Proper Ewe and Lamb Care Goes a Long Way in Maximizing Profits

Feb 15, 2021

Tara Jo Bina
Countryside Feed Livestock Nutrition
With the strong demand for lamb driving up prices, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of new sheep producers on the scene right now. Whether you’re a newcomer or a longtime producer, the best way to take advantage of the market is to make your animals as profitable as possible, and that means keeping them healthy, comfortable and well fed. Consider the following management practices when looking for ways to optimize the profits of your operation.
Target a good body condition score for breeding: Be sure to provide ewes with adequate nutrition that includes plenty of vitamin A and vitamin E and a proper ration of calcium and phosphorus to help improve reproductive results. The optimum body score for lambing is 3.0 to 3.5. Improve the accuracy of your body condition scoring by shearing wool first.
Avoid breeding ewes that are either too thin or overweight. Thin ewes don’t produce enough milk for lambs and generally end up birthing lambs that don’t thrive. Overweight ewes accumulate excessive fat in their birthing canal and udder, which can respectively lead to birthing problems and reduced milk output.
Provide adequate living space: If you’re lambing in December or January to take advantage of the Easter market, make sure ewes have enough room to move around, proper bedding and are sheltered from snow, wind and muddy areas. Ewes require a feeding space of 20 inches per head. Overcrowding can cause abortions or prolapses and keep timid ewes from getting enough nutrition. House ewes and newborn lambs in lambing jugs for the first 1-3 days before moving them into grouping and milk replacer pens.
Practice quality ewe care: I recommend putting your ewes on a good vaccination program to prevent abortions and keep them healthy. Parasitical activity increases near lambing sites, so they should also be dewormed at least twice a year. Taking regular fecal samples to evaluate fecal egg content will help ensure that you’re feeding the animal – not the parasites. Coccidiosis is a common concern when animals are on the same ground all the time, so provide proper nutrition and preventive medications like coccidostats at least 30 days before lambing to prevent ewes from infecting their offspring. Consult your local veterinarian for assistance in selecting the right vaccines and deworming products for your flock.
Maintain an accurate recordkeeping system: Keep track of how many lambs are born and how many you sell, along with the price/lb earned. Breed back on a regular basis if you’re aiming to be on an accelerated lambing program of three lamb crops in two years.
Cull under-performing ewes: With market prices where they’re at, now is an opportune time to cull the ewes that have sore feet, bad disposition, prolapses or past history of aborting lambs or being unable to get pregnant.
Put lambs on the right diet and vaccination program. First, make sure newborns get colostrum immediately after birth so they get the antibodies they need. On average, 15 percent of lambs succumb to preweaning mortality in the Midwest, and 80 percent of those deaths occur in the first week of life. This is often due to not getting enough colostrum, either because the mother doesn’t produce enough or they don’t get up to nurse. In either case, your local Countryside Feed nutritionist can set you up with a high-quality colostrum replacer.
It’s equally as important to give newborns the CDT vaccine because it prevents enterotoxemia
(overeating disease) and tetanus, both of which can lead to death. I recommend giving lambs this vaccine twice – first at nursing and then again when weaning.
At this time of year, newborns should be started on a 20% protein creep with a medicated feed additive like Deccox® to prevent coccidiosis. After 40-45 days, drop down to a 16% protein creep with Deccox®. When they’re 80-85 days old, switch to a 14% protein creep with Bovatec® to boost feed efficiency and gain without compromising feed intake.
Prevent pneumonia. Lambs can’t handle cold conditions as well as full-grown adults, so keep them as comfortable as possible by reducing temperature swings and humidity, eliminating drafts in barns and maintaining proper ventilation to ensure they get fresh air.
Finally, if you’re new to sheep production, I encourage you to visit other operations in your area to increase your knowledge. You’ll find that most farmers are happy to answer questions and some will even share information about mistakes they made in the past to help keep you from doing the same on your farm.
In fact, I often take new producers to visit with longtime customers to see how they manage their facility; so if you don’t know any local producers, ask your Countryside Feed representative if they can make an introduction.

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