Breeding Ewes

Discussion in 'Sheep' started by Eunice, Oct 28, 2006.

  1. Eunice

    Eunice Well-Known Member

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    I had a local sheep breeder ask me if I knew what difference it makes if his ewes are still lactating when he turns the rams in with the flock. I don't know and could not find it on the web this evening. Does anyone have personal experience or know links to look this up on?
     
  2. ShortSheep

    ShortSheep Well-Known Member

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    Eunice, I have no documentation to support this, but "have heard" that lactating ewes will not settle.
     

  3. Somerhill

    Somerhill Well-Known Member

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    I also "have heard" that women who use lactation as their only means of birth control often have large familes. HEHE :rolleyes:

    I'd be more concerned that ewes that are lactating (I assume that is because they still have lambs on them) would not be in physical condition to breed and carry twins for next year. Your neighbor would want to be sure to have adequate nutrition for these ewes.

    Cattle rebreed while they are lactating, and though I've not had it happen, non-seasonal ewes can have 2 lambings per year, so I'd say sheep are the same.

    Lisa at Somerhill
    www.somerhillfarm.com
     
  4. SilverVista

    SilverVista Well-Known Member

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    Heavy lactation produces hormones that suppress ovulation, and this physiological response holds true for all mammalian species. However, it's not a simple cut-and-dried form of birth control, because so many other factors also affect hormone balances.

    Ewe lactation has been studied and shown to increase after the birth of lambs in response to the growing demand of the suckling lambs until about 2 months, at which time the lambs are consuming enough other forage that their milk consumption begins to drop. It's the hormones released in the "letting down" response that cause further lactation, so it's no surprise that as the lambs visit mom a little less frequently, the milk supply levels off and begins to diminish. If the lambs are left with the ewes with out separation for weaning, they will continue to nurse for as long as the ewe will tolerate it, but by the time they're 40 lbs, that milk is comfort, not nutrition. Condition being deposited to the lamb is condition not being deposited to the ewe at that point. It's also probably wise to note that sheep are more physiologically inclined to nourish the lambs at the expense of their own health than most other mammals. If the ram is going out with ewes that are still carrying last year's lambs, they very well may conceive, but as Sommerhill pointed out, the production of milk at the same time as fetuses are developing places a high demand on the protein and mineral levels in the ewe and may not be a wise move.

    If these sheep are lactating because they are being milked, I would hope the breeder has enough of a general dairy education to already understand the extra nutritional needs of animals that are processing a higher level of protein, calcium and other minerals through their bodies than nature originally intended.
     
  5. MommaSasquatch

    MommaSasquatch Well-Known Member

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    As a neighborhood "breastfeeding guru" and a woman who actually does this (my closest babies are 2.5 years apart) I can say that a lot depends on how often the babe is nursing and if he/she is getting anything else (foods, supplements/pacifiers/ etc...). In humans who have a comparatively long natural lactation compared to sheep (the natural length of human lactation has been estimated to be 2 - 6 years based on anthropological data and info from non-Western cultures) and whose babies start solids much later than lambs there is a certain spacing effect. Studies have shown that modern breastfeeding practices in humans delay the return of fertility an average of 3-9 months and more "primitive" or unrestricted breastfeeding (known as ecological breastfeeding) delays the return of fertility an average of 14.5 months, though it can be much longer or much shorter.

    Assuming the mechanism to be similar one would expect that in sheep where lambs typically begin nibbling at other foods quite early comparatively and whose natural length of lactation is much shorter that this effect would be very short-lived indeed - a matter of a few weeks to a couple months.
     
  6. MichaelK

    MichaelK Active Member

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    I have three Katahdin ewes who were bred in March as yearlings, birthed in July and still have twins and a single at their side who occassionally nurse still. I will be turning out the ram in two weeks with the rest of the 20+ older ewes and wonder how to handle the young moms at this time. Do I wean tomorrow or wait until they are to be witg the ram or do I not breed them this fall but wait for the spring ab=gain, It was a test and it was a management nightmare having a few lambs out of season. Any help would bppreciated. I have a 3 month old 1/32 Dorper Registerable black Katahdin ram for sale QR and a RR white 6 month one for sale in upstate NY
     
  7. Eunice

    Eunice Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all your nice replies and the things to think on. My friend has about 600 ewes that spend the summer on mountain range, but are now grazing alfalfa. Part of Flip's question was whether to wait and turn the rams out after completing weaning, or do it a couple of weeks earlier. He lambs about the latest of any of the breeders that I know in this region - which is starting around April 10th. Small flocks do way early, but the other big flocks usually begin about the 25th of March. I am sure that some of the decisions have to do with weather (we live at 5200 ft and higher elevation) and some with the timing to go to summer range.