is used to protect against Colstridium Perfringens C and D as well as Tetanus. For those interested in learning more about the benefits of this vaccine, be sure to view the articles listed below.

Late gestation is a critical period as energy demands continue to increase for the dam with approximately 70% of fetal growth occurring during this time. However, one of the greatest challenges during this time period is a restriction in physical dry matter intake. As the fetus(s) growth within the dam, physical space within the system needed for increased intakes are limited. In order to avoid any metabolic issues, as noted below, be sure to provide nutrient dense feedstuffs.

Last, but not least, this is also the time point in which you should get your lambing and kidding area prepared. Be sure that you have your lambing/kidding pens/jugs set up (recommended that the number of pens/jugs needed is at least 10% of your herd or flock) and supplies (medications, tools, milk replacer, ect) is on hand and stored appropriately.

Lambing/Kidding and Lactation:
In my opinion, lambing and kidding are both the most exciting and stressful step in the management continuum. If exact breeding are known, you may consider placing those animals that are close to parturition into their pen/jugs. Immediately after birth, ensure that dams are attentive to their offspring. Check udders to make sure that teat plugs are removed and the lambs/kids will be able to nurse. If lambs or kids are weak at birth and become cold shortly after, consider providing supplemental colostrum. For hint and tips of when this is most appropriate and what to do if the offspring have no suckling response, be sure to check out the selected articles below.

If you find yourself needing to provide supplemental colostrum, there are a few things you mat need to consider. Colostrum from the dam is the most preferred source, however, in cases where the dam has yet to drop her milk, you may have to improvise. If the original dam is not an option, previously collected colostrum from others in the flock or herd are a great alternative. If there is no colostrum from your operation on hand, it is preferable that you use artificial colostrum as the next viable alternative. Using colostrum from other operations should be only be considered as a final option as unwanted disease can be transferred into your system. When heating stored colostrum be sure to NOT use a microwave as this method will kill essential antibodies needed by the young.

Some may be thinking, what happens if my ewe or doe won’t take to her lamb or kid or what if she has too many to care for? There are options for grafting, artificial rearing, and or providing creep during the lactation phases of production. Rather than going into each of these individually, there are detailed articles on each practice linked below.

Weaning is simply the removal of offspring from their dam and is considered one of the most stressful time points in a young animals life. Depending upon your production system, resource availability, and goals of your operation, weaning age may be variable. Weaning may occur as soon as the lambs/kids are born as practiced in the dairy industry or as long as 120 days or more which is practiced commonly in western range land operations. Regardless of the day of age you choose to wean, be sure that both the offspring and dams are prepared. One week prior to weaning begin to offer lower quality feed to the ewes and does. This will practice will hep reduce milk production which will prepare the mammary tissue to stop producing milk. Some have suggested removing water from ewes and does after weaning to help aid in the drying process, however, this is not a recommended process as many times this results in more bad than good. For the lambs and kids, when weaning, it is recommended that the dams are removed from the offspring. This allows an easy transition as the young stock are already familiar with the area. For more information on weaning practices be sure to check out the three articles linked below.

Full Circle:
No matter the production system, big or small, the management continuum can be used as a supportive management tool that keeps your operation in line. It is important to note that the information provided simply scratches the surface. With each operation, new challenges and needs arise and your management strategies and approaches may differ. Using the articles linked above in conjunction with the presentation provided below will help develop a basis on creating a more holistic management plan that will fit your specific needs.

Editors Note: For those interested in more details regarding the management continuum, click here to view the PDF presentation.