Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the fence

Remember I said I was NOT breeding ewe lambs this fall? Well I'm not this year due to the market (and I have 38 mature Shetland ewes I'm breeding anyway!) but would normally breed some of them (at least the larger ones) in a good year.

Let me explain my pro's and con's.

Pros: Breeding ewe lambs

1. Most likely will have single lamb, so will have some sort of income on the ewe first year out.
2. I can see what their genetic potential is faster than if I waited another year
3. The ewe will not have a 'free ride' their entire first two years.

1. ewes tend to not grow as fast as ewe lambs that were left open. (I have however seen that by the time the ewe is two and half years old (weaning time of second lamb(s)) they are just as big as the ewes that did not lamb their first year.
2. feeding a sheep for nearly two years before you get any lambs out of her. not money well spent
3. may not have a market for lamb that is on yearling ewe, and that lamb tends to be a little smaller than from a ewe that is two years old or older

Any other Pros or Cons you can think about?


Michelle said...

In a word, behavior. Others have said that ewe lambs don't have the mothering skills that older ewes do, even those older ewes that are also lambing for the first time. This was certainly my experience, although I will admit to that experience being VERY limited.

Kara said...

My yearlings were great mothers! The two year olds that were lambing for the first time on the other hand I had issues with. Maybe just a coincidence, as my experience is very limited. I am on the fence as well. I am really tempted to breed just a few of the bigger ones, the ones that are as big as their two and three year old moms that were not bred as ewe lambs. Go over to my blog and tell me what you think. I was feeling my rams fleece today, by handle they are the softest in my least I am going in the right direction. I am anxious to get my Texas A&M results back, two more weeks I think.

Jen and Rich Johnson said...

My primary concern is with lambing. The smaller ewe lambs can have smaller pelvises, which can result in issues such as one foot stuck, etc. I've only seen that twice, but it forced me to really look hard at weights prior to breeding season.

I've also noticed that the yearling ewes don't seem to produce as much milk as an adult. That hasn't been a real problem, but I could see where it might be.


Rayna said...

Like Kara said, I'm on the fence too. Weighing the pros and the cons...I definitely won't breed my late lambs, but the older ones...still thinking...they've still got another month to grow before breeding groups are put together...hmm....

susan said...

I've never had a problem breeding ewe lambs. Garret, Prailla is a lamb from a ewe lamb mother. I wouldn't call her small! I would say that the ewe lambs are just as good as mothers than a new mother older ewe. Maybe a little easier to handle because they are less sure of themselves so it is a little easier to help them out if they need it. Most of my ewe lambs single which works out ok, then they have plenty of milk. You may get less of a wool, it's hard to say.
I would rather plan to bred my ewe lambs instead of have a ram escape late in the year for unexpected lambs, out of the normal lambing season. I've had shetland ewes lamb in the fall before!
I also like to limit the number of pens of sheep I have. One pen is easier to manage than two.
Definately the sooner you find out their production capabilities the better.

PS. I'm trying coating this fall too. I've got some old ones that I put on today, but I want to try some of the lighter weight rocky sheep suits.

Cynthia said...

I honestly don't believe there is any global reason not to breed Shetland spring ewes Garrett. Any issues with poor mothering, milk production and/or lambing complications are individual and not age or experience related in this breed. (Unlike several breeds of sheep who clearly need maturing).

This issue seems to come up every few years, especially with the new groups of hobby/pet breeders. For those of us breeding as income-producing farms this issue of breeding ewe lambs is asked less frequently. For both groups the question should never come down to age alone, but rather a group of questions that could make the difference in the future of Shetlands.

Shetlands are very capable mothers and yes, testing their genetics that first year is economically very important to any farmer who looks at the financial bottom line. But the important issues of breeding so unclearly standardized breed as this really comes down to:

While it is wise to never breed beyond the ability to care for, the larger issue of WHAT one is breeding for and HOW one will deal with the outcome is of greater importance. What are your goals? How well-versed are you in analyzing your stock's abiltiy to achieve those goals? What is your ability to provide the proper level of nutrition to support the sheep toward those goals? What time and money do you have to offer toward lambing support?

The most difficult questions for the young breeder (and sadly for Shetlands, far too many experienced ones as well)most often are: Can you analyze your breeding outcomes and understand that not every cute lamb is actually meeting your breeding goals? That more often than not the majority of lambs will need to be sold without registration to pet homes or sent to slaughter? (Sadly many young breeders seem incapable of understanding that both these options are remarkably appropriate and economically realistic.)

Given the economy in general, the continuing inability within the Shetland community to establish firm standards and the rising costs of everything farm I do think limiting breeding to what you can utilize is the only humane and realistic farming behavior right now.

At the moment I think the Shetland question isn't do we breed spring ewe lambs, but rather WHO gets bred as purebreds and who gets crossed for meat lambs? Free-rides? Not for a single farm anywhere around me, not now.

Good questions Garrett.

Juliann said...

Some years I did, some years I didn't.
I've decided that from now on, I'll tend towards not breeding ewe lambs.
I have a few mature ewes who, I believe, have been permanently stunted by this practice, and as a result have been throwing very small lambs. These lambs do tend to "catch up" where the dames have not. Maybe this is because I've selected smaller sheep as breeding stock.
Plus, whenever I did have stuck lambs, it was a ewe lamb. A "head only" last spring was my last straw. Just not worth it to me personally.
I don't mind giving the ewes a free ride for two years, expecially now that I'm understocking. If that first lamb ends up being a cull, I'll get a lousy $15 for it as summer auction.

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