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The sheep (Ovis aries) is a farm animal that belongs to the Bovidae family.
A male sheep is known as a ram and a female is known as a ewe. A group of sheep is called a flock.
These herbivorous animals mainly eat grass. They are hunted by other carnivores. They are reared for their milk and wool. There are more than one billion species of sheep. China has the most number of sheep in the world. This farm animal will generally produce one or two lambs each year. Very rarely do some breeds produce more than two lambs. Continue reading to know more about sheep gestation, reproductive cycle, lambing date, and breeding season. You can also check out our other articles on goat vs sheep facts and if a lamb is a baby sheep.
The reproductive cycle of a sheep can be natural as well as induced. Mating periods last for six to eight weeks, after which the sheep becomes pregnant.
The gestation period is 147 days that is approximately five months. A number of factors are known to affect the length of gestation in sheep. Factors like the breed of the sheep, the number of lambs the ewe carried and the health of the ewe are primary factors that affect the length of gestation period of the sheep in your flock. The pregnancy of a sheep can easily be determined by the probing method.
The average gestation period for sheep is approximately 147 days. The gestation period can be between 144-152 days, from the first day of mating.
The gestation period can be shorter if the ewe is carrying multiple lambs. When there are two or more lambs the length of rest time between each birth is just 15 minutes.
Fun Fact: The gestation time of ewes that are bred with black faced or meat type rams is shorter when compared to the gestation period of the ewes that are bred with white faced rams.
Puberty: In 5-12 months, ewes attain sexual maturity. This can vary based on the breed. It is best to breed ewes after the right age, which is one year. For lambs to attain sexual maturity, nutritional management and planning are essential. Management can vary depending on the breed, sex, and requirements.
Rest Period: Rest or break or anestrous period is the time in between the estrus cycles where the ewes are exhibit reproductive inactivity. Seasonal, lactation, and postpartum are the three types of anestrous behavior.
Heat Periods: Heat periods are times during which the sexual activity of female sheep is heightened. Heat periods occur on a regular basis. Heat periods last for 17 days during which ovulation occurs. Ovulation mostly happens in the mid to late estrus.
Gestation and breeding are also some of the normal breeding habits of sheep.
Did you know that ewes do not show any estrus signs in the first year in most of the western sheep farms? For these sheep, lambing takes place at two years of age.
The estrous cycle in ewes is affected by the lambing period and breastfeeding period. Lambing suppresses the estrous cycle. After lambing, the uterus recovers in two to three weeks. Signs of estrus are not seen until the next breeding season in ewes that lamb in winter. It is the same with a ewe that lambs in early spring. Contrary to this ewes that lamb in fall produce heat. This generally lasts for four to eight weeks after the lambing.
Fun Fact: Vitamins like vitamin A and D and other nutrients like copper and selenium have a positive influence on fertility. Toxins in the feed can negatively affect fertility and even cause abortions.
A set of physiological changes in ewes and ewe lambs triggered by reproductive hormones is called the estrous cycle.
The estrous cycle begins after the ewe lambs attain sexual maturity. Ewes are polyestrous species, meaning they have several estrus cycles within a particular period. On average, the sheep cycle lasts for 17 days. Between 24-36 hours is the average duration. Ovulation begins 24 hours after the cycle has started. Proestrus, estrus, metestrus, and diestrus are the four stages of the estrus cycle. Estrogens cause the estrus cycle. They also help the uterus to prepare for pregnancy.
Proestrus: Progesterone levels fall in this period. When fertilization does not occur the corpus luteum regresses.
Estrus: Ovulation occurs in estrus.
Metestrus: In this period corpus luteum is formed by the production of progesterone. It generally lasts for two days.
Diestrus: Large amounts of progesterone are secreted in the body during diestrus. Corpus luteum is preserved if pregnancy occurs. The presence of the corpus luteum obstructs the next estrus. Prostaglandin is produced when pregnancy does not occur. It is responsible for the degradation of the corpus luteum.
Out-of-season breeding is preferred by breeders as they are mainly focused on increasing the supply of products. Out-of-season breeding is when the sheep are bred in a season different from the typical breeding season. The typical breeding season for sheep is fall. The success of out-of-season breeding is driven by improper management.
There are benefits to this type of lambing. It gives a steady supply of milk and meat production. It enhances lambing and due to this, the lactation period is longer.
In out-of-season lambing, there are four methods used.
Genetic Selection: Choosing breeds that are less seasonal and crossbreeding to increase the success rate of out of selection breeding - comes under genetic selection.
Male Introduction: This is also known as the buck effect. Introducing males after complete isolation will induce ovulation in non-cycling ewes. This will result in the production of initial heat and fertile heat.
Hormonal Control: Controlling reproduction by the use of intravaginal progesterone inserts by CIDR (Controlled Internal Drug Release) which helps in preventing estrus, is also a method.
Light Control: Changing the light periods will help control ovarian activities by confusing ewes.
With regards to accelerated lambing, accelerated lambing refers to the practice of reducing the interval between each childbirth by having multiple birthing cycles. Some of the benefits are that more offspring are produced each year. This makes sure that the cash flow is steady.
These animals are mainly fall breeders. They are also known as short-day breeders.
The period during which they receive daylight not only affects the ram but also the ewe. The ram is less affected when compared to the ewe. When they are exposed to more sunlight in spring and summer sperm production in the ram decreases. The fertility also falls. Reproductive failures in the ram or ewe can be due to a variety of reasons.
If you pay close attention to your ewes, you can tell the difference right away. Pregnant ewes show certain behavioral changes that differ greatly from the behavior of normal ewes. However, this is only obvious during the sixth or seventh week before the ewe gives birth to the lamb or lambs.
Size: Ewes will start showing signs of weight gain, which become obvious by the end of the third month.
Udder: If you notice a nipple dropping and in a position lower than the usual, inspect it on a daily basis. The udder wool will gradually shed, indicating that the ewe is attempting to prepare her teats for nursing her lambs. The udder will appear full as well.
Ewe Body: You will see the back legs of the ewes getting progressively swollen. The ewe will try to isolate itself from the flock.
Colostrum: Ewes will begin generating colostrum one to two weeks before lambing. Colostrum has a lot of antibodies, is thick, and looks like pus.
Behaviors: Slow movements, difficulty getting up, teeth grinding, and change in feeding pattern are some of the few of the behavioral changes. Since the nutrition requirements of ewes are high they also tend to eat more.
The signs can vary between different sheep breeds and individuals. Some breeds or individuals will show no signs of pregnancy.
The stages of labor exist for less than an hour in sheep. You can easily identify this based on the ewe's body condition.
Seeking Shelter: Pay close attention to your sheep when the expected lambing date is approaching. Your sheep will probably move into a corner and try to hide before lambing. This is a protective behavior. The ewe is trying to protect its lamb from predators.
Licking: You can see the ewe licking its lips and salivating. This is because it is getting ready to clean the lambs.
Restlessness: You can see your ewe constantly standing up and changing postures. It means the pregnant ewe is in pain and is trying to find the right position to deliver her lamb or lambs.
Pawing: The ewe will constantly be fidgeting with the things on the ground and shifting places in an attempt to save a comfortable spot for the lamb.
Straining And Mucus: This is the final sign after which your ewe will begin lambing. She will strain and you will be able to see mucus or water coming from the hind side. After a few minutes, you will see a pair of legs.
Nutrition, stress, and disease are the three major threats to a pregnant sheep.
Nutrition: Avoid making sudden changes to the pregnant ewe's diet. In late pregnancy, feeding ample amounts of vitamin E to the pregnant sheep is important. Milk and other vitamin supplements will help ward off diseases and keep them healthy. Vaccination is a must. Vaccinating the sheep with an enterotoxaemia booster should not be delayed or skipped. Shave off the sheep's wool before it starts lambing. This is will ensure that the environment is clean and dry.
Stress: Long travels, handling, and lengthy periods of adverse weather are simple examples of potentially stressful conditions. The pregnant sheep will already be stressed due to the hormonal changes and nutritional stress. So even a slight trigger would harm the animal. During the early and late stages of pregnancy, avoid any contact with the pregnant sheep, as it can be very stressful.
Disease: Keep the area clean and dry to avoid any infections. Give the pregnant ewe a large comfortable area one to weeks prior to the expected lambing date.
Since all these factors are interlinked it is better to take precautionary measures once you spot one of these factors.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for sheep gestation then why not take a look at our other articles like sheep shearing facts, or sheep facts?
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