By Bill Hoag
Through the years I’ve learned that ewes of hair sheep breeds generally are excellent mothers and easy natural lambers. These facts and tips for how to raise sheep when breeding sheep will help you have a successful breeding season.
Here are a few reasons why hair sheep breeds are a great homestead addition:
- Penning is not necessary for hair sheep breeds.
- No need for shearing around udders for these sheep giving birth.
- Ewes will not leave their lambs so management is easy if you move the ewes with new lambs from the flock daily. Late afternoon and early evening is when most of mine lamb or 7-8 a.m.
- The lambs survive well because birth fluids don’t stick to the fiber of hair sheep breeds, so the mother can clean them off faster and get on with the birth of her next lamb.
- High glucose levels and high immunoglobulin levels help as well for survival; more often than not, newborn hair-class lambs don’t strictly need colostrum for about 24 hours.
- Older ewes with lambs will attempt to fight off dogs and coyotes.
- Herding ewes with lambs off the range is easier as well, because of their strong flocking instincts.
What you feed to hair breed sheep ewes during gestation seems to determine size of the lambs: 7.5 -9 lbs. is about average for first-timers, whether twins or singles.
Occasionally there are triplets; From a ewe on her second lambing, expect twins and/or triplets. Out of the 2 or 3-time mothers of hair sheep breeds, you can start to expect twins thru quads.
I have had two sets of quintuplets out of 1,000 ewes lambing. One season I had 70% triplets!
I have also bred the ewes back-with lambs on them-within 18 days after lambing: 85%+ conceived! This can wear a ewe down though, and may affect her in the long term, from wear and tear so to speak; they seem to age faster, too.
A Potential Problem & Remedy
If your hair sheep breeds ewes tend to drop triplets, and you use big rams, then with each added lamb they are carrying-at up to 9.5 lbs. each-there is a lot of total weight for the ewe, especially if they are longer-type lambs.
Some ewes may run out of energy to expel long-bodied lambs completely. In other words, the lambs may get only halfway out. So the ewes rest and then don’t have enough energy to get up soon enough to clean them up. It seems that too-big or too-long lambs may lead to difficulties, so it’s important to know what to feed sheep during gestation.
However, if you can get ewes that are bigger-framed than usual hair sheep, then the problems seem to be reduced dramatically.
Big rams on smaller hair sheep can be a problem though, in that the ewes may not be able to provide all the milk that fast-growing lambs demand.
Size and height-to-weight proportion in the ewe is important. Stout, blocky ewes with heavy muscling and built low to the ground are not my desire because prolapses tend to increase. Plus, the number of lambs diminishes.
I prefer a higher-off-the-ground, long-legged ewe that is height-to-weight proportionate. It takes time to breed this into sheep consistently, but it’s worth aiming at good muscling in the rear, and bigger-framed hair sheep.
In my ewes, I avoid animals that are too blocky in the chest area, and I also avoid sheep with too-large hooves.
Also, St. Croix ewes have a dip behind the neck. This dip helps in moving the lambs out (just my theory).
The main benefit of hair lambs is survivability, a product of their ability to either get up and nurse immediately (singles) or wait (without detriment) until the mother ewe is done giving birth to other lambs. Very rarely will a hair lamb chill down, but mothers, through natural selection, will abandon any lamb with a defect-from wrong eye color, to odd ear, to yawl neck.
Hair-breed ewes don’t need as much energy as wool ewes in late gestation; molasses tubs will work. I use very little if any corn/milo during the last quarter of gestation.
Dorper rams seem to breed more at night, conserving energy. Then they breed a substantial amount of ewes when they’re assembled.
The St. Croix is probably the most prolific hair sheep. They breed all night and all day…but rams may need to be exchanged every 30 days because of condition-loss, especially on the ranges; the crossbred works best for me.
Originally published in 2013 and regularly vetted for accuracy.