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Successfully Breeding Ewe Lambs


The average replacement rate in a breeding flock is 22% or five lambings per ewe. The current cost of replacements to the breeding flock is 25% of the value of each lamb sold per ewe during her lifetime in the flock. Vincent Ronayne, Teagasc Advisor Ballinrobe, makes savings by breeding ewe lambs

The average replacement rate in a breeding flock is 22% or an average of five lambings per ewe. The current cost of replacements to the breeding flock is 25% of the value of each lamb sold per ewe during her lifetime in the flock. Over half of Irish sheep farmers purchase replacements for their flock. These costs can be reduced by the breeding of suitable ewe lambs.

Replacement costs are influenced by four factors:

  • Longevity of the ewe
  • Litter size
  • Rearing expense
  • Age at first lambing

The benefits of breeding ewe lambs is an increase in the number of litters a ewe will have in her lifetime.  Also lambs not normally bred in the first year will produce a lamb thus giving more lambs to sell. Many farmers will not breed ewe lambs due to negative results and experiences that they have had in the past.  However, with good management and planning this can be carried out successfully.

Important factors and management guidelines to follow when breeding ewe lambs

  • Weight of lamb: The lamb should be 60% of her expected mature weight when joined with the ram. Joining light ewe lambs will result in the ewe never reaching her full potential.  Also small ewe lambs will have a smaller pelvic opening.
  • Nutrient requirements in autumn: The breeding ewe lamb needs to get preferential treatment in the autumn to continue her own growth, as well as carry the pregnancy, so grazing ewe lambs separate from the main flock on better quality pastures is recommended.
  • Parasites and Dosing: These ewe lambs are still susceptible to worms so a different dosing regime to ewes should be in place to ensure there is no fall back on thrive.
  • Mating Management: Use the ram to induce the ewe lambs to cycling. For this to work the ewe lambs must be away from the ram for 4-6 weeks. Introduce a mature ram to the ewe lambs 14 days prior to the planned breeding date for 1-2 days and remove again.
  • Ram Type: While every farmer have their own preferences as to what breed to use it is important to use a ram that will produce a smaller framed lamb at lambing. This will reduce lambing difficulties in spring.
  • Spring feeding: Unlike mature ewes, ewe hoggets need supplementation in the last 8-9 weeks of pregnancy. Depending on forage quality this can be as little as starting with 200grammes per day and rising weekly depending on the scan results.
  • After lambing the ewe hoggets need to be treated as a separate flock. As grass will not supply sufficient energy for the production of milk and the growth of the hogget. A twin rearing ewe hogget should receive 0.5Kgs/head/day for 5 weeks after lambing. Creep should be introduced to her lambs early and fed at 300g/day until weaning to reduce the stress on the ewe hogget.

The lambs from bred ewe lambs will be lighter at birth and at weaning but this is to be expected. However, there will be a lamb to sell that would not otherwise be on the farm.  There will be no discernible difference in weight of a bred ewe lamb and a dry hogget when mating at 19 months of age if these management practices are carried out. Management of ewe lambs this autumn can have a big influence on the return and workload involved with ewe lambs in the springtime.

Read more here on Sheep Breeding & Genetics

If you require any help or advice in the area of Sheep breeding, contact your local Teagasc Advisory Office here: Advisory Regions. Teagasc Advisors are regular contibutors of articles here on Teagasc Daily.