To breed or not to breed

Breeding ewes and does for the first time

Should ewes and does be bred to produce their first offspring at approximately one year of age?  Or should you wait until they are yearlings to breed them for the first time?  The answer depends.  There are many factors to consider and pros and cons to each breeding decision.

Yearling momBreeding ewe lambs and doe kids allows you to exploit their reproductive potential.  It is well-documented that ewes that are mated as lambs will have a higher lifetime production than ewes that are mated for the first time as yearlings. 

One of the most compelling reasons to consider breeding ewe lambs and doe kids is genetic improvement.  Your lambs and kids should have the best genetics on your farm.  Breeding them early will reduce the generation interval and speed up genetic improvement

At the same time, ewe lambs and doe kids have lower conception rates, give birth to fewer offspring, produce less milk, and are more likely to experience problems at the time of birthing. In addition, there may be sacrifices in growth.  Ewes and does that are bred early may not catch up (in weight) until their second or third mating. For this reason, producers who show yearlings often delay breeding.

Size (weight) is a more important consideration than age when deciding if/when to breed ewe lambs and doelings.. Ewe lambs and doelings should achieve approximately two-thirds of their mature weight (at the start of the breeding seaons) before being bred. 

Avg. mature weight
of females in flock
Minimum weight to
breed females
Lb
Kg
Lb
Kg
60
27
40
18
70
32
47
32
80
36
54
25
90
41
60
27
100
45
67
30
120
55
80
36
140
64
94
43
160
73
107
49
180
82
120
55
200
91
134
61
220
100
147
67
240
109
160
73

It is often necessary to feed some grain to get ewe lambs and doe kids big enough for breeding. At the same time, ewe and doe replacements should not be fed for maximum gain, as this could be detrimental to future milk production.

Though heavily influenced by nutrition, ewes and does vary in the age at which they reach puberty (sexual maturity).  Some breeds of sheep may not reach puberty until they are almost a year of age. Crossbred females usually reach puberty earlier than purebred females. Ewe lambs born in the fall are not likely to conceive until the next fall.

Young mothers-to-beIt makes sense to breed ewe lambs and doe kids away from the main flock, as they are less competitive for the male's service. Ewe lambs and doe kids should not be bred to males with large birth weights or heavy front-ends. They should be bred to males from the same (or smaller) breed. Nor should they be mated to large males that could cause them injury.

Because pregnant ewe lambs and doelings are still growing, they have higher nutritional requirements than mature females.  They are also less aggressive at the feed trough.  For these reasons, they should be fed and managed separately from mature females. In fact, they should not be mixed with the mature flock until they have weaned their first offspring. Yearlings that are nursing offspring, especially multiples, should be more closely monitored for signs of internal parasitism.

With good management and nutrition, producers can successfully breed ewes and does to produce offspring at approximately one year of age.  Without good management and nutrition, breeding ewe lambs and doe kids can be disastrous.

Copyright © 2010.


Resources and suggested reading

Breeding from ewe lambs can sometimes pay - Farmer's Guardian
Breeding replacement ewe lambs - Illini SheepNet and Meat GoatNet
[PDF] Reports on breeding ewe lambs (1979) - Oregon State University
[WORD] Should we breed ewe lambs? - University of Wisconsin
A study of breeding ewe lambs - published in 1930 by J. Anim. Sci.

Created or last updated by Susan Schoenian on 08-Sep-2013 .