Breeding Replacement Ewe Lambs
by Dr. Gary E. Ricketts
Many producers are breeding ewe lambs instead of holding them over to breed as yearlings. A major reason for this (in both commercial and purebred flocks) is simply economics. Why lose a year of income? It is well documented that ewes that lamb as yearlings and are well managed, will produce more total pounds of lamb throughout their lifetimes than ewes that lamb first as two-year-olds. The key to success with ewe lambs centers around the two words well managed.
A second and often overlooked reason for breeding ewe lambs is that your lambs should be the best genetic material you have. The quicker you get them into production, the faster you can turn over generations, as well as speed up the progress you are making. If your lambs are not the best genetic material you have, then you better evaluate your breeding and selection program very critically.
Purebred breeders should be using a few ram lambs each year so that as yearlings you can make more accurate evaluations about them than by using only visual appraisal.
A third factor is that some of the best potential replacement ewes available are ewe lambs. The supply of yearlings is rapidly decreasing each year because of the increased demand for ewe lambs. Years ago our supply of replacement ewes was primarily restricted to the western range flocks. Today, there are many good replacement ewe lambs being produced in the Midwest, as well as other areas of the country. Also, many producers today are looking for ewes that have the potential for high production.
Breeding ewe lambs is not for everyone. Some have had discouraging results, while others have been highly successful for many years. Consider the following recommendations if you plan to breed ewe lambs this fall.
1. Turn the ram in when the ewe lambs are 8-9 months old rather than 6-7 months. This will result in a higher percentage of them lambing. Some producers report having 85% or more of their ewe lambs breeding and lambing. In addition, the extra age and development will result in fewer problems at lambing time.
2. They need to be well developed from weaning on and kept in good condition.
3. They should be managed as a separate group and should not be run with the older ewes until they are ready to be bred for their second lamb crop.
4. Ewe lambs have different nutritional requirements than older ewes and will usually require more care at lambing time.
5. Be very selective in the rams you use. Select rams that have a moderate birth weight and are not extremely heavy fronted.
6. Use rams that are very aggressive. Fewer ewe lambs will seek out the ram when they are in heat, than will older ewes. In addition, ewe lambs have a shorter breeding season than older ewes.
7. Ewes should be watched carefully when you wean the first lamb crop. When the ewes dry up, bring them back up in condition if they are very thin.
8. Be sure to flush these ewes prior to breeding for their second lamb crop.