The task of weaning lambs will be on the to-do list for many sheep farms over the coming weeks.
Once lambs get to between 12 and 14-weeks-old, farmers should consider weaning them off the ewes.
By not doing this, it can have a negative impact on both; ewes would be competing with their lambs for grass and at this stage of the season, lambs should have access to the best-quality grass on the farm.
Grass growth rates continue to vary across farms, and those with a higher stocking rate are feeling the pinch more so. On top of that, far from ideal growing conditions and high fertiliser prices make it even tougher to grow grass.
For farms that are in a tight position for grass, weaning lambs off ewes will provide a good opportunity to take the pressure off – especially as the trade for ewes at marts remains strong for all weight categories if it’s a case that stock needs to be moved on.
If farmers can, they should graze ewes on lower grass covers and/or poorer-quality grass after weaning. This is because the focus should be on the lambs and maximising their performance for now at least.
It’s best to restrict the ewe’s diet after weaning anyway, for approximately 10-14 days, to ensure that they dry-off properly and to avoid creating any mastitis issues.
Not only do we want to wean lambs to free-up good-quality grass for them, but we also need to give ewes a break from their lambs to allow them to recover and regain body condition, gradually, for breeding later in the year.
With this in mind, weaning lambs off of thin ewes or hogget ewes should be considered first to give them a longer rest period.
Because breeding is a while away yet, we can afford to put ewes into lower covers of grass for a short period of time before focusing again on regaining body condition in the lead up to breeding.
Options for weaning lambs
Abrupt weaning is the most common method used on most sheep farms. This involves separating all of the ewes and lambs at the same time.
In the case of abrupt weaning, ideally, farmers should be giving lambs access to good-quality leafy swards straight away after weaning; this will help the lambs to settle quickly and avoid any major dip in performance.
Good fencing is a necessity and it is best if ewes and lambs are kept well apart and out of sight in order to make the transition period easy and stress free.
If you’re thinking about weaning a proportion of lambs only, a gradual weaning approach could be used.