This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 2003, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.
All About Sheep Weaning
Weaning is done around 50 to 60 days old or around 40 to 45 pounds.
If you have lambs that are on a bottle they should be weaned as soon as possible because they cost more to feed then the weight they gain on bottles. The lambs should have access to feed in order to get their rumen ready for solid food.
Before weaning you should make sure that the lamb is eating enough solid food through creep feeding. Creep feed should be about 15% crude protein and may contain molasses in order to make it more palatable.
One example of a creep feed is 80% grain sorghum, 10% oats, and 10% oilseed meal with alfalfa hay available at all times.
Advantages to creep feeding are increased weight gain, higher feed conversion, earlier marketing, and the early growth will lessen the stress of early weaning.
You should also make sure that they have clean drinking water available and be using it. Since lambs get most of their water through the motherís milk it is important that the lamb is drinking water so they donít get dehydrated after being taken away from their mother.
Lambs have a hard time during weaning, so they should be kept in one place as much as possible. The ewes should be moved away from the lambs. After weaning the lambs should be on a balanced diet and be closely monitored for any health problems. Anything that needs to be done to the lamb like vaccinations, docking, or castrating should be done a good time before or after weaning to lessen the stress level.
One objective of early weaning is to ease the lactation stress on the ewe, or to assist ewes with multiple lambs with the raising of those lambs. Another might be to allow ewes to return to breeding condition more quickly.
Approximately 40 days into the lactation stage, ewe milk production rapidly decreases. To prevent mastitis, you should only wean lambs from ewes whose milk production has decreased sufficiently to avoid any undue stress that might be placed on the udder. When a ewe has a full udder and is still producing milk after removal of the lambs the udder will leak, causing teats to be open and increasing the occurrence of mastitis.
To decrease milk production, some producers think feed and water for the ewes should be restricted for 1 to 2 days, others reduce water and remove all feed 1 to 2 beforehand, and others remove grain from the ration for 3-7 days prior to weaning. In any case, ewes should be removed from their high quality diet and placed on a lower quality one that has decreased crude protein and energy content. After weaning, ewes only need their nutrition to be at maintenance levels, but enough so that she can return to a target body condition score for mating, usually around 3.0.
Examine the udders of all ewes before and after weaning. Cull any ewe with hard udders, lumps in her udders, or nonfunctioning udder(s) because she will become a very poor milk producer. Udders may also become sore or easily bruised so to prevent damage, limit handling for 7 to 10 days post-weaning. Visual signs of sore udders include: red, hot, hard udders, lumpy milk tinged with blood and ewes with difficulty walking on hind legs.
Any ewe showing signs of mastitis should be separated from the flock and treated with antibiotics. Milk should be collected to determine the bacteria causing the inflammation and to help determine which drugs to use.
Mastitis can be regulated with management and cleanliness. Keeping the areas the ewe will be exposed to clean and dry will decrease the number of bacteria present. It's also a good idea to have good drainage and un-crowded barns.
Other causes of mastitis are Pasteurella hemolytica, the bacteria that causes baby lamb pneumonia, sore mouth, and OPP (ovine progressive pneumonia).
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