Breeding Ewe Lambs By: Dr. J.D. Bobb

Breeding your ewe lambs is a vital part of every sheep operation.  They should be your best genetics and the future of your flock.  Many purebred producers are reluctant to breed ewe lambs because they do not feel that they will mature to as large a female. Commercial producers know that they can not afford to feed a ewe for two years before they get a return on their investment.

A set of pregnant ewe lambs require more attention, better quality of feed, current vaccinations and their own lot.  You can not treat these lambs like they are part of the mature flock.  First and foremost they need their own lot with plenty of bunk space.  They should never be mixed with larger older ewes.  Ewe lambs in late pregnancy have physical limitations on how much feed they can consume and are easy pushed out of bunk space by larger stronger ewes.  It is much harder to keep ewe lambs in the proper condition, we see many groups that are over fat or under conditioned.  Over fat ewe lambs have a tendency to have increased incidence of vaginal and rectal prolapse and lambing problems related to large lambs.  Under fed ewe lambs have weak lambs, poor milk production and struggle to breed back with the ewe flock the next year because they never recover their proper body condition.

Ewe lambs need to receive a booster to their Chlamydia, Vibrio, and scour shots that the mature flock does not require.  The population of ewe lambs has not been exposed to the diseases that exist in the mature ewe flock.  Their immune system is not as stable or capable to handle a disease challenge as your mature ewes.  You will need to time the vaccinations to booster their immunity and get their immune system ready for a disease outbreak.  The booster of abortion vaccinations should be timed at mid gestation which is 60 to 80 days.  We frequently see increased abortions in ewe lambs because they have not been exposed to organisms such as toxoplasmosis.  Once they have become exposed they will mount their own immune response and develop long term immunity.  The only control for toxoplasmosis is feeding Deccox or Rumensin in their feed.  The use of tetracycline the last six weeks of gestation is highly recommended, to aid in abortion control.  We have had the best results by pulse feeding higher levels of crumbles rather than a constant lower level.  I would recommend pulsing the crumbles at six weeks and three weeks prior to the start of lambing at ½ gram per head per day for three days each time.

It is very wise to carefully consider the ram that you will breed your ewe lambs to.  Do not breed them to the old thick made stud ram.  Consider using a ram that should produce easier lambing.  The commercial producer should use a finn cross, rambouillet, targee, or there are many other choices that will produce an easy lambing cross.  Usually after one season of using a ram that produces large lambs a producer will be more cautious.

Ewe lambs tend to have fewer lambs than the mature flock.  In some cases they will have over a two hundred percent lamb crop, but ewe lambs that are nursing multiple births need special feeding to prevent them from becoming a disappointment as a yearling.  I would be happy with a set of ewe lambs that had a 130-160% lamb crop.    A first time lambing ewe will have less antibodies is her colostrum, and her lambs will be challenged by scours and pneumonia more than a mature ewe.  They produce less milk on the average and will often wean lighter lambs.  There are exceptions, but you will need to feed and care for ewe lambs more intensely than the older flock.

Do not become complacent with your observations when you are doing chores.  Always spend a little extra time examining the ewe lambs.  Take note of their condition; make sure they have plenty of room when they are eating.  My biggest concern with ewe lambs is when they are fed free choice round bales.  You are going to fix prolapse vaginas and rectums if they are in late pregnancy with unlimited access to round bales of hay.  To make the situation worse they often stand with their front legs elevated reaching for fresh hay.

If you have a lot of multiple births in your ewe lambs, watch them closely for lambing paresis (pregnancy disease) and ketosis.  You need to keep the energy up with out them getting fat.

About Ask-a-Vet Sheep

Veterinary services, procedures, biologicals, and drugs mentioned in this publication represent the personal opinions and clinical observations of the contributing author. They are in no way intended to be interpreted as recommendations without the consent of the producer’s own practicing Veterinarian. We strongly urge that producers establish a patient-client-veterinarian relationship that allows extra-label use when there are no drugs approved for treatment or if approved drugs are not effective. This procedure allows veterinarians to go beyond label directions when “prudent use” is necessary. The limited availability of drugs and biologics in this country is a major factor in restricting the growth of the sheep industry and allowing producers to compete in the world market place.
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