This information, although written about breeding sheep, can also be used in regards to breeding goats, as their gestation period is the same. The difference with goats is that they tend to produce more kids than sheep produce lambs, so your likelihood of having to bottle feed is higher. For the purpose of the article, to keep it simple, we will generally be referring to all animals as if they are sheep.
Ram – male sheep
Ewe – female sheep
Buck, or Billy – male goat
Doe, or Nanny – female goat
Lamb – baby sheep
Kid – baby goat
Pregnant ewes © by author
When to Put your Ram, or Buck, with your Ewes, or Does
While some sheep can be breed at anytime of the year, and some producers breed 3 times every two years, most of the smaller producers breed their ewes once a year. If they have many head they may breed one group of ewes a month earlier than another group so they are not all lambing at once.
Most people put their ram with their ewes in the late summer fall for a late winter or spring lambing. This is true in the north, and south hemispheres, noting that spring falls on different months for each.
You need to figure out what market you want your lambs ready for and calculate back from that. If you are breeding lamb to be ready for slaughter at Easter, for example, you need to calculate back.
Ewes are pregnant for 5 months, the lamb still needs another 5 months before reaching the ideal butchering weight, nothing that some breeds mature slower than others (for example Katahdins mature slower than Hampshire).
Prepare the Ewe
Prior to putting a ram in with the ewes they should be prepared. They should be wormed, and checked for health concerns. They should be at least 8 months of age, and be in good health. If the fleece on their rump is covered in feces this should be cut away.
Many producers “flush” their ewes. Starting about 3 weeks before the ram is put with them their ration is increased, either they are put on better pasture, or feed grain. Clover should be avoided as it reduces a ewes fertility. Ewes should be improving in condition when the ram is introduced, but not fat.
Prepare the Ram
The ram should also be wormed before being placed with the ewes, and in good condition. His feed should be increased prior to breeding as he will be a busy boy. His feet should be in good shape, and he should be at least 8 months old as well; a ram may be fertile as early as 5 months but if breeding too many ewes at this time he may be easily exhausted. Semen tests may be done on rams if a breeder is concerned.
Katahdin Ram © by Author
Some breeds of ewe come into heat any time during the year, others only in the fall.
Sheep breeders need to be aware that ewes are in heat for 24 – 36 hours every 17 days on average.
For goats, they are usually in heat for one to two days, every 19 – 21 days.
Back to the Math
So if a breeder wants lambs ready for slaughter in June, figuring a 5 month age for slaughtering, they want them born in January, counting back another 5 months for gestation, this means they want the ram with the ewes in August.