Sheep have a natural and predictable reproductive cycle, which usually makes planning a breeding programme straightforward.
It means that the sheep farmer can plan ahead, taking care of their animals’ nutritional needs and ensuring that the flock is in optimum condition and that their offspring get the best start in life.
Let’s find out more about the lambing season in Australia, and how the reproductive cycle of sheep works.
How many lambs can sheep have each year?
Provided that her nutritional needs have been met, a ewe will reach sexual maturity at around six to eight months and is likely to be used for breeding from around year, when she has attained a target weight of 45 kg.
If a ewe is lambing for the first time, she is likely to produce only one lamb at a time. Subsequent pregnancies often result in twin lambs, though some breeds may produce more than two lambs per gestation.
A ewe will produce her largest litter of lambs when she is between three and six years old.
Most breeds of sheep only come into season once every 12 months, so each animal is only likely to produce one to two lambs during each year.
It’s usual practice to follow the natural breeding cycle of sheep, with reproductive activity taking place in the autumn.
Fertility in sheep peaks then as the days get shorter, so the breeding or “joining” season usually falls between March and May.
This means that lambs tend to be born in winter, so typically between August and October.
By the time they are weaned at a few months old in the spring, pastures are richer and food is more plentiful. It’s nature’s way of ensuring the strongest flock and the continuity of the flock.
Gestation period for sheep
The average gestation period for sheep is around five months, although this may be a little shorter in some cases.
However, a ewe’s pregnancy is not usually obvious until about six weeks before giving birth to her offspring.
To avoid guesswork, a marking harness attached to the ram’s chest can be used to leave a mark on any ewe that has been mounted. This will give a good indication of when to expect the lambs to arrive.
How long do sheep breed for?
During the autumn breeding season, ewes come into oestrus (on heat) approximately every 17 days, with the window of fertility lasting for somewhere around 24 to 36 hours.
The season itself will vary in length from four to eight months depending on the breed but is usually concentrated during the three to four months of autumn.
During her lifetime, a ewe can produce lambs typically from about a year of age up to ten years.
Matching a ewe’s needs to nutritional resources
For sheep farmers, being in tune with the lambing season means that they can anticipate ewes’ needs.
A ewe’s energy requirements will double later on in her pregnancy, especially during the final month as the lamb and udder tissue grow rapidly and if she is pregnant with more than one offspring. Her pregnancy will also affect her ability to digest food, so a gestating ewe will need a more nutrient-rich diet.
And while she’s lactating, the new mother will need triple her usual nutritional requirements.
ProviCo Rural offers a range of supplements for gestating and lactating ewes, giving them the extra nutrition they need at this crucial time.
To find out more about how our products can aid your breeding programme, don’t hesitate to get in touch.