Lambing season is well underway, and many farmers have already begun to cast their gaze ahead to the upcoming breeding season.
With margins so tight and prices only slightly improved in recent times, many farmers are looking to produce as many lambs as possible within the year. This makes choosing sires in the breeding season all the more important! There are many prolific breeds to choose from, some of which can have up to eight lambs per birth!
Finnsheep - A very prolific breed, capable of having up to eight lambs at once! Generally, ewes have between 3-5 ewes per birth. The average is usually 2.41 lambs per lambing.
Although lambs are born small-ish at 3.1kgs, they possess excellent daily weight gains. This is due in part to the abundance of milk produced by ewes for their young. Finnsheep are raised for wool and meat, with their wools famously soft and found in all colours. Their meat is highly sought-after due to its texture and tenderness, meaning there is a market for Finn lambs. FinnX sheep are also known to be highly prolific and profitable.
Romanov - The Romanov sheep breed are one native to Russia and capable of having up to six lambs per birth.
A very prolific breed, Romanov ewes can breed at any stage of the year and reach sexual maturity at just four months old, meaning they produce more lambs than most breeds with an average of 2.95 per lambing (in accordance to the GenOvis Progamme results 2011).
The breed is medium in size, raised primarily for meat production. At full maturity, Romanov sheep can weigh from 55 to 80kgs. Lambs usually weigh 2.9kgs at birth. When crossed with other breeds, the prolificacy of Romanov sheep is greatly increased. Their wool also has its uses and is very strong and resourceful.
Rideau Sheep - A Canadian breed which is also highly prolific, Rideau Arcott sheep are a very large breed and Rideau ewes usually have either twins or triplets with a lambing rate of 180% in ewe lambs!
Generally, a mature Rideau ewe will produce triplets at a rate of 50% and twins at a rate of 40%. The breed was first developed with the aim of producing a breed capable of having multiple lambs per birth and are known to have higher fertility, growth rates and milk production rates than other breeds. The Rideau breed is a very popular choice for crossbreeding due to their ability to have multiple births and pass on its other desirable characteristics (milk production rates, growth rates, fertility).
The breed is large in size and is mainly raised for meat production purposes, with rams weighing up to 100kgs and ewes topping the scales at 90kgs. They have an average of 2.33 lambs born per lambing, with lambs averaging 3.8kgs at birth.
Icelandic sheep - A breed historically raised for milk production, Icelandic ewes are famed for having multiple lambs per birth, often up to six lambs!
They average 1.78 lambs per lambing (according to the GenOvis programme) and have an extremely high lambing percentage of between 175-200%. They possess the “poka Gene” which causes multiple births. Ewes produce high-quality milk for their young, which is also used in cheese and yoghurt production. Lambs are mainly bred for meat production nowadays, reaching the optimal killing weights at four-five months old. Lambs usually weigh 3.9kgs at birth, with rams topping the scales at 100kgs at full maturity and ewes weighing from 68-73kgs.
Dorset horned - Another extremely prolific breed, Dorset horn ewes average 1.93 lambs every year but can easily have up to five lambs per year.
This is due in part to the fact that Dorset horned ewes can produce tow lambing seasons per year. A medium sized breed, Dorset Horn sheep are mainly raised for their wool, with fleeces averaging up to 4.1kgs and a yield of up to 70% in ewes. They are also raised for their meat, with rams weighing up to 120kgs and ewes topping the scales at 90kgs.
Charollais sheep - A more commonly found breed on Irish shores than any of the above-mentioned breeds, Charollais sheep are known for their excellent growth rate and vigorousness of lambs born.
Lambs are also very keen to suck at birth and Charollais sheep have an average of 1.82 lambs per season, often producing triplets, with lambs weighing in at an average of 5kgs at birth, twins averaging 4kgs and triplets at 3.5kgs!
They are raised for both their meat and wool, with Charollais sheep famed for having a high-quality, lean carcass with a high meat to bone ratio and a dressing percentage from 50-59%. They are also an easy lambing breed, with ewes very fertile and possessing great longevity. Charollais lambs also grown faster and finish quicker than other breeds. Charrollais Lambs are ideal for raising as store lambs as they weigh heavier with better grades and without excess fat cover, unlike other breeds.
Polypay sheep - Another breed famed for its prolificacy, Polypay sheep were created as the result of using genetics from Finnsheep, Dorset sheep, Targhee sheep and Rambouillet sheep. They were originally developed with the aims of producing a highly prolific an useful breed.
They are highly prolific due to their ability to produce more than one crop of lambs per season, with lambs averaging 4.5kgs at birth. Generally, Polypay sheep will average 1.90 lambs per season.
Polypay sheep can have a large crop of lambs at just one-year-old, with lambs possessing a rapid growth rate and desirable carcass quality. Polypay ewes also remain prolific for longer than most breeds.
Of course, these are only an array of different number of choices available to farmers in terms of breeding, these are simply some of the most prolific. It may be something to ponder over the coming weeks and months, as the breeding season approaches.