by: Dr. G.F. Kennedy
Replacement ewes are a primary part of all lambing operations. In the upper Midwest Corn Belt, for years, older ewes could be reasonably purchased from the sheep flocks in the west as they became too old to perform on the range and yet were good performers for a couple more years in farm flocks. That source continues to shrink and isn’t always available so the serious shepherd has to come up with an alternative plan.
That approach would be retaining ewe lambs. This is good for the flock owner and good for the industry as well. There is now an opportunity for the flock owner to control and contribute to the value of his product. The process to be cost effective requires thought, records, soundness and management.
In the upper Midwest, where the Pipestone management program is often used, lambs never see grass, are creep fed, weaned at approximately eight weeks, and full fed to be marketed in 120 to 140 days weighing 120 pounds and up depending on breed type. If there is extra grass or facilities we run more ewes. So how are we going to make replacement ewes in a cost effective way?
First, ewe lambs are selected from some of the most productive ewes that have been bred to maternal sires. In order to do this, records may be kept NSIP style or they may be barn records held in a note-book, but in any event one needs records and for the good shepherd they don’t need to be sophisticated.
The next essential is to remove them from full feed by the time they weigh 80 pounds. Excess feeding allows fat to be deposited in the udder, reducing future milk production. They are then offered good quality hay and a half to a pound of grain depending on condition. Ideally, they are kept in a dry lot till fall. Later in the summer pasture can be utilized but they should still receive grain and feeding this way opens up to parasitism and is more difficult to manage nutrition. They are now run as a separate unit until they lamb at an age in excess of 12 months the following year. The biggest mistake that a lot of people make is to run them with the ewes. In my flock, I have had bad experiences running fall born ewe lambs with the ewes, they would have had a six month advantage over spring born.
These ewe lambs, when run in dry lot, won’t require worming until they are vaccinated for Vibrio 30 days prior to breeding.