With the breeding season (September) for sheep and goats rapidly approaching, producers can take several steps now to ensure one of the most successful seasons ever, said David Fernandez, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist.
Ranchers should be concerned with body condition and nutritional status, parasite control, breeding soundness, flushing and preparing for winter feed needs. Body condition and nutritional status are keys to successful reproduction. Fernandez recommends feeling along the backbone between the last rib and hip bones for a moderate amount of cover over the bones.
Too much fat can reduce breeding success and increase lambing and kidding problems in the spring.
Parasite control is important. The most common parasite problem for small ruminant producers in Arkansas is the barber pole worm, a blood-sucking parasite that lives in the true stomach of the animals. A heavy infestation can weaken ewes and does, reduce their ability to reproduce and often kills sheep or goats, Fernandez said. Instead of deworming the entire flock or herd, only deworm the animals needing treatment. Use the FAMACHA score or fecal egg counts to determine which animals need treatment.
Bucks and rams should receive a breeding soundness exam every year to check their fertility. Because most ranchers use only one or two males for breeding, the entire season could be lost if males are not fertile. Finding a veterinarian to conduct the test may be difficult, but if veterinarians know producers want this service, more will offer it.
Flushing is the practice of providing extra nutrition to ewes or does for 10-14 days before the beginning of the breeding season. The additional nutrition helps females in moderately poor body condition breed successfully and may increase their twinning rate, Fernandez said.
Animals in good body condition do not benefit from flushing. And, flushing good to fleshy females may even reduce their reproductive performance. Do not continue flushing beyond the second week of the breeding season because extra nutrition can be detrimental to the development of the embryos during early pregnancy.
Finally, Fernandez recommends preparing for winter feed needs. Get ready to plant cool season annuals to provide the best possible nutrition in the early spring when ewes and does begin to give birth and their nutritional needs are greatest. Cool season annuals can reduce feeding costs and provide better nutrition than hay most of the time. Have any hay tested to ensure that it meets or exceeds the ewes’ or does’ late pregnancy nutrition requirements. Be careful to avoid overfeeding as fat ewes and does can suffer from pregnancy toxemia, Fernandez said.
Three fact sheets, available online from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, provide additional information: FSA 9610 on body condition scoring sheep and goats, at http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-9610.pdf; FSA 9608 on conducting a fecal egg count at http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-9608.pdf and FSA-9611 on flushing and nutritional management, at http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-9611.pdf.