Normal Breeding Habits of Sheep

Age of puberty. Ewes typically reach puberty at 5 to 12 months, depending on breed, nutrition, and date of birth.

Anestrous period (reproductive inactivity). This is the period when ewes normally do not demonstrate estrus (heat). Three types of anestrous are observed in ewes: seasonal (influenced by length of day), lactation (influenced by the sucking stimulus of lambs), and postpartum.

Length between estruses, or heat periods. The normal cycle for ewes is approximately 17 days between heat periods. However, it can vary from 14 to 19 days.

Duration of estrus, or heat period. The heat period usually lasts 30 to 35 hours, with a range of 20 to 42 hours. Ovulation occurs late in the period.

Gestation period. The normal gestation period of ewes is approximately 147 days, ranging from 144 to 152 days. The medium-wool breeds and meat-type breeds ordinarily have a shorter gestation period than do the fine-wool breeds. High temperatures and high nutrition levels may shorten the gestation period two or three days. Ewes bred to white-faced, wool-breed rams may have a slightly longer gestation period than those bred to black-faced, meat-type rams.

Breeding ewe lambs. Ewe lambs that breed and lamb as yearlings generally have a greater lifetime production than ewes that have their that first lamb as 2 year olds. Since the onset of puberty depends largely upon body weight, ewe lambs should be provided adequate levels of nutrition to reach at least two-thirds of mature weight before breeding. Also, lambs born in winter or early spring are more likely to exhibit heat the first year than are lambs born later. Separate ewes that lamb as yearlings from mature ewes, and manage and feed them so that the yearling ewes can grow to their maximum potential size.

Ewe lambs and yearlings are normally rather shy breeders. For best results, breed them separate from older ewes. In some cases, it may be better to use rams of smaller breeds on young ewes to minimize the chance of lambing difficulties.