Essential Information for Sheep Breeding Part 2
Under perfect circumstances an ewe is fertile throughout the year. But much like with a human, greater care must be taken of nutrition and health. First, make sure that the pregnant ewe is not under any undue amount of stress. If you have an overexcited dog doing the shepherding, you might want to limit the ewe’s exposure to it. Food should be of the highest possible quality, as well as water, which should always be clean – the latter point is often forgotten by beginner shepherds. Contaminated water is the fastest way for a pregnant ewe (or any ewe for that matter) to get a disease. Keep both your ewes and your rams well fed and extra clean when you’re planning to breed them to maximise the heath of the lambs.
A sheep’s gestation period lasts just under five months. Once the ewe is pregnant, it is important to add grain to her diet. Start with around 0.4-0.5 kg of grain per ewe and increase the amount depending on the size and weight of the ewe at any given point in the gestation period. This is where you should seek experienced advice if you are a beginner. Information on the exact amount and type of grain can be gotten from vets or other breeders in your area. While general guidelines exists, there is no universal “weight-to-grain” chart to refer to. The nutritional requirements of your gestating ewes, and of the flock in general, very much depend on the peculiarities of your region. For example, some regions may have climate that doesn’t grow the kind of forage necessary to meet the required intake of selenium. In this case you should consult a vet about giving your ewe a so-called Bo-Se shot to address this. Speaking of shots, four weeks before delivery your ewe should receive the appropriate vaccination shots. That way both the ewe and the lambs will be vaccinated.
The Birth Process
Around a week before the due date, you
should keep a close eye on your ewe. This is about the time when you should
place your pregnant ewe into an enclosure in the barn, separate from the other
animals. This will make observing the ewe easier for you and will remove any
outside stressors from the ewe. Make sure you clean it regularly. Within the
few days before the lambing should occur, check up on your ewe hourly if
possible. If the ewe seems more restless than usual and keeps kicking the
ground, these are signs that she might be going into labor.
Next to the enclosure you should have a box containing all the supplies necessary for the birthing process. The exact contents of that box varies depending on who you ask, but you will need to have at your disposal tools to deal with the unforeseen. The process of delivering the lambs should not last more than six hours and in most cases ewes won’t need any help. By most cases I mean if the ram was properly selected in the breeding period. However, even then you might assist in the delivery by pulling the lamb out if its stuck, cutting the umbilical cord, or feeding the moments-old litter with a bottle if the ewe is exhausted.