Roger High, OSU State Sheep Extension Associate
As many producers near the end of lactation, it is time to remind ourselves about an appropriate pre-weaning and weaning plan to prevent loss of udders due to poor weaning management. The current SID book has these weaning recommendations:
1) Dry ewes off by deprivation of feed for 48 hours and water for 24 hours. Provide low energy and protein for the next 10-14 days. This is the time of the year to feed your poorest quality hay to the ewe flock. Monitor ewes closely for evidence of acute mastitis.
2) Sort and cull unsound ewes. Unsoundness in a ewe would include mastitis, lameness, excessive thinness, non-lactating, poor teeth (molars and incisors), etc.
3) An internal and external parasite program and an appropriate immunization program must be tailored to each operation. This should be planned with the help of a veterinarian.
4) Since water is the main portion of the milk produced by the ewe, it is important to reduce water intake prior to weaning. This will reduce milk production in the ewe.
For most of the purebred and club lamb operations and those commercial flocks that are raising lambs in the barn, the normal weaning time is around 60 days after those lambs are born. This is the time period when milk production in the ewe is becoming lower and the lambs are in need of higher quality nutrition than the milk can provide. It is more efficient to feed the lambs than it is to feed the ewes to maintain low levels of milk production.
For commercial grazing operations, there is no real set date for weaning. Generally these flocks will let the ewes wean the lambs themselves. At around 90-100 days of age, the ewes will no longer allow the lambs to nurse, and milk production is very low. The lambs will be grazing and providing nutrition to himself or herself either in a creep or on the pasture that there dams are grazing. The wether lambs can then be removed from the ewe flock and either marketed as feeder lambs or fed out by the producers and sold later as finished lambs at a later date. Ewe lambs are generally maintained with the ewe flock or separated from the ewe flock and maintained on a higher plane of nutrition.