June 12, 2024

Nutrition influences success of sheep reproduction

Megan Torrance

URBANA, Ill. — Increasing profitability of sheep operations starts at conception.

“For people just getting started in the sheep business, try to identify your market first and work backwards for breeding the ewes,” said Megan Torrance, sales specialist for Purina Animal Nutrition.

“Christian holidays are big and the ethnic market is the biggest,” said Torrance during a presentation at the Illinois Sheep Industry Day, hosted by the Illinois Lamb and Wool Producers. “So, you can have a spring group of lambs and a fall group and still have a market.”

Breeding problems in a flock can occur from ewe error, ram error or human error.

“Most of the times, ewes are pretty simple, but it’s when we don’t have the right kind of environment or they get old that things don’t work the best,” the specialist said.

“My best advice is to have a veterinarian preg check ewes,” said Torrance, who raises and shows Dorset sheep. “My family is really hard cullers of our sheep, so if they’re not doing their job, there is no sense in paying a feed bill for them.”

Sometimes, shepherds set up their rams for failure from a management standpoint by letting them get too thin or too obese.

“Rams on a body condition score of 1 to 5, we want them to be around 3,” Torrance said. “Rams are probably going to lose about 10% of their weight at first in the breeding season because they’re running around excited.”

Thin rams generally have lower fertility.

“They also have reduced libido and have difficulty covering the ewes, so it is better for them to have a little more condition when you turn them out,” Torrance said.

“The Purina Hi-Fat tubs have Accuration technology, which is really nice, especially when you first turn the rams out — if they need it they’ll eat it and if they don’t most of the time they won’t eat it,” she said. “Rams are your hardest working animal out there, so they need a lot of energy.”

It is important to feed minerals to sheep at least 60 days before the breeding season, Torrance said.

“The Wind and Rain mineral is the only mineral that has Availa zinc in it,” the sales specialist said.

“When we started using this mineral in our flock, we probably had to trim feet a little more than we wanted to, but we do not have the foot rot incidence like we used to,” Torrance said.

“Zinc methionine is important for the reproduction success of rams,” she said. “It takes 48 days for a ram to go through spermatogenesis, so we have to be thinking ahead.”

Torrance advises all shepherds who think a ram is questionable to get the animal tested.

“It can save you some heartache in the longer term,” Torrance said.

“The ram-to-ewe ratio for a mature ram is 25 to 30 ewes and for a yearling ram 15 to 20 ewes,” she said. “The rule of thumb is one female for every month of the ram’s age up to 3 years old.”

For lactating ewes, Torrance said, the energy requirements increase by 33% if the ewe has twins and 43% for ewes with triplets.

“I think protein gets overlooked, and for a growing fetus standpoint, protein is critical,” she said. “Protein requirements increase 30% for twins and 38% for triplets.”

From 70% to 80% of the fetus growth occurs during the last trimester, Torrance said.

“If the ewe is just consuming hay, there may not be enough room in her stomach for the ewe to get all the energy she needs,” she said. “So, we have to think about how to provide her something else.”

Torrance has struggled with ketosis in her flock.

“We feed a lot of hay and the Purina purple tubs really helped,” she said. “There are a lot of calories in these tubs for them to consume to meet their energy requirements, about 2.5 times denser than corn.”

Each tub is 200 pounds, which provides for 30 to 40 sheep.

“These tubs help maintain rams and females for proper body condition, increase conception rates, increase the lamb crop, increase milk fat and provides a lot of energy for the ewes,” Torrance said.

“Our new Sheep and Goat R + R tubs, which stands for reproduction and receiving, are really good for ewes about to be bred,” Purina specialist said. “It’s a stress tub that has a lot of goodies including Tasco which is a form of yeast, and it helps lower body temperatures especially in the summertime.”

“The R + R tub also has chelated manganese and zinc, vitamins and extra selenium,” she said. “It has the Accuration technology and Alleviate, which is really good for digestive health.”

Torrance advises all shepherds to test their hay.

“Hay is your cheapest source of feed,” she said. “Find out the protein, fiber and energy of your hay and then you can make better feeding decisions.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor