Breeding Ewes and Does: How to Get Them to Conceive on the First Service?

Wellness : Nutrition

Wellness : Health

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Purina Animal Nutrition

That’s one of the biggest questions I hear from producers. And while there’s no magic answer, the more you prepare in the pre-breeding period, the fewer headaches you’ll have when it’s time for breeding ewes or does.
Implement the following steps to prepare ewes and does for breeding season and help improve conception rates on first service:

Pre-breeding management 

The less stress breeding ewes and does have, the better. Complete management tasks like shearing, hoof trimming and de-worming early to ensure they have time to de-stress from these activities and are comfortable come breeding time.

Pre-breeding is also an excellent time to evaluate udders, mouths, hooves, legs and overall animal soundness. Early culling decisions can help you prioritize resources to set your operation up for success at breeding and beyond.

Body condition scoring 

Assessing body condition pre-breeding is crucial. Many producers turn ewes and does out to pasture after giving birth and don’t have eyes on them regularly until breeding. If they lose too much condition during this time, they have to play catch up, costing you time and resources.

It’s recommended for ewes and does to maintain a body condition score (BCS) of 2-2.5 after lambing or kidding. Forty-five to 60 days prior to breeding, increase their nutrition (also called nutritional flushing) to reach a BCS of 3 at breeding time. Ewes and does that are too thin at breeding can have challenges conceiving and maintaining pregnancies or have reduced ovulation rates and lambs.

Nutritional flushing for breeding may be as simple as providing supplemental forages, especially if you’re in a drought area. Or you may need a more aggressive nutrition program to get them in ideal breeding condition. Evaluate your animal’s current BCS and work with your Purina nutritionist to develop a sheep and goat nutrition program that takes your females from where they are now to where you want them to be at breeding.
It's also important to conduct a ram or buck breeding soundness exam and maintain an appropriate male-to-female ratio to help boost conception rates.

Provide supplemental fat 

Sheep and goat nutrition is key when it comes to reproduction. One of the best ways to help meet BCS goals for breeding is to increase fat in the diet. Most supplements for pregnant ewes and does range between 2.5-4% fat, but that may not be enough in the pre-breeding period. Using a supplement with fat levels in excess of 5% starting 60 days before breeding will return the largest benefits.

For producers utilizing artificial insemination (AI) or embryo transfer (ET) in their breeding programs, adding fat to the diet has been repeatedly proven to improve pregnancy success.

Fat is a precursor to cholesterol, which can help ramp up hormone production in ewes and does as well as rams.

Elevated fat levels in the supplemental diet aren’t likely needed (or economical) year-round for doe and ewe nutrition if forage quality is at or above average. Monitor body condition post-breeding to determine when to start decreasing fat in the diet. This is especially important for breeding ewes and does in confined housing because of lower energy needs from reduced activity, leading to over-condition. If females have too much body condition, you may start to see challenges at parturition.

Mineral is a must-have 

Whether ewes and does are in good condition or need to pack on a few pounds, mineral and vitamin supplementation is a must for any breeding program. Even the highest quality forages can fall short of nutritional requirements for pregnant ewes and does, including calcium, magnesium, cobalt, vitamins A and E and selenium.

AI and ET breeding programs should put extra emphasis on sheep and goat mineral nutrition, ensuring they consume enough mineral and that it’s of high quality, perhaps even containing organic trace minerals. Monitor mineral intake of the flock or herd. If loose mineral intake starts to slow as you increase supplementation for flushing, consider changing to a tub-based free-choice mineral source or force-feed mineral with hand-supplemented grains.

While reducing fat levels in the diet after breeding is recommended, that’s not the case with mineral. Feeding a high-quality mineral year-round will go a long way to keeping ewes and does prepared for not only breeding season, but gestation and parturition as well. 

Breeding season can make or break the future profitability of your operation. Ensure you’re setting yourself up for success by focusing on critical management and nutrition steps 60 days prior to the start of breeding. Find a dealer to make sure your ewes and does are ready for breeding season.