Log in

Register



When to wean lambs?

Important principles
  • If you get things wrong, you’ll end up with poor weaners that will be poor hoggets, and these in turn will make poor-performing ewes over their lifetime.
  • So weaning weight is critical in deciding the future potential of breeding sheep.
  • Weaning weight is strongly affected by birth weight, the milk supply of the dam, and the individual lamb’s genetic potential to grow.
  • Lambs won’t grow without an adequate supply of highly quality feed.
  • The lamb must be an efficient ruminant before weaning, to be able to eat enough pasture to avoid a growth check at weaning.
  • When lambs run with ewes, they are competing for the same pasture.
  • When lambs run with ewes, they stand a greater chance of being infected with worm larvae from the pasture - infected by the ewes.
  • Lambs are much more prone to internal parasites (worms) than ewes, which have a greater natural immunity.
Wean on weight and not age
  • To avoid any growth check at weaning, don’t wean until the lambs are at least 20kg liveweight.
  • At this weight, they should be efficient ruminants and be able to grow at about 150-200g/day, which is desirable.
  • Think of this as a minimum weekly gain of 1kg - 1.4kg. If they are growing at less than this, then they won’t be good hoggets, and will be too light to mate.
  • Mating your hoggets should be an objective for extra profit.
If you have to wean early
  • This may be because feed is in short supply, and priority is rightly given to the lambs at the expense of the ewes.
  • Here you’ll have to provide pasture or a crop of very high feed value to boost the lambs’ growth rates.
  • Lucerne is excellent to wean young lambs on to, but it needs a lot of skill to grow.
  • Lambs need to be taught to eat concentrate feed, but you don’t want to let their mothers eat it as it’s too expensive. Consider “creep feeding”.
  • You can creep feed for the lambs before weaning in a covered feeder where the lambs can get through between the bars to eat the meal, but the ewes cannot.
Key points in planning weaning
  • Plan well ahead.
  • Have good quality feed available to wean the lambs on to.
  • Ensure no adult sheep have grazed this weaning area for at least 5-6 weeks.
  • Avoid stressing the lambs at weaning, eg, handle them quietly if drenching and keep the dogs under tight control.
  • Put them in a well fenced paddock well out of sight and earshot of the ewes for about a week.
  • Provide plenty of water and shade.
What about the orphan lamb?
  • If a lamb’s mother dies after say 5-6 weeks, it’s usually not practical to start and bottle feed the lamb or feed it meal on it’s own.
  • It may be simplest to leave it in the flock and hope that it will become a burglar!
  • If it’s a robust lamb, hunger will drive it to steal milk from ewes when their lambs are sucking. It will soon learn to suck through the ewe’s back legs - and will be easily identified by the dung on its head!
Go to top

Sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Get all the latest news along with practical tips and expert advice.