When is the best time to lamb/kid?


There is no best time to lamb/kid. It varies by farm or ranch. There are pros and cons to different lambing/kidding seasons and many factors to consider when making this important decision.

Winter lambing/kidding is common. Lambs/Kids born in the winter months can usually be ready for the premium Easter markets. Lambs/kids born during cold weather often do better, as worms aren’t active in the winter (in most places). The periparturient egg rise is less of a problem. Labor is often more readily available in the winter months.

On the other hand, it is cold in many climates. Enclosed housing is necessary; thereby, increasing the cost of infrastructure. However, the enclosed housing protects fragile newborns from predators. Feed costs are higher, as most farms don’t have winter grazing and peak nutritional requirements need to be met, usually with harvested feedstuffs.

It is more natural to lamb/kid in the spring. The weather is (usually) milder and the grass is plentiful. Feed costs are less. Reproductive rates are usually higher: more twins and triplets. If you lamb/kid late enough in the spring, ewes/does can drop their babies on pasture. Less labor and facilities are usually needed for spring lambing/kidding. Because animals are more likely to be outdoors, certain diseases are less prevalent. Disease spread is much higher when animals are kept in close quarters.

On the other hand, spring lambing/kidding is not without its issues. Internal parasites (worms) are a far greater challenge with spring birthing. Sometimes, this obstacle is too great to overcome. Predators are also more of a risk, as predator moms have their own young to feed in the spring. They, too, can become too big of an obstacle to overcome. Livestock guardians can help, but they aren't always enough. There is usually a lower level of performance when animals are raised on pasture.

Fall is probably the most favorable time of the year to lamb/kid. The weather is usually nice. Worms are becoming less active. Cool season forages are experiencing their second spurt of growth. Predation is usually less of a risk. Out-of-season births offer superior marketing opportunities. Lambs/kids born in the fall can usually be sold when market prices are usually higher, due to the lower supply of animals.

If only the sheep/goats would cooperate. Unfortunately, most sheep/goats are seasonal in their breeding habits and don’t breed as readily in the spring. Even when they do breed, they tend to give birth to fewer offspring. If ewes/does won't conceive naturally for out-of-season births, there is an added cost of hormone treatments.

For commercial production, accelerated lambing/kidding is becoming an increasingly popular option. Accelerated birthing is when the lambing/kidding interval is less than 12 months. While ewes/does can theoretically produce two crops in a year, lambing/kidding every 8 months is more the norm. Typical birthing months include January, May, and September. Two groups of ewes can be overlapped to produce lambs every other month.

In the Cornell STAR© accelerated lambing system, ewes lamb every 7.3 months, producing 5 lamb crops in 3 years. The MAMRE lambing system (in South Africa) lambs every month with 8 management groups. Regardless, accelerated lambing/kidding requires a high degree of management to be successful, but it allows lambs/kids to be marketed year-round and increases the efficiency of production.