If you live within a 5 mile radius of the farm you may have heard that we are weaning our hand reared lambs. Their bleats for milk can be heard far and wide! Weaning is the practice of removing from lambs the milk diet provided by the ewe (or a milk replacement diet). From the milk diet, lambs are moved onto forage or grain based diets. The separation can be stressful for ewes, lambs and those of us who are caring for them.
Weaning age varies greatly in the sheep industry. Lambs have been weaned successfully as early as 14 days, while some lambs are allowed to wean naturally, staying with their mums for 6 months or more. Hand-reared lambs can be successfully weaned from a milk diet at 25 to 30 pounds body weight or when they are 30 to 45 days old. Weaning abruptly is better than offering a diluted milk replacer the last week.
Our hand reared lambs are now 3 months old which is when we usually wean them. They have had access to grass to forage from the first few days of being alive and have been introduced to grain from a week old. 3 months of feeding 6 times a day is a huge commitment for all of our staff, co-farmers and volunteers and it’s a relief when we make it through and feel confident that they can survive without the milk.
In a natural situation, weaning occurs at approximately 6 months of age, usually in the autumn when the ewes begin returning to estrus (the ewe reproductive cycle). Our male lambs with mums will be separated from the ewes and weaned next, but our female lambs will stay with their mums and wean naturally.
There are several advantages to late weaning. It is more “natural” and results in less stress for the ewe and lambs. There is less risk of the ewe developing mastitis since her milk production has declined significantly by the time the lambs are removed.
For now our lambs are learning to fend for themselves, it’s a tough lesson but their instinct and resilience will hopefully see them though. In the mean time we have ear plugs on order!