lambweaning Thursday night I separated some of the lambs that need to be weaned. I’m actually not going to wean most of the lambs. It seems that convention is to always wean all lambs at around 60 or 90 days, and that’s what most people do, and what most books recommend. I think the reasons people do this can be several:

  • to put lambs on very high protein feed to get them to market weight faster, but of course you don’t want to let the ewes eat that expensive stuff, so you separate them into two feeding groups.
  • to put lambs on supplemental food because there is not enough grass to feed both the lambs and the ewes.
  • to get lambs off of ewes that are getting too thin from nursing, to get them back into breeding shape in time for fall breeding.
  • to get intact ram lambs away from the ewes before they are old enough to breed them and create accidental pregnancies.
  • in some cases, people want to milk their sheep for human consumption, so then it makes sense to get the lambs off of them as soon as possible, to maximize the milk collection for other uses.

Reasons Not to Wean

My situation is a little different from average. Since I’m selling grass-fed lamb, there will be no putting the lambs on “hot” feed to make them grow faster. They will be eating the same thing as the ewes all summer: grass. There is plenty of grass for all our sheep, in fact, we have already cut some because we had too much and didn’t want to let any of it go to seed.

And most of my ewes are still in very good condition. I don’t find that they suffer much from producing milk all summer, maybe because the forage is so good here. And by now, they are not letting the lambs nurse a whole lot, so the demand on their bodies is not that great. The advantage of not forcibly and suddenly weaning lambs is it greatly reduces the risk of mastitis in the ewe. There are other ways to minimize the risk, like milking the ewe out a little each day, or letting the lambs back with her for part of the day. But that’s all way too labor-intensive for me with this many untamed sheep. I’d rather let them do it themselves. So, all of the ewe and wether lambs can stay with their mothers until butcher or breeding time.

lambweaning2Ram Lambs Gotta Go

There is the question of the ram lambs breeding the ewes, however. Last year, I seemed to get by without the ewes getting bred before late August, when sheep naturally go back into heat. But you can’t count on that, especially because Katahdins are one breed that is known to breed out of season, and they can sometimes even lamb twice a year. And I hated not knowing for sure last year if I had any early pregnancies. It turned out I only had one mystery one who did not get marked during the regular breeding cycle. But still, not knowing due dates (or fathers) is an inconvenience.

So this year I’m going to separate all of the rams much earlier. And I will market a few of the nicer ram lambs as flock breeding animals. If they sell by butcher time for a higher breeding animal price, so be it; if they don’t, I’ll sell them as butcher lambs for the regular price come fall.

I have seven intact ram lambs that are of breeding potential, so they got split off. And then I did have two ewes who are thin, so I took their babies away as well.

The Joys of Sorting Recalcitrant Lambs

I split the Electronet into two adjacent squares. The shared side of the square has double hotwire, to create added incentive to not cross it (and because the way Electronet is designed, you can’t connect fence sections just anywhere, you have to connect the ends together, if that makes sense…). I had Maggie hold the sheep in one corner while I sought out and grabbed the lambs to be separated, and tossed them over the fencing to the other square. I also pushed a few adult sheep in with them too, some ewes with single ewelambs, and the two mature rams. That way they wouldn’t feel too isolated. I got it done pretty quickly, turned the hotwire back on, and we were done. Viola!

Friday night I went down there to do weighing, and I realized the hotwire fencer clip had fallen onto the ground and the fencing wasn’t hot. And some of the lambs had figured this out, squeezed through the squares and re-joined their mothers. So I did a second sort when I was done weighing.

Saturday I went down there to do a couple more chores, and while the hotwire was off, the groups got mixed again. So I re-sorted a third time. I was just about done, and thought of one other chore I wanted to do. In the delay, some lambs dove into and through the fence and started a mass migration again. So, I sorted them a fourth time. And then I got myself and Maggie out of there as fast as possible and turned the fencer back on. Phew, for now, they are staying where they’re supposed to! I was pretty cranky by the end though! Hefting 40+ pound lambs over the fence multiple times is tough on the back!

The lambs are unhappy about the situation and are bellowing constantly. The mothers have mixed feelings; I don’t think they miss being butted by 40 lb lambs trying to prime their udders, but they are responsive to hearing their lambs in distress and call back to them. But they can see and smell each other, and in a few days they’ll all get used to the new arrangement. And we can enjoy some peace and quiet again!