Former Extension Educator Mike Fournier explained to the Sheep Management class that shepherds can heavily influence whether their ewes lamb singles or twins each year. Single births - or none at all - cannot always be blamed on the ram. How can you ensure your ewe weans healthy lambs?
Following these simple tips should help improve your flock productivity.
Know your breed characteristics and breed (or cross breed) accordingly
Some breeds, like Finn sheep, have multiple births - more like litters. Black-faced breeds tend to have less multiple births than white-faced breeds.
Strap a marking harness on your ram
It may look silly, but a breeding harness can save you from a lambless season. These harnesses cost about $25, and are strapped onto the breast of the ram. A crayon is inserted in a pocket, and when a ram mounts the ewe to breed, the crayon leaves the color on the ewe so you know she is bred. Change the color of the crayon every 2 weeks. If the ram doesn't mount any ewes, or if a ram continues to mount the same ewes throughout the breeding season, you know there is a problem with your ram.
Deworm your sheep
Internal parasites develop in manure and make their way into your sheep's digestive tract through the pasture and forage they eat. Deworming will ensure the energy you are putting into your sheep through feed and forage goes toward helping your sheep grow or maintain their productivity instead of feeding parasites. An effective deworming schedule would be: the end of pasture season, one month before lambing, one month after starting pasture, two months after starting pasture, and before breeding - 5 times per year.
Feed your ewes well
You may think, well, I do feed my sheep. But this is one of the most important contributors to ensuring multiple births. This is not to say you should feed your ewes so they are fat - that would cost you more money in feed and decrease the ewes ability to maintain a pregnancy. Feeding a little extra energy - such as grain - two weeks before breeding is called flushing. Flushing will increase the ewes chance of having twins because her nutritional needs will be met and she will have that little extra energy she can put into growing lambs. Flushing should continue 2-3 weeks into the breeding season. (Keep in mind, fat ewes should not be flushed.)