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Early weaning lambs

Dr Jillian Kelly, District Veterinarian, Coonamble

Many sheep producers have made it through lambing and are now looking at options for managing lambs.

We know that feeding a ewe with a lamb at foot is the equivalent of 3DSE (Dry Sheep Equivalent).  If you pull the lambs off and rear them separately, the ewe and the weaned lamb is the equivalent of 1.8DSE. This means that significant feed savings can definitely be made by weaning lambs.

Early weaning is an option to consider, however caution is urged and planning is essential.

Firstly, weigh some lambs to work out body weights. Weaning lambs less than 10kg is not advised, and even weaning between 10-20kg will take some Tender Loving Care (TLC). TLC in a weaning situation means suitable pen sizes, plenty of trough space, and small groups of lambs of similar weights.

The diet must be palatable and easy to chew. A weaner mix or weaner pellets is the easiest way to feed weaner lambs, although more expensive and there is a 4-6 week wait on many of the pellets at the moment. Good quality hay is also essential. Straw is not ideal for weaners. You may choose to mix your own ration – they will need a cereal grain, plus a protein source (e.g. pulse grain or protein meal) as well as hay. The diet for small lambs will need to be 16-18% protein and for bigger lambs 12-14% protein, with suitable energy values to match the protein.

Ensure lambs have all their husbandry procedures done well prior to weaning – mark, mulse, eartag and earmark them all while on the ewe so they have plenty of time to heal.  Ensure they are vaccinated for pulpy kidney (two shots, 4-6 weeks apart) prior to weaning.  While not many sheep are wormy at the moment, this is worth considering also for your situation.

No matter how much care you take, you will still get a percentage of “shy” feeders that just won’t do well at weaning time. These lambs need to be identified and put back out into a paddock.

If early weaning sounds too daunting, you’re not set up for it or cannot commit the time and effort, then “Creep Feeding” might be for you.  This involves putting feeders near watering points, with a fence around the feeder so that the lambs can get through and eat from the feeder, but the ewe cannot. This selectively gives the feed supplement to the lamb, while remaining on the ewe.  There are some really good ways of setting up creep feeders, and this might make better use of your feed and buy some time until the lambs can grow into bigger weaners.

Either way, we need to consider our ewes – relieve the burden of lambs as soon as practical and let the ewes get back into better body condition. If you’re still unsure about what to do with your lambs, or how to set up a creep feeder, give your local District Vet a call.