Breeding is always a popular topic for farmers, because selecting the right sheep for breeding is crucial to a sheep farmer’s success and is often the difference between a good or bad season—whether the focus is on meat, milk, hides or wool production.
There are many factors which need to be taken into consideration when choosing the right sheep for breeding, depending on the results a farmer wants to achieve. In this article we take a brief look at some of the more important factors…
Meat and wool production
Farmers often specialise in meat, milk, hides or wool production when farming sheep. There are breeds specifically suited to each purpose, as well as those which offer dual benefits. It’s often safer to farm sheep breeds that can be used for both meat and wool production, as this means if wool or meat prices fluctuate, a farmer can still get a good return on their flock. Sheep breeds that are popular for farming in Australia for both meat and wool production are Border Leicester and Merino, while Suffolk and Texel are primarily bred for their meat quality.
With meat production, lambs are separated into two categories after birth; slaughter and feeder lambs. The categories lambs fall into are based on weight and growth rate, with some ending up on the plate while others are used for breeding.
For wool and meat production, lambs also fall into two categories—with those that have a lower weight and growth rate but a fine quality fleece being chosen for their fleece, while lambs that develop faster and have a poorer quality fleece are separated for meat production. Out of both of these categories, breeding stock is also chosen. If farmers only specialise in wool production and don’t breed for meat, then the focus is on breeding the finest quality fleece and lambs will be left to fully develop into sheep and breeding stock, so that several seasons of fleece can be collected.
Selecting the right ram for breeding is integral to the number of lambs produced and the meat or wool quality. A popular saying amongst farmers is “a ram is half your flock” which refers to the ability of a ram to produce a high number of lambs. Genetics is a major factor in choosing a ram for meat or wool production.
“a ram is half your flock”
When selecting a ram for wool production health, wool grade and breeding ability, how many twins or triplets are produced, are all factors taken into consideration. Whereas with meat production frame size, how well grown a ram is for his breed, age and diet, as well as the amount of muscle the ram is carrying are assessed to determine suitability for breeding.
The production environment and environmental conditions where a farm is located also play a crucial role for farmers when selecting sheep for breeding. It’s essential to choose sheep breeds for meat, milk, hide or wool production that thrive when introduced into the production environment.
These are just some of the many factors that sheep farmers must assess before deciding on sheep for breeding. What did we miss? We’d love to hear any other factors you might consider in the comments section below.