Spring Lamb Management Tips

David Brown, Livestock Field Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
(Previously published online with the University of Missouri Extension: April, 2024)

Lambing can take place at different times of the year and there is no “one-size-fits-all” production system. Spring lambing has been found to be a more profitable production system when compared to fall and winter lambing because it takes full advantage of the spring and summer flush of grass. The abundance of spring forage lowers feed cost associated with processed feeds, saving the producers dollars that would have gone into feed purchases. Conception rates are much higher in spring lambing system because breeding coincides with their natural mating and lambing seasons. It is also less labor intensive and requires little equipment.

Spring-lambing takes place from March to May. Weaned lambs remain on pasture in the spring and summer and graze with the dams until they reach market weight. Weaned lambs on spring and summer pasture may gain an average of 0.25 to 0.35 pounds per day depending on the pasture quality. Research has shown that lambs gain approximately 0.15 pounds more per day when left with the ewe through late August versus weaning in July and grazing ewes and lambs separately. Creep feeding spring-born lamb is not cost effective and therefore not recommended. The cost of pasture gains is cheaper and more economical, hence producers should take full advantage of the inexpensive gains attained throughout this season.

The main considerations for spring-born lambs are internal parasites and predator risk. Typical signs of parasitism to look for are weight loss, diarrhea, anemia, and bottle jaw. Developing an effective internal parasite control program is of utmost importance. The American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control (ACSRPC) recommends best management strategies to deal with internal parasitism. Producers should visit www.wormx.info for emerging concepts in parasite control and deworming protocols. Predator attacks generally occur from late spring through October. Predator control, grazing management system and effective lamb marketing strategies should be taken into consideration to maximize the benefits of spring-lambing program. For more information on predator management for small ruminants, please view the University of Missouri Extension Small Ruminant online seminar hosted by David Brown.

Spring lambing utilizes the ewe’s natural breeding cycle (September through December). This production system synchronizes the sheep production cycle to forage growth cycle. This system has decreased labor and overhead cost when compared to an intensive lambing enterprise. Producers should develop effective marketing strategies when considering spring lambing. Lamb prices generally drop in late summer and early fall. Producers should take advantage of non-traditional markets by selling lambs directly to consumers to obtain higher prices. Potential markets also exist among new producers who are interested in feeder lambs. These lambs graze on pasture through the spring and summer to be fattened and finished for slaughter.

There is no best production cycle for lambing. When to lamb is entirely based on producer’s preference and individual farm and this depends on feed availability, parasite and predator control, and marketing opportunities. For producers wondering when to lamb, the simple question to ask is if it makes sense for your farm and your intended market.

Editor’s Note: See original post for article references.