Proper nutrition, shelter and sanitation can keep sheep and goats in top condition

With lambing and kidding season upon the Ozarks, as well as wintertime temperatures, now is a good time for producers to evaluate their cold season care for their herds and flocks.

Feed: As many small ruminants are giving birth and lactating this time of year on top of simply staying warm, they have a set of nutritional needs that must be met to keep both moms and babies in good shape. Dr. Chelsey Kimbrough, specialty livestock/youth specialist with the University of Arkansas, explained that late gestation is a critical time for females, as 70 percent of the fetal growth occurs during this phase of production.”

Proper nutrition during this time will help prevent pregnancy toxemia (ketosis) and milk fever (low blood calcium). It will also affect offspring birth weights, offspring mortality rates, lower milk yields, and dystocia. Producers should evaluate body condition score and aim for 3 to 3.5 on the scoring scale. Kimbrough recommended females in late gestation receive 4 to 5 pounds of hay per day, half a pound to a pound of grain per day, free choice minerals, and fresh water.

Early lactation (first six to eight weeks of a lamb or kid’s life) is when a female’s nutritional requirements are at their highest. At this time, Kimbrough recommends 4 to 6 pounds of hay per day, along with a pound of grain per offspring being nursed, free choice minerals and plenty of water.

When feeding mineral, remember sheep are susceptible to copper toxicity, whereas goats require it in large amounts. Producers should purchase mineral specific to each animal, and feed separately if both sheep and goats are raised on the same farm.

Shelter: Shelter needs vary between sheep and goats, but some type of shelter is required for successful small ruminant care.

“In my experience, hair breeds of sheep need less shelter during the winter than do goats of any breed,” Dr. Elizabeth Walker, animal science professor with Missouri State University, explained. “Oftentimes, a nice wooded area can supply enough shelter. At other times, females may need to be brought indoors or have access to at least a three-sided shed. The most critical thing is to try to keep animals dry, even if that means unrolling some poor-quality hay or straw next to a wooded area that provides a windbreak. Sometimes, that can be fine for lambs in a pasture-based management system.”

If a producer is unable to provide adequate dry shelter, Walker advised to create a breeding program that does not require winter lambing or kidding.

“Wait until late spring or fall,” she said. “Some breeds are more seasonal than others, so you can have out-of-season kidding or lambing if you select for breeds or does/ewes that will breed out-of-season.”

Sanitation Practices: Birthing areas should be kept clean.

“It’s important to clean out lambing or kidding barns and shelters on a regular basis. Proper sanitation ensures a healthy environment for sheep and goats which in turn allows them to thrive,” Kimbrough explained. “If utilizing lambing or kidding jugs, you should clean each jug before putting another pregnant female in the jug. Cleaning out shelters is also important to help prevent the spread of disease and bacteria. Do not allow dirty bedding to build up especially if keeping young offspring in the barn.”

Health Protocols: “Your vaccination and deworming protocols should be in line with what your veterinarian recommends and what is labeled for sheep and goats,” Walker advised.


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