Possibly the most important decision around the mating of hoggets is should they be mated in the first place.
Done correctly the mating of hoggets can increase the profitability and productivity of the ewe flock. If subsequent liveweight is not affected by the breeding of hogget’s the lifetime performance of a ewe can be increased by up to 20% and the genetic gains within the flock can be enhanced as there is a slightly faster generation turnover. The target is 100 lambs weaned from 110 hogget’s mated and no negative impact on two tooth performance.
The flip side is that mating of hoggets can result in higher death rates. Approx 100kg extra of dry matter over 12 months is required for a mated vs a non-mated hogget. Also, once mated and pregnant they become a less flexible group when faced with feed pinches. But more seriously, when done badly, the future performance of the flock can be compromised.
The following would be some of the key things to consider:
- The decision to mate hoggets should be a flexible decision based around the availability of feed.
- Is it more profitable to put the extra feed into the ewe flock or is that already performing optimally?
- Hoggets need to be up to weight for mating. This is 65% of adult ewe weight which usually equates to around 40kg as the usual target. This is an individual, not a mob target. It pays to way your adult ewes as there can be considerable breed variation. E.g., 45kg might be a more appropriate target in a Poll Dorset flock compared to 40kg for a Coopworth.
- Can pregnant hoggets be fed optimally during pregnancy and during lactation so good lambs can be weaned and two tooth performance is not compromised?
To achieve a successful outcome:
- Weigh all hoggets to ensure targets are being met. Avoid the temptation to mate them if not up to weight.
- Consider the use of summer crops to achieve good growth rates in replacements.
- Animal health plans will need to be watertight to ensure optimal growth rates. The target weights will not be met if there is an outbreak of parasitism or facial eczema.
- Vaccinate hoggets for toxoplasmosis (4 weeks before teasers join) and with two doses of Campyvax® a month apart before rams join.
- Use teaser rams at ratio of 1:100 for 17 days. It is very important that the 17 days is not exceeded. 18 or 19 days and the beginning of the first ‘synchronised ‘cycle can be missed with a negative outcome.
- Use experienced rams for mating hoggets as they can be shy breeders. A reduced rate of 1:50 in easier paddocks is ideal. Hogget rams or even two-tooth rams can be much less effective than mature rams.
- Continue to feed well throughout pregnancy. You cannot overfeed pregnant hoggets as they need to keep growing. Any dystocia problems will be caused by the incorrect choice of sires as genetics has a much greater bearing (excuse the pun!!) on lamb birthweight than feeding. Give very careful thought to your choice of sire and avoid the use of large breed sires.
- Consider early weaning of hoggets to give them more chance to recover, gain weight and achieve those two-tooth mating targets. E.g., weaning at 8-10 weeks with lambs at 20kg.
- The use of reproductive vaccines, such as Androvax® Plus, is not recommended in hoggets.
So, in summary…
If mating hoggets is appropriate for your system. Know the target weights. Feed them well to achieve these before mating, choose an appropriate ram and continue to feed them. You can’t over do it!