Sheep production in Uruguay must be considered in the context of
mixed livestock production systems since there are virtually no farms
engaged exclusively in the production of sheep.
Most of the livestock farms are mixed, running both beef cattle
and sheep. There are approximately 20.000
farms with sheep, but in most of them the income from sheep is only a
minor proportion of total income. Those more dependant on sheep meat and
wool income are, in general, of smaller sizes and located on
less-fertile soils where more profitable activities are not possible.
Most sheep flocks are self replacing, with breeding ewes and
replacements being the most important categories. The declining
proportion of wethers (mainly of fine-wool producing breeds) is now
close to 10% of the overall sheep population. Autumn mating and spring
lambing is the most common practice in order to match sheep requirements
with pasture production.
commercial sheep production systems are low-input enterprises and
are based on the direct utilization of native pastures.
Therefore, wool production and reproductive rates are closely dependent
of weather conditions throughout the year. In general, on a national
level, nutrition is the main factor limiting increases in production per
head and stocking rates.
average percentage of lambs weaned per ewe joined varies between 70% and
85% with significant
variation between years due to changing climatic conditions. However,
many farmers who have adopted good management practices, consistently
wean above 100%.
Wool has been the main product of these production systems but
in recent years -due to higher meat prices- the importance of sheep meat
(mainly lambs) has increased. Fat lambs are finished on improved
pastures for slaughter with carcass weights between 17-20 kg and 6-11
months of age.
For the moment these lambs are produced from the existing
dual-purpose systems and basically there is no specialization of farms
to particular production such as fat lambs, or the
cross-bred ewes, to be used in cross-breeding systems for the