This weekend was lamb weaning weekend. There are lots of philosophies about and methods for weaning, and pro’s and con’s to all methods. I tend to wean late- this time at 90 days. Some people wean earlier, which optimizes feed usage when there isn’t a surplus of grass. But then the ewes still have a lot of milk, and ideally you have to do special things with them to get them to dry up and avoid mastitis. Some people dry-lot the ewes for a week on low-quality hay, or even withhold water for a day. But for me that’s extra labor and hay, I’d rather have them stay out on pasture. This time of year, grass is in abundance, so I have no concerns over conserving feed in the fields.
At three months, I find the ewes already limiting how much the lambs can nurse, and are well on the way to drying up all on their own. So I can leave them out on grass with less risk of mastitis. And, this way the lambs get a little extra boost as well. Lambs always lose some weight from the stress of weaning. So if they are a little bigger, they are better situated to weather the storm.
90 days is kind of a magic date because after that, it’s possible for ram lambs to be fertile and viable. And occasionally a ewe can go back into heat midsummer, though most of them wait until after the days start to shorten. So this is a good time to separate boys and girls. I put all the lambs in the same pasture as the adult rams. This gives them some calm mentors to follow around. The three ewes which lambed late are also staying with this group. This is for my convenience, so I only have to creep-feed in one pasture, since they still have lambs at their sides. I feel fairly confident these ewes won’t breed-back so early after lambing, so they can hang with the rams for another month.
In early August, I’ll do 120 day weights, and then put the ewe lambs back with the girl group to ensure they don’t breed early (though it’s unlikely). By then, the mama ewes should all be dried off, so no more nursing can take place. In past years, I’ve left some lambs on the ewes until butcher time; this is a perfectly fine thing to do when the ewes are looking thrifty and can afford to keep making milk all summer. But I have a lot of lean ewes this year, so I want them to have this extra time to put some weight back on before fall.
While I was handling the lambs to sort them, I replaced their tiny lamb ear tags with my favorite, gigantic #5 tags. These are easy to read from a distance, which is nice now that they will be loose in a big field. I’ll keep watching them grow, and I don’t yet “know” all of them, so being able to see their numbers is helpful. Sometimes I get feedback from what I would term “sheep fancier” buyers who do not prefer the large tags for aesthetic reasons. But for me, I’m not going for beauty, but functionality, and the big tags are just so much more practical. For those discriminating buyers, I can always put in some spare smaller tags, or they can do the same when they get home; it’s easy to switch them since there are nicely-healed holes in the sheep’s ears.
This weekend was filled with the noise of complaining lambs, and some casual answering from their mothers. I left their mothers next door, so it’s not so terribly distressing for the lambs. And the mothers are usually pretty happy to give their lambs the boot; nursing lambs at this age are violent, being nearly as big as their mothers! The lambs are still pretty mad about not being able to nurse, even though they have fence contact with their mamas. After a few days, they’ll accept this new reality and get back to eating and growing.
When the hubbub has died down, I’ll move the ewes up to our hillside to do some “mowing” work for us, which saves a lot of labor over weed-whacking the steep slopes.