Sheep

Flushing Sheep Leads to Breeding Season Success

Wellness : Nutrition

Clay Elliott, Ph.D.

Companion Animal Nutritionist, Technical Solutions

Nutritional flushing is a key component to sheep breeding season success. The flushing process involves increasing sheep nutrition and energy intake before breeding season starts. This elevated nutrition helps optimize ovulation, conception and embryo implantation rates, which can result in a higher lambing percentage.
 
Implementing a flushing program on your farm can optimize the percentage of lambs on the ground and help put more money in your pocket.
 

The low-down on flushing sheep

Flushed ewes have a higher chance of breeding at first service, while ewes fed a lower nutrition level are more likely to miss this first breeding window.
 
Breeding ewes in their first estrus or heat cycle provides more value when selling weaned lambs. Breeding earlier means lambing sooner, which provides lambs the advantage of additional days to gain weight before weaning compared to their younger counterparts – which can ultimately boost the number of pounds sold post-weaning.
 
As ewes age, reproductivity tends to decrease. Additionally, terminal breeds typically produce fewer offspring than maternal breeds. Because flushing supports ovulation and embryo implantation rates, even ewes with historically lower reproductive performance can have success.1
 

Don’t skimp on key nutrients

While adding extra grain to the diet will ramp up energy levels, don’t forget about these key nutrients as you plan your flushing program:
 
  • Vitamins and minerals: Every sheep nutrition program should start with vitamins and minerals. Regardless of the production stage, these two components remain crucial to both the ewe and her lamb.
  • Fat: Increasing fat in the diet also increases energy intake. And, fat’s influence on reproductive hormones sets ewes up for successful conception.
  • Protein: Maintaining protein levels between 10-16% of the total diet is ideal for reproductive health.
 
Flushing should begin around 45-60 days before breeding and continue into the first stages of gestation. Adding a complete feed or a high-fat supplement product such as Purina® Lamb & Ewe 15 DX30, Purina® Delta Lamb & Ewe Breeder DX30 or Purina® Accuration® Sheep & Goat Hi-Fat Block to the mix will ensure ewes meet their energy requirements during this critical time.
 
Once ewes have confirmed pregnancies, diets can back down to an average nutrition level with pasture and a supplement tub.
 

Keep body condition score in mind

As a primary indicator of a ewe’s energy reserves, body condition score (BCS) allows producers to evaluate the nutritional needs of the flock. By meeting your BCS targets, ewes can take less time to breed and have heavier lambs at weaning.
 
As ewes enter different production stages, their target BCS changes – and changes to their diet should follow suit. This 1-5 scale is especially useful before breeding as energy requirements and BCS goals increase.
 
Flushing aims to bring ewes’ body condition scores up to 2.5 to 3.0 before breeding and into the first stage of gestation. Getting ewes to this condition can lead to optimal conception and embryo survival rates.
 
Using a planned-out flushing approach in the lead-up to sheep breeding season will go a long way towards your flock’s reproductive and performance success.
 
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1 Metzger M. 2018. Flushing small ruminants for a higher ovulation rate. Michigan State University Extension.