21 July 1995

Dont let em linger on apron strings

Weaning can be a management tool for the benefit of both lambs and ewes. Rebecca Austin visits two farms that believe they have the right technique for individual circumstances.

KEEP lambs on ewes for too long and the ewe will suffer. So says John Matts, who farms 728ha (1800-acre) Creaton Grange Farm, Creaton, Northants.

Mr Matts, who is also vice-chairman of the Moredun Foundation, says that as soon as ewes are short of milk lambs chew the teats and aggravate the ewe.

"Ewes are now competing with lambs for grass and some ewes are putting on condition because, even though she is still milking, lambs are taking 90% of their nutrition from grass," he says. "You dont want her too fat over the summer, so save the aftermaths for lambs."

Mr Matts lambs 2000 ewes in three flocks. There are 600 Finn x Dorset ewes, which lamb in November and December, another 600 in January and 500 Mules in March and April.

The Mules are weaned now. Ewes are brought indoors to clean, fresh water and straw. Their udders are checked after 48 hours and, when turned out, are checked again two days later.

"We always take the ewes away from the lambs rather than lambs away from the ewes because ewes are easier to handle," he says.

Lambs are moved on to clean ground and Mr Matts uses this opportunity to worm them. "Dont dip and wean at the same time, because both are very stressful for sheep," he says. "We usually dip 14 days before weaning. As most dips have a 14-day withdrawal period, we can select those lambs ready for marketing at weaning. Less handling means less stress."

When lambs born to the early-lambing flock are weaned at seven weeks old ewes are turned out within 48 hours and lambs settle down within four to five hours. "One of the reasons we are happy to wean indoors at that age is that if lambs are kept on the ewe any longer she will suffer," says Mr Matts. "But we find by careful inspection and controlling what the ewe eats we run into very few problems post weaning.

"We are more likely to get mastitis in the sixth week, when ewes are milking hard. As soon as that happens the ewe will receive a long- acting penicillin injection and half an antibiotic tube up each teat."

By now most spring-born lambs are taking 90%of their nutrition from grass. It is also time their mothers were put into condition for tupping later in the year. Stemmy grass should make them fit but not fat.