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Flushing can help boost small ruminant reproductive rates

posted: September 10. 2018 09:53a CST
by / Eric Koehlmoos U of M Extension Intern

For sheep and goat producers across the area, this time of year is when breeding decisions are beginning to be made.

A ewe or doe has a gestation period of around 145 days. In this region, producers generally like their offspring to be born a little later than their southern counterparts. Having lambs or kids around March 1 is a good time to avoid the bitter cold that can make lambing or kidding a challenge. To accomplish this, rams and billies should be put in around Oct. 1 and flushing of females should begin in early to mid-September.

The two biggest detriments to female conception and reproduction rate are nutritional deficiencies and body condition. Generally, thin or fat does or ewes have problems getting bred and will only produce a single offspring. From an economic standpoint, one lamb or kid will break even the mother’s cost; however, twins and triplets will result in a profit. By flushing, ewe and doe reproductive rates will increase by 10 percent to 20 percent, which will more than pay for the additional feed costs from flushing.

So, what is flushing? Flushing is the process of adding energy to the diet to get the female back into condition and will help allow her to become nutritionally capable of having more than one offspring. Most often, one thinks of adding corn to the diet to flush. Corn is one feed ingredient that can be added to increase energy, but it is not the only one. Anything that adds energy to the diet can help add condition to a ewe or doe. Moving them to fresh, short pastures or adding any type of small grain will achieve the same thing. The total amount of dry matter intake should be increased from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of their body weight. As with any feeding changes with ruminants, don’t allow free choice to an unusual or new feedstuff. Feed changes have to be semi-gradual. Otherwise, ewes or does could overeat and have negative and sometimes fatal side effects.

How long should females be flushed before breeding? For sheep, it is recommended that ewes begin to be flushed two to three weeks before breeding occurs. The largest increases in reproductive rate are generally made by thin and moderately conditioned animals. A good step prior to flushing is to sort ewes by body condition level. This helps everyone get the nutrition they need. The ideal goal is have a herd at a body condition score at 3. With thin ewes, it would be recommended to start flushing earlier, as they need more time to build back up condition. Conversely, fat ewes have little effect with flushing, as they need to lose some fat to be in proper condition. With goats, three to four weeks is the recommended timeline prior to breeding to flush does.

When should flushing be stopped? A common mistake made by producers is that they quit providing additional nutrition right after a ram or billy gets put in the pen. Flushing should continue for another three to four weeks after breeding begins. Those first couple of weeks are a critical time in reproduction as this is when embryos attach to the uterus and additional nutrition should help develop the beginning fetus. After three to four weeks, return the diet back to a normal maintenance diet for early-gestation ewes or does.

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