Sheep and goat producers have several factors to consider before breeding a female for the first time

The first round of breeding for a ewe or doe can be a little nerve wracking for the producer. 

There are many considerations, such as age, weight, time of year and herd goals; fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), there is no one right answer for first time breeding management. It requires research, observation, experimentation and a bit of intuition for the producer to make decisions that are right for their farm and their animals.

Sexual maturity will vary from breed to breed. Generally, weight is a good indicator of breeding readiness. Dr. Elizabeth Walker, animal science professor at Missouri State University, explained hitting 50 to 60 percent of mature weight is a target with any breed of sheep or goats. Other common factors for first-time breeding considerations include gender, birth date and planned breeding dates. 

“It all depends on when they were born, gender and weight – those are the big three, if you will. Most sheep and goats are seasonal breeders, so as day length becomes shorter, they start to go into estrus. If a female is born in August, then if that female kid/lamb reaches between 50 to 60 percent of her mature body weight by January, she could come into puberty and breed. However, say a ewe has a lamb in January or February and her daughter hits that 50 to 60 percent mature body weight by 5 or 6 months of age, it will be July or August, when day lengths are long, therefore she will probably not come into puberty until 7-plus months of age,” Walker explained. 

Some producers do select an ideal age for first time breeding that works for their program.

Lesley Million of Terrell Creek Farm in Fordland, Mo., likes to allow her dairy does to reach 18 months of age before their first breeding. She also works to get them to at least 100 pounds at this age. 

“This helps ensure that a doe is both physically mature enough to kid and mentally and emotionally mature enough to be a good mother to her kids. Besides not caring for her kids, a doe that is bred too early may have difficulty giving birth or developing a decent udder,” she explained. 

Producers may also consider performance records of the parents when making first time breeding decisions for the offspring. 

Herd records and Expected Breeding Values or EBVs (similar to EPDs in cattle) can be utilized for breeding and selection.

Forage can play a role in when ewes and does cycle into heat for the first time. Walker explained that depending upon forage conditions, ewes and does may only have access to dormant grasses that have lesser energy and will not have that “flush” of energy, at least in fescue country, until later in the fall.

Consulting with the herd or flock veterinarian can help a producer make appropriate first-time breeding decisions. They can also recommend vaccinations, supplements, and other management practices to set new girls up for success.


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