It is breeding time for our sheep and goats, and it is always hard for us to get our minds around that fact. I am not sure why. Maybe because it falls at the same time as shipping beef calves and getting ready for winter, which to me signals the end of another production cycle. Whatever the reason, every year November comes and we are not ready.
This year we are really not ready. Due to weather conditions, we have no pens cleaned so we have no clue how we are going to wiggle things to winter our animals. And because of all the rain we had, our feed is coming from all over the province, so we will be dealing with hays we haven’t grown and we usually don’t feed to our animals.
To add to the confusion, we haven’t secured a grain ration. The one we were trying from Co-op was mixed wrong (their mistake) so none of our stock would eat it. Then it took them weeks to get it out of our grain bin so we have decided that dealing with them isn’t going to work. But even with all of these variables against us, the fact remains that it is time to get these animals into a breeding program.
The first thing that crosses people’s minds when they think about breeding is to flush their females. Flushing means to get your female stock onto a ration that will enable them to be on a higher nutritional plane. The most obvious way to do this is to increase their grain ration or the quality of the hay you are feeding, but for really good results here are a few more suggestions.
For us, flushing the females starts about a month before we release the males. Before the flushing ration is started, we want to make sure they are going to be able to utilize the food as much as possible. This is a good time to deworm, delouse and boost their vitamins. While we’re at it, we check for feet that need trimming and for animals that need to be culled.
This is also a good time to assess their physical condition. All the wet and muck this year hasn’t made it easy on these girls to raise babies and try and put any weight back on. The weather has caused a lot of stress plus the grass was so full of water, we didn’t get the gains that we usually would. We had to worm them in mid-July and early August due to the wet, which we have never had to do before. Sometimes just getting rid of the worm load is enough to produce a flushing effect on the females because they are no longer feeding the parasites. This way that expensive feed we are all feeding this winter will only be going into the most productive animals and the animals will be better able to utilize their feed.
Goats and sheep both have an approximate five-month gestation, so if we want our lamb and kid crops on the ground end of April, we have to start breeding the end of November. I like them born then because it isn’t long till they can go to pasture and eat grass. The dams milk better on grass and the little ones grow really well.
Goats have a heat cycle of 18 to 21 days and ewes are a little shorter. To keep our lambing and kidding season short, we usually put the males in the pens for about six weeks.
Before the males are put in to the pens for breeding, it is important to examine them for fertility. About a month before breeding, we check their feet. If they need to be trimmed it should be done then so if they get a sore foot from the trimming they have time to recover. While they are restrained we can do a visual inspection of the testicles. Do they look swollen or injured in any way? Does it look like they may have been frostbitten? If so, a vet can perform semen testing. This will also give you time to buy a new ram or buck if need be. It will also give you enough time to adjust their rations to get them into breeding condition.
We like to see our males carrying a bit of extra weight before they go in with the ladies. We use a 30 female to one male ratio so the boys work hard and they need a bit of extra in case they don’t eat like they should.
I have a friend who rotates males every 12 hours and uses full brothers to keep the genetics as close as possible. For a larger herd this could be a great idea. My friend says this helps to maintain a very tight lambing season because the rams don’t lose condition. We haven’t had luck with this method though because we have nowhere to put the male where he isn’t worried about the females in heat. Therefore the one that is supposed to be resting and eating paces the fence instead.
At the same time we take the opportunity to boost their vitamins and delouse or worm if necessary. Males are usually not handled very often so we use time wisely.
For vitamins, we have started using E-AD from Vetoquinol in Quebec. We have to special order it through our veterinarian because of the higher levels of vitamin E. What works best on our farm is to booster the females in the fall and again two weeks prior to kidding or lambing. We feed a mineral high in selenium and although we know we are in a deficient area, we never felt comfortable supplementing with selenium, also. Using E-AD helps the animals to better absorb all the available selenium in the diet. The added bonus to using E-AD instead of supplementing with selenium is that E-AD doesn’t interfere with copper absorption. Selenium does.
If the nutritional elements are not in place at breeding time, the animals will not be able to make a strong placenta as well as properly formed fetuses. That is why it is so important to pay attention to these management details before breeding so that you can expect the best possible outcome five months from now.
Debbie Chikousky farms at Narcisse, Man.
E-mail her at [email protected]