Lambs are the lifeblood of raising sheep for profit. One determining factor in staying in business raising sheep is the number of lambs born at each lambing. Raising sheep for market lambs, wool or milk require lambs to be born in order to replace and improve breeding ewes and rams. Sheep farmers like myself who raise lambs to sell for market lambs, lambs are the money. Some lambs, some money. More lambs, more money. No lambs, no money.
I was reading a recent post on face book concerning culling ewes that only produce singles. The concern of the individual was having a first time ewe lamb a single, who came out of a ewe who always lambed singles, but was sired by a ram that was a twin. This sheep farmer was trying to decide on culling the first time ewe. This ewe had good conformation, breed traits and a good mother. Should the sheep farmer keep the ewe and wait to see if next time this ewe has twins, or save the expense of months feeding and cull the ewe now?
I had a ewe who always lambed singles. She had good conformation, was an excellent mother, mostly she produced milk like a jersey cow. Her lamb was the fastest growing lamb in the flock, even if born at the end of lambing, her lamb would be the largest and heaviest at weaning. I kept her to put the milk production in my flock genetics. All the rams I own are twins, my latest ram is a triplet. One of this ewe’s daughter, sired by a twin ram, has produced a single as a first time ewe, but the second time the daughter produced twins.
Ewes producing a single, twin or triplets is based on genetics. Nutrition also plays a key role in how many lambs a ewe will produce. The first few years of raising sheep, I struggled to find feed that would meet the requirements of the sheep with the forage being fed. I now have one hay supplier, and the supplement has the minerals and vitamins needed for the hay produced in our area.
A ewe in poor condition or poor nutritional condition can not reproduce to her best ability regardless of the superior genetics she carries. The ewe will not have nutritious milk for the lambs to grow their best, if the feed is lacking those nutrients needed. In short, a ewe can not pull the nutrients she needs from “thin air” to reproduce the number of lambs and feed those lambs.
Ewes have to be taken care of in order to perform to the best of their genetic code.
First time ewes, often they have singles. One factor is the age of the ewe when bred. Some sheep farmers will breed a ewe lamb before she a year, but the lambing timed at or shortly after she is a yearling. I wait to breed my ewe lambs until they are at least 11 months old. I want them to grow and develop. My opinion is breeding ewe lambs too yearly produces a small full grown ewe, and the first lamb does not grow as well. The ewe is tasked with providing nutrients for both her growing body and the growing lamb she is producing.
A sheep farmer that wants to bred ewe lambs to produce their first lambs when they turn a year old, ( I know some who do and do well), must provide the ewe with the feed and nutrients to be able to do both, grow herself and the lamb.
Genetics need to be in the ewe for her to produce twins or triplets or more lambs. Nutrition for the ewe will determine how well those genetics will perform.