What you need to know about sheep breeding

INTRODUCTION
Sheep breeding is a term used to refer to the mating of sheep using a single ram which has been selected by the farmer or established its dominance through physical fights with other rams. The aim of sheep breeding is not only reproduction but also improving the quality of the flock. As a result of human intervention in the breeding process, ewes produce multiple lambs which are better in quality since the best ram is chosen to father the lambs. Sheep breeding has been used by farmers all around the globe for many years. The sheep breeding season varies from place to place, but most sheep have their breeding season in the autumn. However, there are breeds that are known to have the ability to breed year round. For instance, most African breeds can breed all year round as a result of the almost equal number of daylight hours throughout the year. When done right, sheep breeding helps the farmer improve the quality and quantity of the output of sheep in traditional and modern production systems.
OBJECTIVE OF BREEDING
Sheep are multi-purpose animals that can be raised for their milk, meat, skins and hides. These are one of the few animals that give the farmer a number of revenue streams. In addition, their waste can also be used as manure on the farm. Since different breeds have different strengths when it comes to meat, milk, or wool production, it is important for every farmer to decide which aspects of sheep production to focus on so that they can pick the right ram and ewe for the upcoming sheep breeding season. While most sheep breeds can be used for multiple purposes, it is rare to find a sheep that is best suited to produce milk, meat and wool in good quantities. Breeding practices vary according to the farmer’s purpose for keeping the flock.
1. Meat Sheep
Most sheep breeds are kept primarily for their meat and another secondary purpose, usually wool production. With billions of mutton lovers all around the world, it is clear why most farmers will opt to keep sheep for meat as opposed to the other options.
Meat sheep farmers sell either feeder or slaughter lambs. Feeder lambs are usually fed to heavier weights before being slaughtered. They vary in weight and are usually between 50 to 100 pounds. Slaughter lambs, on the other hand, are purchased for immediate slaughter and usually weigh over 100 pounds.
Mutton production is mainly based on the animal’s appearance. Specialized mutton breeds usually mature fast, have higher body weight gains, have high prolificacy, high carcass yields, high feed conversion efficiency, and produce good quality mutton. Compared to other breeds, meat sheep require more intensive management. Some countries will go as far as importing renowned mutton breeds from countries like the UK and Australia to improve mutton production in their indigenous breeds. Some of the best known breeds for mutton production include the Suffolk breed, Dorset, and Southdown breeds.
2. Wool Sheep
Approximately 90% of the world’s population of sheep can produce anywhere from 3 to 30 pounds of wool every year. The wool from a single sheep is referred to as a fleece, while wool from multiple sheep is called a clip. The amount of wool produced by a sheep depends on its genetics, breed, nutrition, shearing interval, age, among other factors. Fine wool breeds produce fine and crimpy wool. Their fleece is dense, heavy, and of visibly good quality. The wool from fine wool breeds is preferred for making garments due to its small fiber diameter and its versatility of use. There are other sheep breeds known for production of long wool. Heir fleece is the heaviest due to the longer, coarser fibers. Their wool is mostly used to make carpets and tapestries.
The value of the wool depends on its color, grade, and suitability for specific uses. White wool is usually more valuable than colored wool as it can be dyed. Large producers of wool usually sell it to warehouses or to wool mills directly. Some of the best breeds for wool production include the Merino breed, Rambouillet Breed, Polwarth breed, among others.
3. Milk Sheep
There are among the rare breeds of sheep. Not many sheep farmers keep sheep primarily for milk production. However, this should not be the case as sheep milk is known to be highly nutritious and richer in essential nutrients than cow milk. For thousands of years, sheep have been raised for milk and were milked before cows. While any lactating ewe of any breed can produce milk, there are specialized sheep breeds for milk production. Specialized dairy breeds can produce 400 to 1000 pounds of milk every lactation while the conventional sheep breeds only produce 100 to 200 pounds per lactation. The most common dairy breed is the East Friesian breed. There are over a dozen other known milk sheep breeds.

BREEDING SELECTION
As the sheep breeding season approaches, it is up to the farmer to decide the purpose of keeping sheep to determine the right sheep breed to choose. With over 1000 species worldwide to choose from, it is important to do your research so that you choose the best breed to suit your marketing objectives. Different sheep breeds have their strengths and weaknesses. You just have to choose the breed whose strengths match what you are looking for be it milk, meat or wool production.
BREEDING SYSTEMS
There are two main types of breeding systems; Pure-breeding and cross-breeding. Pure-breeding involves mating ewes and rams from the same breed. The main aim of purebred sheep production is provision of superior genetics to the commercial sheep industry. In this system, the lambs display better genetic merits than its parents which leads to improvement in their particular breed
Cross-breeding involves mating rams and ewes from different breeds. The breeds are selected systematically based on their unique strengths and weaknesses to create a crossbred progeny of a particular type. Crossbreeding leads to production of superior offspring that perform better in certain aspects than its purebred parents. It also combines the strengths of the parents to create an offspring that minimizes their weaknesses and maximizes their strengths.
BENEFITS OF SHEEP BREEDING
The following are some reasons why you should practice sheep breeding in the next sheep breeding season:
1. Sheep breeding helps improve the quality of the sheep. During the sheep breeding season, only the best rams are chosen for the job which leads to better quality offspring.
2. Sheep breeding can help you improve your profits. It helps produce more lambs which are suited for the specific purpose for which the farmer is keeping the sheep.
3. Sheep breeding helps produce stronger, healthier sheep. Studies show that crossbred lambs have higher survivability than purebred lambs.
4. Breeding leads to creation of new sheep breeds with unique characteristics that may not be found in other breeds.
5. Breeding helps in production of tastier, better quality mutton for the meat lovers around the world to enjoy.