07/28/2022 Sheep Breeding Season

As the summer winds downs, breeding season is on the minds of sheep producers says Travis Hoffman, the NDSU and University of Minnesota Extension sheep specialist. In this week’s segment of Sound Ag Advice, Hoffman discusses proper management practices leading up to turning rams out with ewes.

Speaker 1: Kelli Anderson, NDSU Ag Communication Specialist
Speaker 2: Travis Hoffman, NDSU/University of Minnesota Extension Sheep Specialist

Kelli: This is Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature provided by NDSU Extension. I'm Kelli Anderson and I'm joined this week by Travis Hoffman NDSU and University of Minnesota Extension sheep specialist. Thanks for being here today, Travis.

Travis: Thanks for having me, Kelli.

Kelli: So, as you travel the state, what are on the minds of sheep producers?

Travis: So, one of the things that's front and foremost for sheep producers right now is that we're nearing breeding season. And so, there's several decisions that we can make that can help us to be able to be successful. As we move towards lambing and get past that breeding season and make those decisions.

Kelli: What are some of the breeding decisions and management decisions that people are making regarding their ewes right now?

Travis: The fundamentals with the reproduction of the ewe flock are really important. First off, you have 17 days of a heat or estrus cycle. And also, when you get those females bred, you have approximately 147 days of a gestation period, from the time that ewe is bred to when those lambs are born. So, knowing that, we can be able to move on and be able to hit correct management decisions that can help our ewe flock. Some of those include consulting your veterinarian, so that we can make sure that we're correct relative to vaccinations, we can de worm those ewes to make sure that we don't have those challenges.

And then also, we want to manage where those females are from a body condition score. If they're too far behind, or too thin, maybe they need to be culled. Or maybe there's other reasons, such as their teeth or a bad bag. But those females, we can be able to evaluate now that we have a little bit of time in front of us where they're at on their plane of nutrition. And if we wish to increase the amount of lambs, and the reproduction rate for those females, we can be able to do what's called flushing, or providing a higher plane of nutrition and providing a little bit more grain and concentrates to those females so that we get a higher amount of lambs on the ground.

Kelli: Now, how about their male counterparts? What are producers doing to ensure that when they turn rams out that they're ready to go?

Travis: I think the most important part right now as we're just leading into our breeding session is making the correct selection for which rams were going to turn out. We need to identify our target, are we trying to produce maternal females that will be part of our operation? Or are we looking for high growth rams and getting lambs to a finish weight as quickly as we can.

So we need to make sure that our selection is correct. And we can provide the right animals to breed to our ewes. But also, once we've made those purchases, we have to look at the fertility of those rams, heat stress can be a challenge. And it's been warm lately. And we want to make sure that when we turn those rams out that they're fertile. And so we work with a different veterinarian, or you should as a producer, to make sure that the fertility is as best as it possibly can be, even during these warmer summer months, and as we move into the fall.

The other thing is, is that we have the opportunity to add a marking harness if you so choose or be able to put that on a ram so that you know which ewes and at what times those females are being bred.
One of the last things that I think is important, no matter if you're a part of the ram battery, or the ewe flock is that you need to have minerals as well and free choice sheet minerals that can be able to balance the requirements for those individuals. It's a great time to be in the sheep and lamb industry. Kelli, we are increasing in North Dakota with the numbers of sheep that we have, and they're steady to high lamb prices, and it's trending up. And so consequently, we have that opportunity to build and be a part of it and then provide some lamb for our consumers. Both lamb and wool are certainly staples in what we're trying to produce here in North Dakota and Minnesota sheep industries.

Kelli: Our producers here in North Dakota and in Minnesota might have questions for you. Where can they contact you at?

Travis: My email is Travis.w.hoffmann@ndsu.edu, and my phone number is 701-231 BAAA or 2222.

Kelli: Great advice from our NDSU and University of Minnesota Extension sheep specialist Travis Hoffman. We thank him for his time today. This has been Sound Ag Advice a weekly feature provided by NDSU Extension.

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