How Many Lambs Do Sheep Have per Birthing?

When it comes to managing your flock of sheep, accounting for lambing and subsequent birth rates is part and parcel.

Sheep are relatively easy to manage overall when it comes to reproduction, but it is critical that you understand about how many lambs you can expect during the breeding season, based on how many ewes have gotten pregnant.

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So, the big question: how many lambs do sheep have per birthing?

Most sheep have 1 or 2 lambs per birth with an average of 1.5. Some prolific breeds are known for having triplets or even more per birth, though viability and survival rates likewise vary from breed to breed.

Somewhat surprisingly, sheep are nowhere near as prolific as goats, but sheep also tend to be quite a bit larger so this makes a certain amount of sense.

As a rule, you can depend on your girls to give you one or two babies when it’s time to deliver, but you might be in for many more depending on the breed and of course, surprises sometimes happen!

There’s more you’ll want to know about the birth rates of sheep and lambing generally, so keep reading.

Do Some Sheep Have More Lambs Than Others?

Yes, absolutely. A general guideline is that you can count on the vast majority of sheep breeds only having 1 or 2 lambs per birthing.

As mentioned above, the average you can count on is 1.5, and no, that doesn’t mean you’ll get one and a half actual lambs. We’ll talk about why this figure is used in just a few sections…

Some particularly fertile and highly reproductive breeds, though, have surprisingly high lambing percentages, and a few are known to produce triplets or quadruplets, colloquially called quads, with regularity. Some particularly prolific breeds are Dorsets, Romanovs, Merinos, and Finns.

But one thing to keep in mind is that even among these “super breeders” individual ewes might be a little more or a little less prone to crank out lots of lambs; don’t be surprised if your girls still only give you one or two as stated above.

Good Management is Essential for Max Productivity

Something else to keep in mind is that regardless of breed, if you want your sheep to be maximally productive when it comes to lambing, the entire flock must be properly managed. This means giving plenty of room, ideal nutrition, and protection from any and all sources of stress.

Stress, malnutrition, and poor conditions all contribute to lower success rates for conception, fewer lambs overall being delivered, and fewer lambs that survive. Healthy, happy sheep have more babies that will survive more often. It’s just that simple!

How Many Births Will Sheep Have a Year?

As a rule, most sheep will only have one birth a year. The gestation period of lambs is about 4 1/2 to 5 months, and ewes need some time off after birthing to ensure they remain healthy, so most responsible shepherds will only try to breed their girls once a year.

Further complicating matters, many sheep are only in season, ready to breed, for a specific time, often near the end of summer and going into fall, which further constrains the possibility of multiple births per year.

Most First Year Ewes Only Have 1 Lamb

One well-known phenomenon concerning sheep birthing is that ewes, as a rule, will often have only a single lamb during their first pregnancy, regardless of other factors. Assuming she stays healthy, subsequent births will often produce twins, triplets, and quads according to her breed.

You might think of it as she just has to get into the swing of things before she starts high production!

Larger Litters Usually Come Between Year 3 and 6

Another quirk of sheep biology is that you can depend on the largest litters of lambs to come between year 3 and year 6 of a ewe’s life.

Again, despite other factors and assuming she is healthy, this is when she will yield the most babies, though she might keep getting pregnant all the way up until about 10 years of age.

If you want to maximize the growth of your flock, keeping track of the age of your ladies and breeding them accordingly when they are within the golden window is a great strategy.

Lamb Viability at Birth is Another Matter

As sad as it is to think about, understand that the number of lambs you can expect a sheep to have and the number of lambs that can be expected to survive are two different figures.

Some lambs, for whatever reason, are born with problems, born sick, or just too puny to survive even with bottle-fed care. If you aren’t going to intervene, rejection by the mother, inadequate milk, and other conditions can also contribute to lamb mortality…

This is something you’ll just have to account for, and is “Exhibit A” for demonstrating why proper flock management, including parasite suppression, optimum nutrition, healthcare, and more is so crucial if you want to give your moms and their lambs the best chance at life.

How Can You Estimate How Many Lambs You’ll End Up With?

Practically speaking, count on getting 1.5 lambs for every ewe in your flock during the breeding season.

This figure is helpful because some ewes will only have 1 lamb while others will have two. A few lambs might die while others will live. I know it seems like a brutal calculus, and maybe it is, but it’s a useful one.

If you breed 10 ewes, you should assume that you’ve got 15 lambs coming on the due date. Easy enough!

However, that 1.5 lambs per ewe figure assumes that you are giving your flock plenty of shelter and optimal care.

If your flock is being kept outside at all times or mostly left to tend to themselves, that figure goes down to 1.2 or even just 1 lamb per ewe regardless of their genetic potential for having larger litters.

So, for instance, with the same 10 ewes figure used above for a modestly sized flock, if they aren’t given excellent care you should expect only 12 or even just 10 lambs assuming they are the same breed as before.

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