Essential Information for Sheep Breeding Part 1
Sheep farming, as any other farming really, is a messy affair. And there is perhaps nothing more messy than breeding the animals you farm. Being vigilant and strategic about every step of the process is essential, not only for the achieving of the desired result, but for preventing tragic accidents or loss due to error. It’s important to check with yourself as to the goals you’re actually trying to achieve and the effort you’re willing to put in. There is no shame is specialising in one area of the farming process and delegating the other to someone else. A farmer needs to be versatile, but in this day and age they are no longer required to be a jack of all trades – there is plenty of help around.
If producing the highest yield of the highest quality wool is what you are after, it may not even be necessary to have any breeding or lambing happen on your farm at all. The sheep market is very well developed in the western world, with all kinds of breeds available within the desired age range. To renew your fiber flock, you can simply purchase the desired animal when they are still only a few months old, neuter them, and keep them for as long as is feasible. There are plenty of expert breeding farmers who specialise on breeding and selling sheep. For you, this will make the farm easier to manage, as you will spend less time worrying about making sure that the breeding goes according to plan, as well as having the animals be that much more docile. Note, however, that you will remove this line of worry for a cost. Expert breeders will expect a handsome reward for their troubles, so perhaps you should still try breeding on your own at some point.
Once you have decided that you want to have full control over the reproduction of you flock, it’s important to have a plan. The plan will depend on the content of your flock as well as the breeding outcomes you have set for yourself. If the breed range in your flock is fairly uniform, then maintaining the standards of the breed is the only option you realistically have. In this case, you need to make sure that you don’t pair and ewe and a ram that are too different in size. A significantly larger lamb will create the risk of injury for the ewe. Even if the breeding goes smoothly, the ewe might have trouble during lambing, as the resulting litter might be too big for her frame to handle. Even more caution in that regard should be exercised in cross-breeding. Not only should the ram and ewe be selected in a way where their genetics are complementary and will result in a lamb that inherits the best of each, but you must also note that different breeds of sheep have different temperments, which can increase the risk of injury. Lastly, and this is perhaps common sense but still worth reiterating – keep your ewes and rams separate until the breeding period you’ve planned for.