Sheep Breeding Selection Tips in India

Selecting good sheep breeding (male and female):-

1) Starting with and selecting the right sheep breeding stock will go a long way towards ensuring a successful sheep enterprise, no matter what the production emphasis is or where the farm or ranch is located.

2) It is very important that the appropriate breed(s) or type(s) be chosen and that they be well-adapted to the environment and production system in which they will be raised. It is almost always better to upgrade local breeds or stock than to introduce new breeds or genetics that may not be adapted to the local environment or producton system.

3) Most sheep selection is based on visual appraisal. Unfortunately, you can’t tell much about the future productivity of an animal simply by looking at it. Ideally,sheep selection should be a combination of visual appraisal and evaluation of performance records.

4) You need to be careful when comparing sheep on one farm to sheep on another farm. Good management and nutrition can mask poor or mediocre genetics, while poor management and nutrition can mask good genetics. Sheep that look better aren’t always better sheep. Nor should you rely soley on the information that the breeder gives you. You need to use your own observation and evaluation skills to make sound purchasing decisions.

Sheep Breeding – Ram (male sheep) selection:A ram is “half the flock.” His genetics will be spread over many more offspring than a ewe. Rams will be the primary means by which genetic improvement will be made in a flock. If the ram’s daughters will be retained in the flock for breeding purposes, he should be born as a twin or triplet and/or come from a productive ewe or line. His dam should be one of the most productive members of the flock. Reproduction should always be maximized relative to the production environment. Multiple births may not be advisable in all production environments.

If the ram will be used to sire market lambs, he should be of adequate frame size (for his breed), well-grown for his age and diet, and well- muscled. You can tell how thickly muscled a ram is by feeling how wide and deep his loin is and by measuring the circumference of his lower leg with your hands. The forearm is another good indicator of muscling. Heavy-boned animals are usually more heavily muscled. Ultrasound can be used to more accurately predict carcass traits.

When visually appraising rams, you should be much more critical than you are with ewes. If a ram has has a serious jaw defect or other genetic flaw, many lambs will be potentially affected, including potential replacement lambs. Only the top five percent of rams in a flock should be used or sold for breeding. Just because a ram has testicles doesn’t mean he should be allowed to mate with ewes.

Ideally, a breeding soundness exam (BSE) should be conducted on any ram that is purchased for breeding. A breeding soundness exam evaluate’s the ram’s breeding potential and includes a physical exam and semen test. A serving capacity test evaluates a ram’s desire to mate with ewes. Some studies have found that more than 10 percent of rams are homosexual and will not mate with ewes. A mature ram will be able to service more ewes than a ram lamb.

If rams are not testing for fertility and will be used in single-sire mating systems, a marking harness should be used to monitor breeding activity or a clean-up ram should be put in with the flock. An alternative to a marking harness is to apply raddle to the ram’s brisket (daily or as needed). The color of the raddle or marking harness crayon should be changed every approximately 17 days (the average length of the ewe’s estrus cycle).

Producers should be willing to pay much more for breeding rams than ewes. The old rule of thumb is that a ram is worth five times the value of a market lamb. If market lambs are worth $100, you should be willing to pay $500 for a breeding ram. It is better to start with mediocre ewes (so long as they are healthy) and a superior ram rather than superior ewes and a mediocre ram.


Sheep Breeding – Finding Age

When starting a sheep enterprise, you can start with ewe lambs or yearlings that have never lambed and/or mature ewes that have produced offspringin the past — or a combination of several. You can start with open or pregnant ewes. There are pros and cons to each purchase decision.

You are less likely to “purchase” problems if you purchase ewe lambs and yearlings that have never lambed. You are not likely to encounter any problems with their reproductive systems, especially their udders. Because young ewes have more productive years ahead of them, they usually sell for higher prices than mature ewes.

On the other hand, ewe lambs (bred to lamb at 12 to 14 months of age) are still growing and are more likely to experience dystocia (lambing difficulties) and other problems at lambing. Inexperienced shepherds may not want to purchase or breed ewe lambs. Ewe lambs will give birth to fewer lambs. Many ewe lambs give birth to single lambs.

A ewe lamb will not produce as much milk for her lamb(s) as a mature ewe. Sometimes, ewe lambs do not have enough milk for their lamb(s), especially if they have multiple lambs. Yearlings (bred to lamb for the first time as two year olds) will experience fewer problems than ewe lambs. They usually sell for higher prices than ewe lambs.

For people that are inexperienced raising sheep or have fewer dollars to spend, it may be a good idea to start with mature ewes (ewes that have previously raised lambs). Mature ewes give birth to more lambs, are better mothers, and produce more milk for their lambs. A ewe’s performance usually peaks between 3 and 6 years of age. When purchasing mature ewes, it is especially important to make sure they are sound (udders and teeth).

If you purchase bred ewes, you don’t have to purchase a ram right away. Bred ewes usually cost more than open ewes. It is best to purchase them at least a month before they are due to begin lambing, so that they can adjust to their new surroundings.

Madras red
Madras red

Sheep Breeding – 
Aging (mouthing) sheep:

The approximate age of sheep can be determined by examining their teeth. Young lambs have eight milk teeth or temporary incisors arranged in four pairs on their lower jaw. There are no teeth on the upper jaw, only a dental pad. At approximately one year of age, the middle pair of incisors is shed and replaced by permanent teeth (incisors).

Some breeds mature at a faster rate and their teeth will erupt at an earlier age. At approximately two years of age, the second pair of milk teeth is replaced by permanent incisor teeth. At three and four years of age, the third and fourth pair of permanent teeth appear.

At four years of age, the sheep has a “full” or “solid” mouth. As the sheep ages, the teeth will start to wear, spread, and eventually break off. When a sheep loses some of its teeth, it is called “broken” mouth. When it has no teeth (incisors) left, it is called a “gummer.” A well-cared for sheep can manage without incisors, so long as its molars are still in good condition. As the condition of a sheep’s teeth vary by its diet, it is difficult to accurately predict age once a sheep has a full mouth.

Age of sheep
Number of teeth
Birth to 12 months
8 milk teeth
all temporary teeth
~ 12 to 24 months

Two tooth

2 central incisors
6 milk teeth
~ 24 to 36 months
Four tooth
2 central incisors
2 middle incisors
4 milk teeth
~ 36 to 48 months
Six tooth
2 central incisors
2 middle incisors
2 lateral incisors
Over 48 months
8 tooth
Full mouth
Solid mouth
2 central incisors
2 middle incisors
2 lateral incisors
2 corner incisors
    When examining the teeth of a sheep to determine its age, it is not necessary to pry open its mouth. Sheep will resist less, if you use your fingers to part their lips.


Sheep Breeding – Health:When selecting sheep for breeding, the most important criteria is health. Starting with unhealthy sheep dooms the shepherd to failure. A healthy sheep is bright and alert. It does not separate itself from the rest of the flock. It is in good body condition, relative to its stage of production and plane of nutrition. Sheep that limp, have abscesses, pink eye, or sore mouth lesions, show respiratory symptoms, or are in extremely poor body condition should not be purchased for breeding.

Sheep Breeding – Soundness:A sheep that is sound is in good physical condition and free from serious defects. A sound animal will survive and be productive for a longer time than an animal which has physical problems.
Sheep Breeding – Mouth:In a correct mouth, both the top and bottom jaws are aligned so the incisor teeth are flush with the pad on the upper jaw. Sheep with severe ”

Sheep Breeding – undershot:” or “overshot” jaws should be avoided, as this is an inherited defect. An undershot jaw, also called a “parrot mouth,” is when the lower jaw is too short. Sheep with severe undershot parrot mouths may have difficulty grazing short pastures.An overshot jaw, also called a “monkey mouth” is when the lower jaw is too long. Slight variations in jaw alignment are not a problem or inherited defect. The best way to observe jaw structure is to look at the sheep from the side.

Jaw structure

Sheep Breeding – Teeth:The condition of a sheep’s teeth depend upon its diet and the land where it lives. Animals on a rough, coarse diet will grind their teeth away faster than animals on an easily eaten diet. The molar teeth are far more important than the incisor teeth. They do the grinding of feed. To evaluate the molar teeth, you have to feel on the outside of the cheek and jaw.Never put your fingers inside the animal’s jaw. You are likely to get badly bitten. Bad breath can be a sign that there is something wrong with the molar teeth. Animals with teeth problems should be not selected for breeding.

Sheep Breeding – Feet and legs :A sound sheep has straight legs that are set squarely under the corners of the body. They are not too close at the hocks or knees. The pasterns are neither too straight nor too angled. Sheep with severe feet and leg problems may break down in difficult production situations. Sheep with slight structural defects usually do not have any problems.
Take a test on sheep feet and leg structure

Sheep Breeding – Hooves:Animals with abnormal or excessive hoof growth, cracked hooves, or extremely splayed hooves should be avoided as breeding stock. Animals with colored hooves are usually preferable to animals with light colored hooves.

Sheep Breeding – Conformation:Conformation is the body form of the animal. It varies by breed and breed type. Smooth shoulders and staight backs are desireable traits. A ram that will be used to sire market lambs should be thickly muscled, especially through the leg and loin.

Sheep Breeding – Volume and capacity:A sheep should have a deep side, wide top, and “round” body, indicative of good spring of rib. Narrow, flat-sided, shallow-bodied animals are less likely to be productive.

Sheep Breeding – Size:Skeletal size (hip height) should be evaluated within breeds or breed types. Large-framed sheep tend to grow faster and finish at heavier weights than small-framed animals. A large-framed female tends to produce heavier lambs than a small-frame female. However, production efficiency tends to favor females of moderate body size. Selection should be for ewes of adequate frame. Extremes in frame size should be avoided.

Sheep Breeding – Sex character:Rams should appear rugged, stout and masculine. If they have horns, the horns should be growing away from the head. Ewes should be feminine and more refined in their features. Femininity is usually associated with a longer head and neck and a more angular body type.

Sheep Breeding – Wool:If wool production is an important aspect of the sheep enterprise, breeding stock selection criteria should include fleece traits: fiber diameter, staple length, uniformity of length and diameter, and freedom from defects. White-wooled sheep should be free from colored fibers. Fleeces should be dense and free from kemp and medulated fibers.Sheep that are wool blind or have excessive wrinkles should not be selected for breeding. If hair or shedding sheep are being selected, sheep with excessively woolly coats should be avoided.

Sheep Breeding – Udder:A ewe without a sound udder has no value in a breeding program. The size of the sheep’s udder will depend upon its age and stage of lactation. Ewes’ udders should be palpated to determined that they are healthy and functional. Ewes with hard, lumpy udders should not be considered for breeding purposes.The udder should have two functional teats that are free from defects. Ewes with pendulous udders and bulbous or over sized teats should be avoided. Rams should be evaluated to determine that they have two teats free of defects.

Sheep Breeding – Testicles:The ram’s testicles should be palpated to determine that they are well-developed and normal. They should be firm, evenly sized, and move freely within the scrotum. Both the testicles and epididymitis should be free from lumps. A rams with a smaller than average scrotal circumference should not be selected for breeding.Though scrotal size varies by breed, body condition, and season, ram lambs to be used for breeding should have a scrotal size of at least 30 centimeters; mature rams, 32 centimeters. Scrotal size affects a ram’s semen output. There are also correlations between a ram’s scrotal size and the reproductive performance of his daughters.

Sheep Breeding – SELECTING SHEEP ON THE BASIS OF PERFORMANCE:-When selecting sheep for breeding, performance records (if they are available) are usually more valuable than what an animal looks like. You can’t tell much about a ewe’s producing ability by looking at her.There are three types of production records in sheep production: on-farm performance testing, central performance testing, and across-flock EPD’s.

Any sheep farm can keep on-farm performance records. All that’s needed is some form of individual animal identification, a record book, and a scale. Birth dates and weaning weights should be recorded.

Weaning weights should be corrected to a common age and adjusted for birth type, type of rearing, and age of dam. Otherwise, lambs with an environmental advantage, not genetic superiority will be favored in the selection process: early-born lambs, single, and lambs reared by mature ewes.

Selection should favor the lambs with the heaviest adjusted weaning weights from dams with the heaviest litter weights. In the very least, twin and triplet-born ewe lambs should be saved for breeding, unless multiple births are a disadvantage in the production environment.

A central performance test is where males from different herds are brought to one central location to record performance. In a central performance test, observed differences between rams are more likely due to genetic differences, which will be passed onto the next generation of offspring, rather than environmental differences which will not be passed on. A central performance test is an ideal place to purchase a ram that will be used to sire market lambs. Maternal traits are much more difficult to assess and require years of performance record keeping.

For Indian Sheep Breeds: Read here.

For Goat Farming : Read here.

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