Management strategies to make the season successful 

Breeding season is fast approaching for some sheep and goat operations. However, regardless of the timing of an operation’s breeding season, there are some management strategies producers can implement to help them achieve optimal results. 

First, livestock specialists encourage producers to assess all their animals’ health prior to breeding season. “It’s a good time to check parasite loads, body condition and the overall general wellbeing of the animal,” Ken Coffey, Ph.D., professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas, said. 

Flushing Ewes and Does

One management strategy designed to optimize reproduction in sheep and goats is the process of flushing. Flushing consists of increasing the doe or ewe’s plane of nutrition two to three weeks prior to breeding. The elevated level of nutrition in the weeks leading up to breeding season can positively impact ovulation and conception. 

Producers have a variety of options when it comes to products to utilize during flushing. “Flushing can be done with higher quality pasture, with low levels of supplemental feeds like corn, byproduct feeds like distiller’s grains, soybean hulls, or anything like that  that will increase the energy status of the animal,” Coffey explained. 

Timing is an important part of the flushing process. If producers start to increase the doe or ewe’s plane of nutrition too soon, the animal will be over-conditioned at the time of breeding. It’s important to enhance the plane of nutrition in the proper window.

Additionally, if animals are over-conditioned at the time they need to start in the flushing process the practice will not work. If animals are over-conditioned, producers may want to consider restricting nutrition to get them in the proper body condition for flushing. 

Keeping it Cool

If producers are utilizing a ram or buck during the summer months, they will want to make sure he has places to stay cool. If the ram or buck overheats, it can temporarily impact his fertility. “This happens a lot of times if we are trying to breed for early winter lambs (December/January) because it is awfully hot when we turn the ram out. The presence of the ram can stimulate some cyclic activity in the ewes, so you can wind up working him too hard too early and if he gets too hot that could cause him to go sterile for a temporary time,” Coffey said.  

 Producers will want to make sure their animals have access to cool or shaded areas. As much as possible, livestock specialists encourage producers to create spaces where their herds and flocks can find a reprieve from the heat and humidity. 

Parasite Control 

The impact of parasites on small ruminants is an ongoing struggle that impacts an animal’s overall health and reproduction. 

“I can’t over emphasize the impact parasites have on our animals,” Coffey said. 

Livestock specialists say in many cases dewormers utilized for small ruminants have lost or are losing their effectiveness. 

“We can work on our management with things like FAMACHA scoring to test for anemia, but because of doing that the repercussions are we are now having more problems with other worms that are not blood suckers. We are getting greater populations of worms that the FAMACHA test isn’t an indicator of,” Coffey explained.  

If a producer suspects an animal is carrying a heavy parasite burden, livestock specialists encourage producers to collect fecal samples, obtain fecal egg count loads and then cull animals with high fecal egg counts. 

Breeding Season Timing

The optimal breeding season varies from operation to operation. 

Producers will want to analyze factors such as their markets, facilities, endpoint objectives for their offspring, forage quality and feeding program before determining the best time of year for lambing and kidding. There is not one perfect time of year that fits all operations.


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