A sheep breastfeeding a young one

How Many Babies Do Sheep Have? (Per Year and Lifetime!)

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Sheep are one of the most fertile domestic animals. Whether it’s a single-purpose or a dual-purpose breed, healthy sheep will produce many lambs throughout its lifetime. But how many babies do sheep have? Most ewes give birth to at least 1-2 lambs in their lifetime. 

Often, ewes sire one lamb on their first pregnancy. However, it’s common for ewes to carry twins, triplets, or even more in subsequent pregnancies.

Since expectancy takes a huge toll on the ewes’ health, providing adequate nutrients and proper living conditions is essential during pregnancy and after lambing.

Read on to discover more about lambing in sheep, including how many lambs a ewe can have and how to care for them.

A sheep breastfeeding a young one

How Many Lambs Do Ewes Average Annually?

Wondering how many babies do sheep have every year? Well, most sheep mate once every 12 months, explaining why ewes give birth to an average of 1-3 lambs yearly. 

If you provide adequate food and ensure your sheep maintains health, it attains sexual maturity 6 to 8 months after birth. The minimum recommended body weight to sustain a first-time pregnancy is 45kg.

As mentioned earlier, first-time moms usually carry one lamb. Subsequent pregnancies will result in twins, triplets, or more, depending on genetics, feeding habits, and overall health. The most productive age bracket for ewes is between 3 and 6 years.

Breeding Season

Sheep usually mate in autumn, when their fertility peaks due to shortened days. However, gestation takes around 5 months, meaning most ewes give birth in winter.

Coincidentally, these lambs start weaning in spring, when pastures are greener and food is abundant. Again, it’s nature’s way of ensuring continuity.

What Happens During Gestation?

It takes 5 months for a ewe to conceive and give birth to a lamb. However, the gestation period might be shorter in some animals.

It isn’t easy to tell if a ewe is pregnant in the first few weeks after conception. However, the pregnancy becomes apparent 6 weeks after birth.

During the breeding season, ewes get ‘on heat’ every 17 days, with the fertility window lasting between 1 and 2 days. The breeding seasons range from 4 to 8 months, depending on the breed—however, sheep’s fertility peaks in its first 3 months.

READ ALSO: What Is A Yearling Ram?

Signs of Pregnancy in Sheep

The most obvious sign of pregnancy in sheep is an increased desire for food and water. Due to the additional load on their metabolisms, expectant ewes tend to increase their food and water intake.

When a ewe becomes pregnant, she misses the subsequent heat cycles, which occur every 17 days. However, you won’t notice an enlarged belly until the pregnancy is 12 weeks old. Therefore, pregnancies become apparent 3 months into the gestation and 6 to 8 weeks before birthing.

During pregnancy, farmers must provide enough food to the ewes. More importantly, they should keep the sheep away from scary situations, including dogs and isolation.

Pregnant ewes are so sensitive to perceived attacks that they might prompt a miscarriage. Also, you must check the drugs administered to sheep to avoid adverse reactions.

Pregnancy Stages in Sheep

For a ewe to get pregnant, she must have attained sexual maturity. This usually occurs between 5 and 12 months, depending on breed, environment, nutrition, and health.

After maturity, the ewes must be in heat to mate with rams and become pregnant. As mentioned above, this mostly occurs in autumn, every 17 days. The ewe must mate within two days of being on heat to conceive. Otherwise, she will wait for the next heat cycle, after 17 days.

Here are the stages a ewe undergoes from conception to giving birth.


Gestation in sheep takes 20 to 22 weeks, averaging at 5 months in most breeds. This period has three divisions – the first, second, and third trimesters.

First Trimester

The first trimester begins upon conception, a few days after mating. Start observing your ewes at the onset of the breeding season. They are likely pregnant if they don’t go on heat after the first mating cycle. The vulva starts enlarging six weeks after breeding.

Second Trimester

Once the vulva enlarges, you can start assessing how many lambs your ewe is expecting. It’s also crucial to evaluate the placenta to ensure the fetus grows healthily without putting the mother at risk of malnutrition.

Third Trimester

During the third trimester, the lamb usually has functional organs and is ready for birth. As a result, the ewe requires a high food intake to meet her nutritional needs, as well as the lambs.’

how many babies do sheep have every year?

How do Sheep Give Birth?

At the final stages of pregnancy, the ewe’s teats will become firmer. The vulva will enlarge and swell, and the pregnant sheep might isolate from the rest of the herd.

Before giving birth, the spine will curve slightly outward, and a mucous plug will become visible through the vulva.

Once the lamb is ready to come out, the mucous plug will loosen, allowing the water to break. At this point, the lamb’s nose and hooves should become noticeable.

The head and front limbs usually take the longest to emerge – after they are out, the next stages will happen quickly.

Labor and giving birth take at most two hours to complete. If it takes longer, you might need to assist.

However, it isn’t advisable to take this approach unless there isn’t another way out. Remember, lambs are healthier when born naturally without human intervention.

Sheep usually pass the placenta a few hours after birth. If the ewe bears multiple lambs, it will produce afterbirth for every delivery.

What Should You Feed a Ewe?

Farmers need to know the lambing season to meet their ewes’ nutritional needs. As the pregnancy progresses, your sheep will require more food and water to sustain her and the lambs.

This need is particularly pronounced in animals carrying multiple offspring since the animals grow quickly in the final trimester of pregnancy.

Additionally, pregnancy affects the ability to digest food. For the best results, avoid feeding hard foods to pregnant ewes.

READ ALSO: 7 Brown Sheep Breeds Perfect for Your Flock

How Often Do Sheep Get Pregnant?

Most farmers lamb ewes once yearly, targeting between one and three lambs. However, some take advantage of sheep’s short gestation and weaning period to breed their animals more often.

This is called accelerated lambing, but many people are against it because ewes don’t get enough time to regain in-between healthy pregnancies.

What about Artificial Insemination?

Artificial insemination isn’t common in sheep as it is in other livestock. This is because of sheep’s complex anatomy, where the cervix’s shape makes it challenging to insert an insemination rood for fertilization.

Furthermore, it isn’t easy to detect a ewe on heat, as with goats and cows. The farmer must use a teaser ram to detect heat or pay for timed inseminations after injecting the ewes with artificial hormones. These approaches are expensive and have low success rates.

Currently, the most effective way of inseminating ewes involves the insertion of fresh semen inside the vagina.

However, you can still order a laparoscopy, where a vet inserts frozen semen into the uterine horns after making a small incision on the lower abdomen.

Caring for Newborn Lambs

Lambs remain delicate for the first few days after being born. Below are useful tips on taking care of newborn lambs.

Observe Proper Hygiene

Keeping your sheep and their environment clean is vital to ensuring they remain healthy. Before birth, clean the barn and disinfect it to kill bacteria and other pathogens.

Ensure the environment is dry, as moisture provides conducive conditions for disease-causing organisms.

When the lambs are about to emerge, wear clean protective gear until the ewe delivers the last offspring.

Use sterilized equipment to cut the umbilical cord and treat the navel with iodine to prevent infections. Then, remove the afterbirth and dispose of it correctly.

Provide Milk

Milk provides the energy needed to sustain the lamb in its first weeks. Ensure the lambs have milk in abundance, especially immediately after birth.

Like human breastmilk, the milk contains colostrum which is crucial for healthy growth and development.

If the ewe has multiple lambs, keep milk replacers on hand because it might not produce enough to meet the needs of all lambs.

Keep them Warm

Lastly, newborn lambs have underdeveloped fleeces, making them susceptible to low temperatures.

Ensure the pen has the proper insulation to prevent death resulting from freezing. However, you shouldn’t turn up the heat so much that it affects the animals.

Final Words

Sheep give birth to one to four lambs yearly, depending on breed, nutrition, and environment. However, most first-time moms deliver one lamb.

Similarly, highly fertile species tend to carry multiple offspring and give birth to six lambs yearly.

Most sheep mate during autumn and wean during spring. The gestation period usually lasts five months, followed by three months of care, after which the lamb weans.

Ewes attain sexual maturity at five months and can continue conceiving and giving birth until they reach ten. This means a fertile female sheep can give birth to 12 to 20 lambs in her lifetime.

You can increase your flocks’ productivity through accelerated lambing, but this isn’t viable in the long term. This is because the sheep don’t get enough time to recuperate in-between pregnancies.


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