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Tips for Improving Lambing/Kidding Percentage


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This presentation was prepared for a webinar series for sheep and goat producers in Ohio.

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Tips for Improving Lambing/Kidding Percentage

  1. 1. TIPS FOR IMPROVING LAMBING AND KIDDING PERCENTAGES Management, Genetics, and Selection SUSAN SCHOENIAN (Shāy nē ŭn) Sheep & Goat Specialist University of Maryland Extension –
  2. 2. Lambing/kidding percentage is one of the most important factors affecting profitability of sheep and goat enterprises. $$1 2 3
  3. 3. However, the percentage needs to be matched to the production environment, available resources, and goals of the enterprise. Range lambing, South Dakota Pasture kidding, Missouri Shed lambing, Maryland
  4. 4. What is lambing/kidding percentage? 100 ewes put with rams (34 days) 96 ewes lambed 178 lambs born 171 lambs born live 160 lambs weaned (marked) 157 lambs sold or retained Definition, calculation % Number of lambs/kids born per ewe/doe lambing/kidding [178 ÷ 96] 185% Number of live lambs born per ewe/doe lambing/kidding. [171 ÷ 96] 178% Number of lambs/kids born per ewe/doe exposed for breeding. [171 ÷ 100] 171% Number of lambs/kids weaned (marked) per ewe/doe exposed. [160 ÷ 100] 160% Number of lambs/kids sold or retained as a percentage of the total number of females exposed for breeding during a given period. [157 ÷ 100] 157%
  5. 5. How do you compare? Sheep State Lambs born or docked per 100 ewes Iowa 167 Minnesota 158 West Virginia 141 Michigan 140 OHIO 136 Kentucky 129 USA 111 Pennsylvania 97 Texas 77 Source: USDA NASS, JAN 2015 Meat goats Per doe kidding Average Number born n=3057 (per doe kidding) 1.84 Number weaned n=2906 1.56 Source: Kentucky State University GHIP FEB 2015
  6. 6. 90 100 110 120 130 140 150 1973 1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 # lambs per 100 ewes (1+ yr) USA Ohio Is the industry making any progress? Source: USDA NASS 40-year trend Ohio +31 lambs (0.31 lambs/ewe) USA +16 lambs (0.16 lambs/ewe)
  7. 7. Establish benchmarks for your farm Trait Your farm Sheep Prolific Sheep Goat Conception, 1st cycle, % ? > 80 > 80 > 80 Prolificacy, % ? > 200 > 150 > 200 Still births, % ? < 5 < 10 <5 Pre-weaning losses, % ? < 15 < 10 < 10 Post-weaning losses, % ? < 5 < 5 < 5 Lambing/kidding % ? <200 <150 <200
  8. 8. Benchmarks for my farm
  9. 9. Lambing & Kidding Percentage is a composite trait. 1. Fertility (conception/pregnancy rate) 2. Litter size (number born, prolificacy) a) Ovulation rate (OR) b) Embryo survival 3. Survival a) Perinatal b) Pre-weaning c) Post-weaning
  10. 10. Many factors affect lambing/kidding percentage. Animal factors  Breed  Age  Sex  Genetics  Body weight and condition  Health  Male-to-female ratio  Lambing/kidding interval  Length of exposure Environmental factors  Season (photo period)  Climate – weather - temperature  Stress  Nutrition  Pasture composition  Lambing/kidding system  Management - labor
  11. 11. How to improve fertility Management  Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE) for males  Monitor breeding activity with marking harness or painted brisket  Use multiple sires  Male: female ratio  Good nutrition during early pregnancy  Breed in fall  Don’t breed on certain kinds of pasture  Use ram/buck effect to induce estrus  Hormones or CIDRs to induce estrus Genetics  Raise a more fertile breed  Raise a more heat tolerent breed.  Introduce a more fertile breed  Crossbreeding  Use a crossbred ram for breeding  Select a less seasonal breed or breed cross Selection  Select breeding stock from females that lamb/kid early in season.  Select replacements from females that lamb/kid out-of- season.  Cull open females  Cull females that don’t breed in first heat cycle.  Do not use males with small testicles for breeding.
  12. 12. Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE) Up to 10-15% of rams/bucks are of unsatisfactory reproductive breeding quality.* 1. Physical exam a) Body condition b) Structural soundness c) Health 2. Assessment of reproductive organs, including measuring scrotal circumference 3. Semen evaluation 4. Libido (serving capacity) * At least 30 days before breeding
  13. 13. Scrotal circumference (SC)  Scrotal size is strongly related to semen production capacity.  There is evidence to suggest that female progeny from males with larger scrotal circumference reach puberty earlier than progeny from males with smaller testicles.  Scrotal circumference can vary by season and with body condition.  Mature rams should have a minimum scrotal circumference of 33 cm; 30 cm is acceptable for ram lambs (6-8 m of age).  It is recommended that mature bucks have a minimum scrotal circumference of 25 cm; a minimum has not been established for buck kids < 14 m.
  14. 14. Libido or serving capacity 10% of rams will not mate with ewes.  Serving capacity is a moderately heritable trait that can be evaluated in a pen test using females (in estrus). Indirect selection for serving capacity  Rams born to prolific ewes, and preferably born as twins or triplets themselves, are more likely to have a high serving capacity than rams born to low fecundity ewes. (Australia)  Rams born as co-twin to another ram are more likely to have a high serving capacity than rams born as co-twin to a ewe lamb. (Australia)  No difference in serving capacity of rams born from high or low line ewes (Montana State University).  Monitor breeding activity  Marking harness  Painted brisket  Use multiple sires  Use clean-up rams/bucks
  15. 15. Male-to-female ratios Breeding scenario Male: female Length of breeding season Mature male 35-50 2 heat cycles Young male 15-25 2 heat cycles Synchronized matings 5-10 1 heat cycle
  16. 16. Summer breeding considerations Increased body temperature due to high temperatures (>90°F) and humidity. Also from grazing endophyte-infected fescue. Males  Scrotum cannot cool testicles below body temperature.  Temporary infertility that can last for up to 60 days.  Shearing  Separate for feeding  Keep in cool place during day  Turn rams out at night only..  Cull rams susceptible to heat stress. Females  Delayed heat cycles  Lower ovulation rates  Increased embryonic mortality  Shade, natural breezes  Do not work sheep in middle of day  Shearing
  17. 17. Breeding pastures Phytoestrogens  Phytoestrogens are a diverse group of naturally occurring non steroidal plant compounds that, because of their structural similarity with estradiol have the ability to cause estrogenic or/and anti-estrogenic effects.  The major plants producing phyto- estrogens that are of importance to animal agriculture are legumes, clovers (subterranean and red) and alfalfa.  Can cause infertility and other reproductive problems.  Sheep most sensitive. Ergot alkaloids  Kentucky 31 tall fescue is infected with a microscopic fungus commonly known as the endophyte.  There is evidence that the toxin produced by the endophyte can affect growth, reproductive, and lactation rates in small ruminants.  Inhibits prolactin production which could affect mothering response and inhibit lactation.
  18. 18. Crossbreeding to improve fertility Average heterosis effects in the crossbred lamb (individual) 2.6% Average heterosis effects in the crossbred ewe (maternal) 8.7% Average heterosis effects in the crossbred male ? Source: Nitter, 1978
  19. 19. Litter size (number born, prolificacy) Ovulation rate (OR)  Number of eggs ovulated by female.  Sets the upper limit for litter size.  Affected by breed, age, season, genetics, and nutrition. Embryo survival  Factors affecting embryo survival: breed type, genetics, nutrition, and ovulation rate. Embryo age % mortality < 25 days 28 > 25 days 15 Each 20 days beyond 25 3-4 Total 43 Pregnancy Wastage, West Virginia University
  20. 20. How to increase litter size (number born) Ovulation rate + embryo survival Management  Breed females when they are in optimal body condition.  If necessary, flush females at beginning and during early part of breeding season.  Good nutrition during early part of gestation.  Breed in fall. Genetics  Raise a more productive breed, e.g. Polypay or Katahdin  Introduce a prolific breed, e.g. Romanov or Finnsheep.  Introduce FecB gene (Booroola Merino) into flock.  Heterosis via crossbreeding Selection  Select breeding stock from most productive families.  If no other data is available, select breeding stock from large litters.  Select breeding stock with high EBVs for number born (NLB).
  21. 21. 90 percent of the differences in litter size are due to non-genetic factors  Season  Age  Nutrition  Static  Dynamic
  22. 22. Season Season of breeding can have a large effect on lambing/kidding rates.  Sheep and goats are short-day breeders; fall is their most natural time to breed.  Females bred in the fall will usually have higher conception rates, ovulation rates, and lambing/kidding percentages.  Females bred outside the “normal” breeding season will usually have lower conception rates, ovulation rates, and lambing/kidding percentages.  A VA Tech Study showed that spring lambing was consistently more profitable than winter and fall lambing.
  23. 23. Age Age (of female) has a large effect on litter size. Virginia Tech study, using NSIP data from Targhee, Polypay and Suffolk breeds (n=29,567) Ewe age # of lambs As compared to 4-7 (8) year old ewe 1 year old ewes - 0.6 – 0.7 lambs 2 year old ewes - 0.3 lambs 3 year old ewes - 0.1 lambs > 7, 8 years - 0.21 lambs As compared to 12 month old ewe 15 month old ewe lambs + 0.21 lambs
  24. 24. Body condition (BCS, 1-5)  Females in better body condition have higher ovulation rates and higher lambing/kidding percentages.  Conversely, over-conditioned females (BCS >4.0) have reduced reproductive performance.  Aim for a body condition score of 2.5 to 3.5 (depending upon production system).  Access body condition of ewes/does several months prior to breeding and manage accordingly.
  25. 25. Flushing Increasing nutrient intake and body condition prior to ( ovulation rates) and during early part ( embryo survival) of breeding season.  Accomplished by providing ewes/does with fresh pasture, supplemental harvested forage, or up to 1 lb. of grain per head daily.  Response to flushing varies by age, breed, body condition, and stage of breeding season.  Mature > Yearlings  Less prolific > more prolific  Early > late  Thin > above average BC 2-2.5 BCS > 3-3.5 BCS
  26. 26. Prolific breeds  With the exception of Suffolk, Rambouillet, Targhee and Finnsheep, few studies have been done to compare the prolificacy of different US sheep breeds.  Romanov and Finnsheep ewes have the highest prolificacy of any breeds, giving birth to 2.0 to 1.5 x as many lambs as Suffolk ewes (avg. 1.71).  Other breeds superior to Suffolk are Booroola Merino (with at least one copy of FecB+ gene), hair breeds, and Polypay.  With the exception of Angora goats, prolificacy of goats does not vary significantly among breeds and tends to be higher than most sheep.
  27. 27. Selecting for increased litter size H2 ~10% Requires a long-term commitment: expect 1-2% improvement per year.  Select females that are more likely to produce multiple births and/or males that are more likely to sire prolific daughters.  Select for birth type or a composite trait, such as pounds of lamb/kid weaned.  Select replacements that are born as multiples from young mothers.  Select replacements from females who have demonstrated a lifetime of multiple births.  Select replacements from same sex litters.
  28. 28. Enhancing selection with EBVs [via National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) -- for goats, too!]  An EBV is an estimated breeding value.  It is an estimate of an animal’s genetic worth.  It predicts differences in performance of offspring.  EBVs are calculated from the animal’s own performance, performance from genetically-related traits, and performance of relatives for those traits.  EBVs are calculated by Sheep Genetics (of Australia) via LambPlan. There is also a KidPlan.  Purebred or seedstock producers should consider enrolling their flocks and herds in NSIP. AS part of re- launch program, first year enrollment fee is being waived (up to 3 years for young producers, < 22 years).  Commercial producers should purchase males with desired EBVs.
  29. 29. Estimated breeding values are a proven technology in other countries and animal industries. Targhee Katahdin
  30. 30. Lamb/kid survival There are many causes of lamb/kid mortality and many contributing factors. Perinatal  Abortion  Diseases  Birth trauma/injury  Starvation  Exposure  Hypothermia  Pneumonia  Scours (diarrhea)  Predators Pre-weaning Post-weaning  Diseases  GI problems  Coccidiosis  Nematodes (worms)  Predators
  31. 31. To improve survival, you need to document the loss pattern.  Lamb and kid mortality usually varies from 5 to 25 percent.  It varies by production system and geographic location.  Losses are usually highest during the first 48 hours after birth. Age % First 24 hours 37.8 > 24 hrs, < 1 week 31.8 > 1 week, before weaning 30.4 Cause of death % Scours 46 Starvation 20 Pneumonia 8 US Sheep Experiment Station USDA APHIS NAHMS
  32. 32. Birth weight  Birth weight is a major factor affecting lamb/kid mortality.  In sheep, birth weights vary from 3.5 to 20 lbs.  Although these differences are associated with breed, dam age, and litter size, they are highly dependent on nutrition and in particular energy intake during the last month of pregnancy.  Inadequate energy intake during this period will result in lowered birth weights which in turn is a major factor affecting lamb/kid mortality.  There may be as high as a 12 percent increase in lamb mortality for every 2 pound decrease in lamb birth weight.  On the other hand, excessive levels of feeding may result in lambs/kids with increased birth weights leading to lambing/kidding difficulties.
  33. 33. Neonatal care: Clip, dip, strip, and sip  Clip: shorten navel cord with scissors if necessary.  Dip: Spray or dip navel cord in disinfectant, e.g. iodine or chlorhexidine.  Strip: strip teats to remove wax plugs and evaluate milk supply  Sip: make sure lambs/kids nurse as soon as possible.
  34. 34. Crossbreeding to improve survival Average heterosis effects in the crossbred lamb (individual) 9.8% Average heterosis effects in the crossbred ewe (maternal) 2.7% Average heterosis effects in the crossbred ram ? Source: Nitter, 1978
  35. 35. Tips for improving perinatal lamb/kid survival  Attended ewes/does at lambing/kidding  Shed lambing/kidding  Good hygiene: lamb/kid in a clean, stress-free environment.  Adequate shelter: well-ventilated, but draft-free  Control/eliminate diseases.  Vaccinations, as needed.  Have ewes/does in optimal body condition for lambing/kidding.  Do not underfeed or overfeed energy during late gestation.  Assist with difficult births, as needed.  Make sure lambs/kids consume adequate colostrum; assist, if necessary.  Use jugs to encourage bonding, especially for first-time moms.
  36. 36. Tips for improving pre-weaning lamb/kid survival  Adequate colostrum intake.  Good nutrition to maintain milk supply.  Vaccinate pregnant females for clostridial diseases: CDT or 7,8-way  Other vaccinations as necessary.  Include a coccidiostat in feed or mineral.  Control predation: fencing, guardians, night penning, shooting, trapping, denning etc.  Cull poor mothers.  Select for number weaned or pounds of lamb/kid weaned.
  37. 37. Tips for improving post-weaning lamb/kid survival  Vaccinate lambs/kids for clostridial diseases once colostridial immunity starts to wane.  Deworm pregnant females to control periparturient egg rise: primary source of infection for lambs and kids grazing summer pastures.  Integrated parasite management: pasture rest/rotation, alternative forages, multi-species grazing, and targeted selective treatment.  Test for anthelmintic resistance.  Good nutrition to ensure good growth rates and disease resistance.  Feed balanced rations, e.g. Ca: P of >2:1  Avoid digestive disturbances, e.g. acidosis, bloat.  Control predation: fencing, guardians, night penning, shooting, trapping, denning etc.
  38. 38. Importance of sire selection  Most genetic improvement is made through the male.  The male contributes half the genetics to the flock or herd.  There are considerable differences among breeds and sires for maternal traits.  It is more difficult to make genetic improvement in maternal traits, as they are less heritable and are not expressed in the male.  NSIP provides the means to evaluate maternal traits in sheep and meat goats, especially males.