Advice for weaning lambs to help reduce stress

While some early lambing producers may have weaned already, those that have not should try to get routine jobs done before weaning so that lambs are handled as little as possible on the day, writes independent sheep consultant Kate Phillips.

Stress has an effect on immunity to disease, reducing the animal’s resilience in the face of a disease challenge.

Kate Philips

Kate Phillips independent sheep consultant

Once lambs are over eight-weeks-old they are getting most of their nutrients from grass (and creep) so if grass is in short supply or if ewes are too lean then farmers should consider weaning from about 10 weeks old.

There is really no point leaving lambs on ewes for more than 12-16 weeks as research work has shown that after a certain stage lambs grow better off their mother.

See also: Earlier lamb weaning slashes costs for Welsh flock

At weaning, ewes and lambs should be separated, with lambs sent back where they came from so they know where to find the water and are familiar with their surroundings.

Jobs to do before weaning

  • Weigh lambs to check on growth rate – if less than 200g/day, wean
  • Carry out faecal egg counts – check whether lambs need worming – use an effective product and dose correctly to the weight of the heaviest lambs in the group
  • Vaccinate against clostridial diseases and pasteurella if not done before – give first dose two weeks pre-weaning and second dose four weeks later
  • Administer trace element supplements if needed
  • Reserve aftermath grazing for weaned lambs

Ideally ewes and lambs should be kept as far apart as possible to minimise calling to each other.

To reduce the chance of mastitis occurring, ewes should be put on to bare pasture, or housed for 48 hours, on poor-quality forage (hay/straw) and water – to dry off quickly.

However, if ewes are housed, ensure bedding is clean and dry to prevent disease.

Watch for signs of mastitis and treat promptly if necessary – consult your vet to choose the appropriate antibiotics.

Weaning timeline

Time What to do
A few days later
  • Turn lambs into aftermath grazing
  • Turn ewes out to bare pastures
Two weeks later
  • Check teeth, feet and udders of all ewes – and mark any ewes for culling
  • Condition score ewes into thin, fit and fat groups
  • Assess time before tupping date and consider how much condition ewes need to gain or lose to reach target condition for tupping – 2.5 for hill ewes and 3.5 for lowland ewes
  • It takes six to eight weeks on good grazing to gain 1.0 body condition score (BCS). 1.0 body condition score is about 13% of bodyweight, so for a 70kg ewe that is about 9kg.

The AHDB-funded project on sheep key performance indicators, currently under way, should provide valuable guidance on the impact of body condition score at critical points in the production cycle. Results should be available in November.