feedlot; tips

Small stock production: Reproduction management tips for sheep and goats

Every sheep or goat farmer wants to have as many healthy lambs or kids as possible on a regular basis. Follow these tips to maximise your results.

Rams must be functionally effective, in other words they must have healthy reproductive organs and strong, healthy legs. Test your rams for fertility. If only a few rams are used, it is especially important that they should be fertile.


  • Rams must be skilled at mating.
  • Use young rams with old ewes and old rams with young ewes.
  • Rams must be healthy at breeding time.
  • Some disease conditions such as fever (also bluetongue injections) could cause temporary infertility.
  • The maximum age at which rams should be used for mating is 7 to 8 years.
  • Old rams cannot follow ewes for long distances.
  • Ensure that the rams are in a good condition at breeding time.
  • They must not be overweight, because then they become lazy.
  • If animals have to walk long distances during the breeding season, make sure that you buy rams early enough to allow them time to adapt to the environment.
  • Do not release expensive, newly-bought rams into areas where there are large numbers of poisonous plants.

Also read:
Vaccinate sheep and goats by following this programme
Taking care of your rams


  • Ewes must be functionally efficient.
  • A healthy udder with 2 normal, healthy teats is essential.
  • Examine the teats regularly in areas where ticks occur.
  • Ewes that have hard udders (as a result of inflammation or blue udder) and those with abnormally thick teats must be culled.
  • Ewes must not be too old when mated.
  • They must be culled after 5 to 6 lambing seasons (7 to 8 years).
  • Their teeth get bad and they cannot walk long distances to find grazing.
  • Ewes must be neither too fat nor too thin.
  • If young ewes are too thin, they do not come into oestrus.
  • Ewes must be healthy.
  • Disease conditions such as fever immediately after mating could cause resorption of the foetus and abortion.
  • Young ewes should be mated for the first time at 18 months.


  • Mate the ewes so that they lamb when grazing is plentiful.
  • Lambs will then have a better chance of survival.
  • This also avoids having to buy expensive feed and the lambs are ready for the market at an early age.
  • Limit the breeding season to 6 weeks to include 2 oestrus cycles.
  • When the mating season is too long, flock management (dipping, vaccination and dosing) becomes difficult.

Also read: Act against abortions in your goat flocks


  • Avoid underfeeding and stress.
  • Animals should not be driven for long distances during the first 3 weeks of pregnancy.
  • This could cause resorption of the foetus.
  • Provide sufficient feed to ewes during late pregnancy (the last 6 to 8 weeks) to ensure that strong lambs with a chance for a good life expectation are born.

Also read: Managing ewes in the last six weeks of pregnancy


  • Lambs should suckle as soon after birth as possible to take in colostrum.
  • Colostrum ensures that they build up natural immunity against diseases.
  • Provide proper shelter against wind and rain.
  • Ewes that have lambs should not be allowed to become too thin, because the lambs will not get enough milk.
  • When the ewe has a lot of milk, the lamb grows quickly and can be weaned sooner.
  • This gives the ewe a chance to reach an acceptable mass before the start of the next breeding season.
  • If an ewe’s condition deteriorates during lambing, she will not conceive easily during the next breeding season.


  • This article was written by Prof. Tertius Brand and first appeared in Farming SA.

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