What’s the best way to establish a return on investment from your sheep operation? Start with strong, healthy replacement ewes.
But choosing and developing the right replacement females isn’t an easy task – there are a lot of factors to consider that could impact the future productivity of your flock.
Set your flock up for long-term success with this advice for selecting and raising replacements:
Choosing the right replacements
Most operations begin selecting replacements at weaning. Weaning times may be different for different flocks, but keep in mind that the more time you give animals to develop, the easier it will be to spot a good replacement.
Consider these factors when selecting your replacements:
- Ewe and ram’s pedigree and history
- Overall health and condition
- Easy-keeping animals
- Body structure (level top, level dock, sound mouth, correct set of feet and legs)
- Teat quality
- Weaning weights
Also consider your operation goals and where you want your flock to be in the future. Evaluate traits for both performance and profitability and consider any adjustments based on market demand.
Feeding replacement ewe lambs
If you’re going to invest money in supplemental nutrition for one area of your flock, we recommend focusing on replacements – they are the future of your flock. Following weaning, separate replacements from those going to market and implement a replacement feeding program designed to develop them into ideal breeding stock.
You want to provide enough energy and protein to keep them growing without getting over-conditioned. Feed a high-fiber, 16% protein diet to support lamb growth, maintain efficient feed conversion and body condition and avoid developing fat in the udders. Purina® Delta Lamb & Ewe Breeder DX30
is a good option with a small pellet size to combine precise protein and fiber levels, allowing for high palatability and optimum body condition.
And, offer free-choice Purina® Sheep Mineral
, designed to support skeletal growth in replacement ewe lambs.
Preparing for breeding
Yearlings are often kept on a replacement feeding program until about ten months of age before turning back out to pasture and bred at around a year or year and a half. These animals are more accustomed to forage conditions, have reached nearly their mature size and are easier to breed. Continue offering free-choice mineral while on pasture to prepare animals for breeding.
For ewe lambs, timelines are much shorter. Ideally, ewe lambs would receive a few months on a replacement feeding program before moving back out to pasture to get bred at around 6-7 months of age. For those keeping ewe lambs on pasture at all times, provide additional supplementation a few times a day to prepare them for carrying lambs.
and overall size should be considered when identifying when ewe lambs are ready for breeding. If animals lack maturity, they won’t cycle, and breeding may be delayed. Replacement ewe lambs should be 40% of their mature body weight at breeding.
Replacement ewes are set up to perform when implementing proper management practices. Remember the following when developing replacements:
- Follow a flock health plan under the guidance of a veterinarian. Adhere to label requirements for the proper timing of vaccinations and dewormers.
- Cover the basics, like shearing, trimming hooves and providing shelter against the heat and other inclement weather conditions.
- Keep a close eye on the flock and be ready to intervene if they show any signs of common diseases like coccidiosis.
- If purchasing replacements, make sure you know the health and management history. Quarantine new flock members for a minimum 7 days to avoid spreading disease.
Selecting replacements is a make-or-break moment for the future of your flock. But with a combination of sound selection practices, quality nutrition and proper management, your flock will be set up for long-term success.
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