Reproductive efficiency Industry looks to increase national lamb crop with best practicesWritten by Emilee Gibb
“We looked at how to double lamb consumption in this country and also at increasing domestic production. To meet those goals, we need to produce more lamb,” said Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension Sheep and Goat Specialist Reid Redden.
Redden presented a webinar to the American Sheep Industry Association titled, “Best Practices to Increase Your Lamb Crop,” where he outlined the current state of the national lamb crop, personal stakes for producers to consider in increasing reproductive efficiency and 12 best practices producers can consider in flock management.
“It’s not just about the 12 steps. It’s also about gaining industry acceptance of a need to improve lamb crop,” commented Redden.
A national Reproductive Efficiency Task Force laid out a 12-step best practices program for producers to use as a resource.
“We came up with a 12-step plan to educate and promote the industry to work towards a better lamb crop. These 12 steps are set not by rank but by some level of importance or level of building upon one another,” said Redden.
The steps include nutrition, breeding ewe lambs, selecting for prolific genetics, crossbreeding, culling, reducing lamb loss, pregnancy testing, disease prevention and treatment, reproduction-to-management matching, testing rams, managing seasonal reproductive changes and accelerating lambing.
Redden noted that the steps are not revolutionary information for many in the industry, but the program is designed to provide resources to producers.
“These aren’t novel. We’re just putting them into an umbrella where a producer can answer how to move their flock’s reproductive efficiency forward,” said Redden.
Rather than attempting to make improvements with every step, Redden encouraged producers to select one to three steps that are most relevant to their operation to focus their efforts on.
“We want producers to dig into those couple methods, make some progress, evaluate their successes and failures and then keep with those couple of methods or move into some new methods,” he said.
Nutrition is one top priority.
There are five important time periods to tailor nutritional requirements, said Redden. The five time periods are maintenance, breeding, early gestation, late gestation and lactation.
Proper nutrition and body condition prior to breeding is essential for meeting lamb crop goals.
“The number of lambs born is set just after fertilization,” said Redden. “We need to make sure that the animals are in the right condition or are being flushed appropriately prior to breeding or we can’t increase lamb crop after the breeding season from what our potential is.”
It is important to feed ewes that are pregnant with or nursing multiple lambs differently than ewes with a single lamb to meet nutritional needs.
“If we feed all of our animals a static amount, we’re going to underfeed our ewes that are most reproductively fit to meet our lamb crop goals,” said Redden. “They’re either not going to do the best job raising the lambs, or they’re going to lose a lot of body condition through late gestation and lactation.”
Losing body condition prior to breeding season may have a significant impact on the ewe’s ability to produce multiple lambs the following year.
“If they had a twin or triplet this year, they may only have a single next year because they’re lighter in condition. It’s important that we target our resources appropriately to the animals that need it the most,” continued Redden.
Breeding ewe lambs to give birth at one year of age is a practice that can significantly increase the lamb crop without making changes to other aspects of an operation, said Redden.
“Ewe lambs lambing is one way we can increase lamb crop without affecting a lot of the things that we do,” he continued.
Ewe lambs account for 10 to 20 percent of a producer’s flock. Depending on the type of operation and inputs, producers can expect 30 to 65 percent of ewe lambs to conceive.
“If we have 10 to 20 percent of the flock that’s not producing lambs, there’s a significant opportunity to increase lamb crop, both within the farm and nationally,” emphasized Redden.
He noted that breeding ewe lambs is a fairly common practice in farm flocks but is not commonly implemented in range flocks.
Regardless of a producer’s decision to breed ewe lambs, those animals that exhibit estrus and are able to lamb at one year of age have a higher lifetime productivity.
“Selecting for ewes that can lamb at one year of age is going to improve the productivity of the flock,” said Redden.
The heritability of age at reproductive maturity is 0.18. Redden noted that this is not high, but it is one of the highest heritable reproductive traits.
“We can probably make faster progress selecting for ewe lambs to lamb at one year of age than we will selecting for prolific genetics because it’s a little bit lower in its heritability,” concluded Redden.