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Now back to weaning....
Weaning is a crucial time in the management of your flock. Ewes are removed from their lambs, who can no longer consume milk as part of their diet, replacing it with high quality forage, grain-based, or mixed diets. Weaning is stressful for both ewes and lambs; minimising the stress at weaning and checking the health of your flock (both ewes and lambs) are important goals during weaning.
Weaning should be done at around 12 weeks
Remove ewes from lambs (not the other way round)
Place ewes on lower quality grazing to dry off their milk and reduce mastitis risk
Check under-conditioned ewes for medical conditions (worms, Johne's, MV...)
Ewes should have 8 weeks to recover after weaning before tupping
Review lameness across the flock
Newly weaned lambs are highly susceptible to worms
2022 may see a spike in worm infection due to the dry weather
Weaning weights are one of the most important factors to consider in breeding stock selection and improving flock performance.
When to wean 📆
General advice in the UK is to wean lambs at around 12-weeks, however if lamb growth has slowed below 150g/day or if there is increased competition for food (i.e. there is less grass available) then early weaning can be beneficial.
The timing for weaning is generally dictated by the lamb’s rumen. Wean too early and the lamb won’t be able to digest pasture as effectively. By week four, the lamb’s rumen should be fully developed, and it is capable of utilising multiple sources of food, however milk 🥛 is a great source of nutrient-dense food and removing it too early could affect lamb growth.
As animals age, their efficiency at converting feed into growth decreases 📉, therefore young lambs should be put on the best grass (or feed) available to replace the declining milk supply. By 12 weeks, the contribution that milk makes to the lambs’ diet has reduced to a level where the lambs can be weaned without impacting further growth.
How to wean 🤷♂️
When weaning, ewes should be removed from lambs (not the other way around). By leaving lambs in the same location, they will experience less stress 😎 and are more likely to continue feeding. It is generally recommended that lambs and ewes be kept far enough apart that they can’t hear each other.
For the newly weaned lambs, high grass digestibility is a key element for growth, with grass being kept between 4-6cm. If the grass is above/below this consider supplementary feeding. Forage crops can also be a good solution for finishing lambs if you are finding it difficult to maintain highly digestible grass.
It is also important to give the ewes time to recover, ideally lambs should be weaned at least 8 weeks before tupping begins. Ewes who have reared multiples will need special attention to ensure they have fully recovered before tupping
Ewes should be placed on lower quality grazing (or feed) for a couple of weeks to dry off their milk supply. This will help to reduce the risk of developing mastitis.
Things to look out for 🧐
Checking the condition of your ewes at this point is important. Under-conditioned ewes should be moved onto higher quality grass and any that continue to remain lean should be investigated for worm burdens, fluke Johne’s or Maedi Visna (MV).
Weaning is also a good time to review lameness so that it can be treated and prevent further infection within the flock.
Newly weaned lambs should also be closely monitored for health problems as they are highly susceptible to worm 🪱 parasites due to a lack of immunity.
This year (2022) has been particularly dry, which has a significant impact on worms. The eggs shed in the dung of ewes and older lambs will be dormant, waiting for the rain to allow them to emerge as infective larvae on the grass. This is likely to cause a large spike in worm infections once enough rain has fallen.
Be aware of worm resistance, if a product is not working then lambs will need more feed to achieve their finishing weight. Use Faecal Egg Counts (FECs) to check worm status and drench if required, checking for effectiveness. Do not drench and move, animals should stay on the same grazing for a minimum of 48 hours (ideally 4-5 days) to dilute the effect of any resistance.
Other things to consider 🤔
Weighing lambs during weaning can aid in the refinement of your breeding stock. Lambs with the highest adjusted weaning weights (60, 90 or 120 day) should be favoured for breeding. Ewes that wean the heaviest litters would also be favoured in your breeding selection.
Weaning weights are indicative of a ewe’s performing ability and are one of the most important traits in determining profitability of your flock 💷. Post weaning weights are more indicative of the sire’s influence on growth, which is important but not as much as the maternal producing ability.
Now is also a good time to start thinking about vaccinations 💉 pre-tupping.
It is also a great time to start using FlockFinder to record your farm's medical records 👍!
Accessible on any device, FlockFinder helps you quickly and easily record treatments while out in-the-field with just a few taps on your phone. FlockFinder tracks medication usage, withdrawal periods, and can produce detailed treatment reports to support farm inspections. With unlimited users as standard, everyone on the farm can have access the latest information and stay up-to-date.
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