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Early weaning of lambs

In dry seasons when feed availability is scarce, it is worthwhile to consider early weaning.

Ewes and lambs fed separately require less feed than ewes with a lamb at foot. This can result in supplementary feed savings.

Good management is critical for this to be successful. If done well, early weaning can be a very rewarding experience.

Early weaning of the lambs means that ewes can be placed on:

  • pastures that provide maintenance nutrition
  • supplementary rations to achieve maintenance or to reach body condition score of three for mating, selling or agisting.

This will provide immediate feed cost savings as the remaining ewes can be treated as a dry sheep and therefore need up to 30 – 40% less supplementary feed.

Without a lamb these ewes will have more time to regain condition before their next joining. The best feed can then be provided to those growing lambs.

Critical points for successful early weaning

Successful early weaning depends upon five critical points:

1. Live weight

Lambs should ideally be 20kg weight as a minimum

2. Positive growth weight

Lambs need to be gaining weight post weaning. Lambs will need to be weaned onto a high protein (15-18% crude protein) ration which may involve a high concentration of grains like oats, lupins or lamb pellets.

There are several options available to assist in achieving a positive growth weight. One option is to adopt a creep feeding system.

This is a simple way to allow lambs access to extra feed supplements or a different supplement, whilst excluding the ewes.

A primefact (224) on this topic can be found at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/primefacts

With little green feed available another option to consider may be confined feeding or full feedlotting of lambs.

3. Lamb age

Lambs can be weaned at age 70 days from the start of lambing (given an eight week joining period). The youngest lambs should be at least eight weeks of age.

4. Weaner training

This is preferably done while the lambs are still with their mothers. Lambs may also benefit from some older ewes in the paddock with them to continue to teach them to eat grain. Ensure you introduce grain slowly over a 21 day period.

5. Lamb health

Weaned lambs need to be fully vaccinated and drenched to avoid preventable health issues.
Continue to carefully monitor weaned lambs to ensure they meet their growth rate targets for their desired market.

For more information on early weaning, contact Neroli Brennan (0428 692 713 or neroli.brennan@lls.nsw.gov.au).