Should I breed my ewe lambs and doelings?


The answer depends. Breeding ewe lambs/doelings provides an economic advantage, but only if they are properly fed and managed.

Breeding ewe lambs and doelings allows you to exploit their reproductive and genetic potential. It is well documented that ewes that are mated for the first time as lambs will have a higher lifetime production than ewes that are mated for the first time as yearlings (18 months of age). It's been demonstrated that ewes that lamb for the first time as yearlings are better mothers the next year compared to ewes lambing for the first time as 2 year olds.

One of the most compelling reasons to breed ewe lambs and doelings is genetic improvement. Your lambs and kids should have the best genetics on your farm/ranch. Breeding them early will reduce the generation interval and accelerate genetic improvement.

At the same time, ewe lambs and doelings have lower conception rates, give birth to fewer offspring, produce less milk, and are more likely to experience problems during the periparturient period, including increased risk from parasites. Some producers think breeding ewe lambs/doelings stunts their growth. It shouldn't with good nutrition. Most show animals are not bred until they are yearlings and have finished showing. It's a shame there isn't a separate show class for yearlings that have already produced offspring.

The age of puberty (sexual maturity) varies and is influenced by breed, nutrition, season of birth, and presense of the male. Slower maturing range breeds may not reach puberty until they are close to a year of age, in which case it is customary to breed them for the first time when they are yearlings (18 months of age). Some breeds reach puberty as early as 4 to 5 months of age; even earlier for Pygmy goats. Most meat breeds reach puberty by 7 to 8 months of age, in which case they can be bred to lamb/kid as yearlings. Lambs/kids born in the fall from spring breedings will reach puberty in the spring, but they will be less fertile that their spring-born counterparts.

It is recommended that ewe lambs/doe kids not be bred until they are least 7 months old. Size is just as important as age when deciding whether to breed ewe lambs and doelings. Ewe lambs/doelings should achieve 60 to 70 percent of their mature size (weight) before being bred for the first time. That means if the mature ewes in the flock average about 150 lbs., ewe lambs should weigh approximatley 100 lbs. before being bred. If does average 120 lbs., the doelings should weigh at least 80 lbs. before being bred. It's often necessary to feed some grain in order to get ewe lambs/doelings big enough for breeding.

Ideally, ewe lambs and doelings are bred in their own groups and not with the mature females. Ewe lambs/doelings are less competive for the male's attention. Ewe lambs/doelings should not be bred to males with large birth weights or heavy front ends. Because ewe lambs and doelings are still growing, they have higher nutritional requirements than mature females. They don't need more feed so much as a more nutrient dense diet (higher percentage of nutrients in the diet). They are also less aggressive at the feed trough. Some producers wean lambs from yearlings earlier than from mature ewes. For these reasons, they should be fed and managed separately from mature females ideally until they are joined with the rams/bucks for the second time.

With good management and nutrition, ewe lambs and doelings can be successfully bred to produce offspring by the time they are 12 to 14 months of age. Without good management and nutrition, the results can be disastrous, and you are better off waiting until ewes/does are yearlings before breeding them for the first time.


Additional reading

Breeding Ewe Lambs at 7-9 Months: Lamb Resource Center
To Breed or Not To Breed - Maryland Small Ruminant Page