Preparing small ruminants for breeding season

Reproductive performance is an important factor in determining profitability in small ruminant operations.

Most small ruminants have seasonal breeding patterns and the majority of them have their kids and lambs in the spring. This means that peak fertility is from late September through November. Ewes and does will be fertile for a time before and after peak fertility. Some management attention given to the females and males prior to the breeding season can pay dividends in terms of increased conception and potentially higher profits.

A major consideration is the reproductive health of the males. In addition to making sure that they are in good body condition, it is recommended that a breeding soundness exam (BSE) be conducted prior to breeding season. The BSE consists of a physical examination, a reproductive tract examination and a semen evaluation. Waiting until after the breeding season to discover a problem with your buck or ram that shows up in the form of an extended kidding/lambing season or open females is costly. Contact your veterinarian to schedule a BSE. It is money well spent.

Regardless of the production system and timing used on your farm, the nutritional status of the animals is a primary concern. The nutritional status of the animals at breeding is probably the primary factor that influences reproductive performance. Based on a body condition scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very thin and 5 being fat, the goal should be to have the animals enter the breeding season somewhere around a 3.5 body condition score. One practice that is helpful with females that are below the target body condition score is to provide them with a diet high in energy that allows them to gain weight. This practice is termed flushing and should be done two to four weeks before breeding. The high energy diet can be provided by supplementing a high energy grain, such as corn, at a rate of one-half to one pound per animal per day, or by providing a high quality pasture. Flushing can result in an increased number of offspring and a decreased number of open females. If animals are to be flushed using a high quality pasture, take caution and use a grass pasture, not one with a high content of legumes such as clovers and alfalfa. Estrogens from the legumes can cause problems with estrus and fertility. Caution should be used on pastures that are over 50 percent legume for this reason. Animals should also be checked for internal parasites using the FAMACHA system and treated with a chemical dewormer as needed.

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