Just like with children, weaning can be a time full of drama or … not….
There are several reasons why we wean lambs here at Beersheba Farm.
Mostly it is to do with basic management. It’s much easier to cater to the needs of different age classes of stock when they are grouped together. For example, if there is a ewe that is putting “everything” into her lamb/s – to the detriment of her own body condition – then it is nigh impossible to improve her body condition while she is still lactating. She will just channel all the extra energy and protein into her milk. She’s a good mum! 🙂 By weaning the lamb off it allows the ewe to build her reserves again and take care of herself. Likewise, it is much more efficient to supplementary feed lambs, if needed, as a group rather than have all the “mums and aunties” scoffing the lot.
Another consideration is the pastures at the time the lambs are approximately 16 weeks old. By that age they have a fully functioning rumen (their first stomach which uses bacteria to break down the cellulose and starches in grass) and are not so reliant on their mothers for nutrition. Ideally, the grass is still green and “best” when the lambs get to this point of being fully on grass but also needing high quality feed to grow their bodies. Every farm and district has different environmental conditions and pasture species which influences what is best for them. We have predominately native pastures and a dry summer so it is ideal to wean lambs while the pasture is good enough for them to grow and their mothers to physically recover.
(Now may be a pertinent time to point out that sheep, like many other herbivores, are biologically designed to get pregnant etc every single year. In fact, if they “skip” a year it can be difficult for them to fall pregnant at a later time.)
There is another reason also: most ewes cycle better when they haven’t been lactating for approximately 8-12 weeks. This can vary a lot with different breeds but, essentially, in some sheep lactation is a contraceptive!
When ewes are being joined there is always the risk that if they have lambs on them from the previous year that the ram will either get the ewe lambs pregnant or damage them by trying to get them pregnant. We prefer to avoid this scenario.
So that brings us to today: weaning Drysdale ewe lambs. (The ram lambs had been weaned at 12-16weeks before they started getting up to mischief!! Yes, they can start that early.)
This season we had much wetter summer than usual and the grass was better than usual. Due to various reasons we hadn’t got around to weaning the lambs and they have been left on their mums much longer than usual. (They are 5-6mths old) And yes, quite a few were still drinking – just in case anyone thought that the ewes would just wean them by themselves …
Today they were separated from their mums and everyone had a worm drench. Then the mums went to a quiet paddock for some R&R and the lambs have gone into the paddock with the best grass along with some grown-up “aunties” for company. There was no yelling for Mum/Lamb and it was all very civilised. The ewes actually quite like it when the kids go off to school…. 😉
Being a small farm it means that we don’t have limitless paddocks and large mob sizes. So after joining is completed in April sometime then the ewe weaners will end up back with their mums and aunties until it is time for lambing in August.
We “took” a lovely video this morning of the ewes being taken to their paddock and nary a one was crying for a lamb…. trouble is, the camera operator stuffed up and only took a picture instead of a video…! 😳