goat; ewes

Small stock production: Advice on culling ewes and does

Question: Why are we advised to cull our ewes and does? Surely it’s better to keep all the females for breeding?

Keeping all breeding animals can result in less breeding. The aims of farming are to produce food for the farmer’s family and also extra lambs or kids to sell so that other necessities can be bought.

Producing as many animals as possible for sale each year, in a sustainable way, should be the aim of the farmer. The main factor that determines how many animals can be kept is the quantity and quality of the food available.

If there is a fixed quantity of food, eg veld grazing, having too many animals means that not all the animals will get enough to eat and will not breed properly, if at all.

There are 5 reasons for culling:
When animals are starving. They concentrate on surviving, not breeding, and this is the most important reason to cull – rather have three ewes that produce and wean three healthy lambs than have five that produce three, one or more of which die before being weaned because of insufficient food.

When ewes and does get too old for breeding. Breeding is best between the ages of 2 and 6 years; by 8, they often fail to breed. Don’t wait for this to happen. Examine the front teeth every year before breeding; if they’re worn down, very long, or falling out it’s time to cull and replace with a young animal.

When their udders are badly damaged because of mastitis or teat damage. They cannot raise young, and are no use for breeding.

If they’re suffering from a defect or disease such as abscesses that make them lose condition, that will affect their ability to produce and raise healthy young. Only healthy animals should be in the breeding flock.

If they fail to raise at least one kid or lamb per year. There could be good reasons, not the animal’s fault, why they fail and if so, the female may be kept for another season. But remember that breeding and raising young successfully is partly inherited, so if some ewes raise lambs and others don’t, it’s often better to get rid of the failures.

Culling is a necessity if farmers want to farm for good profits. Regular planned culling of breeding females will help keep the breeding flock healthy and productive, and maintain a good balance between available food and animals.

Also read: Reproduction management tips for sheep and goats

  • This article was written by Prof. Gareth Bath and first appeared in Farming SA.

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