I read your blog every day and wonder if you could do a loooong blog post on how you care for your sheep… for example how much hay you give them, do you flush and with oats, do you creep feed your lambs and for how long, do you get a 1lbs per day growth rate on your lambs… At what weight do you sell… Do you breed yearlings or wait for next year… do you always achive 1.8 … what is your loss rate of lambs…
Thanks Dan, for reading! Ok, here goes:
During winter, I usually plan for feeding 3% of the ewes’ bodyweight per day. That’s the “standard figure” for sheep in general. I assume my ewes weigh an average of 150 lbs each (though they really range quite widely: from about 120 lbs to 200 lbs). But actually, my sheep eat more like 2.5% per day, and maybe I can get them up to 3.5% or 4% in late pregnancy, but that’s pushing it. They are just very efficient compared to some breeds upon which the standard figure is based. And it likely depends on the quality of hay, if it’s lower in protein and TDN, they need to eat more to maintain their weight.
I let them have as much hay as they want; and make sure there is always a little left over each day, so I’m confident nobody is getting aced-out. I only feed local grass hay; although sometimes with my ewelambs, I will separate them in late pregnancy and give them a little alfalfa to give them a boost since they are still growing.
I do flush with corn-barley (cheaper for me than oats), 1 lb/head/day, for 17 days leading up to, and through, breeding. Then I cut them off, and bring that back for the last thirty days of pregnancy. I might lengthen that a bit if I think they are lean at 4 months along in pregnancy. I tail the ewes off of grain the week after lambing is done. I plan my lambing around the grass, so the ewes start grazing a few weeks prior to lambing starting.
I do not creep feed my lambs, I’ve tried before, but it’s too much hassle to drag a creep feeder around every two days when I move the pasture. And for me, grain just adds to cost, when I have plenty of graze; I just need to be patient and let the lambs grow at the slower pace. So grass is it for my sheep. This means that maternal milk is fairly important to get good early growth on the lambs, because milk is all they get until they can start ruminating and digesting fresh grass on their own. This takes longer than if they are on hay; because of course they can take in more nutrient volume with hay since it has very little water weight.
I get about a 1/2 lb per day of weight gain on the lambs, plus or minus. I sell them around 6-9 months old, when they exceed 85 lbs live weight. Sometimes people buy smaller ones for BBQs too.
I do breed all my yearlings, though not all of them take (and those get penalized). I have come close to 200% in the past, but the last couple of years, my flock has been heavy on pre-three-year-olds since I’m trying to expand, so I’m more around 150%, if I count the ones that don’t lamb at all. I intend to get it up over 200% once I get a mature flock, that is what’s considered optimal for our breed. But first, I’m focusing on improving my weaning- and post-weaning-weight metrics, as well as maternal milk, so I’m not selecting so hard for birth rate (yet). I’ll keep a singler and drop a triplet-bearer if the latter can’t wean lambs that are ready to butcher by November; because I hate feeding butcher lambs over winter.
Last year I had a 17% loss of lamb crop, and that includes counting tiny perished fetuses when I find them in the placenta (I try to always look for them so I know how many lambs the ewe conceived. She gets credit for the conception, but penalized for the loss in her NSIP metrics). More than half my losses happen pre-birth, so that is where I focus my energy on prevention. I usually only lose a few post-birth, from random things; but I’ve been lucky not to have a trend or spike of a particular problem pre- or post-weaning. For the most part, for me, once I verify the lambs are up and have colostrum in them, they are almost always good-to-go!
This is just how I do things and what works for me. Hope that helps!