2023 Breeding Season is in Full Swing

admin Breeding, Genetics, St Croix
2023 Breeding Season

Well folks, 2023 breeding season started on October 7th. I have three rams, making three breeding groups. I’ll talk about my setup and decision-making in this post.

The Breeding Paddock Setup

Each of our rams has a paddock to himself, with a group of ewes he gets to cover. The paddocks are each about 1/5 an acre and neighbor one another. Each paddock includes a round bale feeder, water tub, and a loose mineral tub. The ewes stay with the rams for 5 weeks, so they won’t come out until November 11th this year.

The ewes that are too young or too small for breeding continue grazing on our other paddocks. I have five that meet that description this year. The young rams that are growing out for butcher or that are being evaluated for stud rams stay in a different paddock. I only have three of them this fall, so I feed them a few flakes of hay and some grain each day.

Recording Breeding Decisions

Establishing breeding groups is always a fun but tedious process. I usually start thinking about my matings in the summer after I’ve measured the performance of the spring lambs. I’m positive I overthink and overcomplicate things, but I really enjoy this part of breeding.

I use Google Sheets to create my groups. Colors represent the different bloodlines; also called clans. Ewes in grey have been sold as bred ewes. Next year, I will use the Check Mate feature in the SCHSB’s new registry system with Grassroots before making my mating decisions to keep inbreeding coefficients under control.

When it’s time to sort the sheep into and out of their breeding groups, I print this out for quick reference. I have it in hand at the sorting gate so that each ewe goes to the right place.

The Clans

I have explained in previous posts that I use a modified version of Conservation Breeding. I’m still in the process of setting up my clans, or bloodlines. I want to create semi-equal numbers of each line before I really jump into the process of spiral breeding. To that, some of my lines need to grow, while others need to remain fairly constant.

In conservation breeding, lambs remain in the clan of their mother. I follow that rule unless the lamb is line-bred to the sire’s side with a coefficient of inbreeding that is 12.5% or above. In that case, the lamb is moved to the sire’s clan. Two ewes, MF 2255 Marple and MF 2332 Vashti (in yellow above)are examples. Both of these ewes have COI scores of 12.5% because their sire (GJF 0888 Noah) appears in their pedigree more than once in 3 generations.

As you can see, I have several clans, but the largest is color-coded as purple. These ewes are all daughters, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters of my two White Dog Farm ewes (WD 039 and 040). Sheep that are color-coded green are in the Green Pastures Farm/Stauber Farm clan. Yellow sheep are from the Grace & Joy Farm clan, with heavy influences from Bennett RBR 53 Adonis via Mud Puddle Ranch. Black sheep are those from or line-bred to Ebenezer Farm. Sheep in red are my Summit Farm clan. The pink sheep are my Katahdins and crossbreds.

The 2023 Breeding Groups

I’m sure some wonder why I pair certain ewes with specific rams. That’s a complicated issue, but I’ll do my best to explain my thinking for the 2023 breeding season.

First off, I use three rams. Many might think that I keep too many rams for the size of my flock. It is true that a single ram could easily cover all 35 of my ewes. However, I use three rams for a few reasons. Many of my customers who are looking for starter flocks want to purchase both their ewes and their unrelated ram in one place. If I only had one ram, I wouldn’t be able to offer that as an option. As an NSIP producer, I need more than one ram so that I can compare the quality of one ram to another through his lambs’ performance. Lastly, it would be difficult to continue a conservation breeding approach with only one ram.

Because Summit 1179 Jasper is nine years old and brings valuable genetics to the farm, he gets the largest group of ewes during the 2023 breeding season. Even though he is very healthy, aging rams can start to decline quickly in health or in sperm count. I want to make sure we use him as much as possible for as long as possible. He is also covering the two White Dog Farm ewes. I’m hoping to get a nice ram lamb out of those pairings to breed back to his mother, auntie, and a couple of half-sisters and nieces in an attempt to concentrate those genetics in a future stud ram.

Ebenezer 1012 of 737 gets to cover all of Jasper’s daughters, one of his own granddaughters, and my three rockstar ewes – GH 002 Maxene, 003 Snowflake, and 004 Winter. I put him with Jasper’s daughters to see if his genetics can improve their parasite resistance from what I consider “average” to his “outstanding” without losing Jasper’s growth performance. I’m also hoping for another Titan (Ebenezer x Snowflake). I tried for one in my 2022 lambing but Snowflake and Winter both had all ewe lambs.

Finally, GJF 628 Patton is covering my original Green Pastures ewes and two of Ebenezer’s line-bred granddaughters. Patton is new to the farm for the 2023 breeding season, so we will see how his lambs perform. I hope he adds some style and conformational correctness to my flock. He will get a larger group next year if his lambs do well.

Looking Forward

Even though I won’t start recording my breeding groups for 2024 yet, I already have some goals in mind.

  • I’m considering putting Jasper over his granddaughters next fall (25% COI), but if he looks really healthy, I will wait and put him over great-granddaughters in 2025 (12.5% COI).
  • I hope to get a nice ram out of my White Dog Farm ewes or one of their daughters next spring. If I do, I will put him with a group that includes related ewes without exceeding 25% COI.
  • I want to add more ewes in the Ebenezer line, so Ebenezer will cover his great-granddaughters who will be daughters of Jasper (12.5% COI)
  • Patton will serve as my outcross for now so that I can evaluate how his lambs perform. He is young, so I have plenty of time to decide how to use him best.

I realize these choices may raise some eyebrows. These levels of inbreeding could result in poor-performing lambs. That is one of the risks of tight line-breeding, but it is one I am willing to take because it is also possible to get lambs that perform as well or better than their highly-related parent. As a bonus, the valuable genetics of those ancestors will be concentrated and preserved so that they exist for future generations.