Do the babies get here when they’re wanted? The gestation period is different for cows, goats, sheep and horses. The farmer should look at the food source, his or her time available to be around and market timing, and also any farm-specific variables, when developing a breeding schedule. When the goals of a farm are spelled out, a good business plan can be implemented.
A mare is pregnant an average of 341 days. She would need to be bred 11 months before the desired birth of the colt or foal. However, a mare can postpone birth if she is not comfortable with her surroundings. Special thought and care should be given to her comfort as she approaches her due date.
“In the grand plan most animals probably had babies in the spring,” explained Eldon Cole, Livestock Specialist, University of Missouri Extension. “If it wasn’t for the fescue endophyte we probably would never have thought about fall calves,” said Cole. Drought, disease and heat stress can cause breeding problems, especially in sheep and cattle.
Sheep naturally come in estrus when the days shorten and cool. They cycle every 16 to 17 days. Having the ram with them for three cycles would be roughly two months. Even with a 144 to 151, or five-month gestation, there will probably just be one pregnancy per year, producing one to three lambs each. According to Cole, there are just a few really good farm managers who can produce three lambings in two years.
Goats aren’t much affected by the heat stress caused by the fescue endophyte and are similar to sheep with a 145 to 155 day gestation. To figure out when to start breeding for kids to arrive in a certain month, count back five months, or forward seven. For example, for kids or lambs to arrive in March, going back five months is October, or counting forward seven is also October.
Cows are pregnant for 284 days, or nine months and ten days. Count backward nine from the desired calving month, or forward three to find the right breeding date. The standard of having a bull with the cows for three 18 to 21 day cycles would be three months. Calving can be planned to maximize profits at market time, around school sports, deer season or whatever is important to a particular farm.
Cole, who is primarily involved with beef cattle, believes farmers could do a better job of planning for maximum profit with some good record keeping and careful thought as to the reason for calving at different times. Just a few weeks can mean the difference of dropping calves on ice or on grass. A lot of farmers don’t like to keep records and Cole said, “I tell them they don’t have to, but somebody does.” A wife or hired hand could be in charge.
Some careful thought, a gestation chart and a calendar can go a long way toward improving the profit and ease of operation of a farm.


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