WEAnInG lambs at 12-14 weeks old will give ewes sufficient time to recover condition on grass before tupping gets underway in Welsh flocks this autumn.
According to independent sheep consultant Kate Phillips, there is a wide range of weaning ages on Welsh sheep farms – in some cases lambs are not removed from their mothers until they are 20 weeks old.
This is not only potentially detrimental to the ewe but to the lamb too because competition for grass and declining milk yield impacts on growth rates.
“The normal target is to wean by 12-16 weeks but in some years weaning earlier than this, at 10-14 weeks, is well worth looking at because of the benefits to ewes and lambs,’’ Mrs Phillips advised farmers at a series of Farming Connect lamb weaning management events across Wales.
“A huge amount can change from year to year according to weather and grass availability but lambs have done a lot better this year so there is no reason why weaning can’t be at 12 weeks.’’
From eight weeks of age, the energy intake of lambs is greater from grass than from milk so competition for grass between ewes and lambs reaches a critical point.
Weighing lambs at eight weeks of age and condition scoring ewes will give a good indication of likely weaning dates. If ewe condition is poor and lamb growth is below target there may be a need to wean earlier. Lamb growth rate is a good indicator of when to wean so regular weighing is essential.
Ewes need 6-8 weeks to regain one body condition score (BCS), equivalent to 10-13 per cent of bodyweight; that is 7kg for a 60kg ewe, weight that can be gained in 6-8 weeks on good grazing, said Mrs Phillips.
Vet Claire Jones, of Milfeddygon Dolgellau Cyf, advises drying off ewes indoors on straw and water for 48 hours or on poorer quality grass to allow milk supply to dry up naturally to minimise mastitis risk. To prevent problems associated with flies on udders, ensure fleeces are removed promptly and use fly strike pour- on post-shearing.
Monthly faecal egg counting (FEC) will facilitate strategic dosing for worms.
“Monitoring will mean you will know when to dose. Work with your vet to establish which product to use to avoid selecting for resistance,’’ she said.
Farming Connect’s Red Meat Technical Officer for Mid Wales, Lisa Roberts said: “With weaning marking the start of the next production cycle, it is important to get it right.
“A lot of farmers leave lambs on the ewes for too long and don’t think about the consequences for both the ewe and the lamb,’’ she said.
For hill farmers Berwyn and Helen Roberts, weaning is dictated by harvesting because silage aftermath is needed for lamb grazing. When weather is poor this impacts on harvesting dates and delays weaning.
An achievable weaning target for their farm is 13-14 weeks because only a small proportion of the farm has high quality grazing, says Mr Roberts, who hosted one of the Farming Connect events.
The farm – Dolobran at Dinas Mawddwy – consists of 93 hectares of hill land, 28 hectares of rough grazing and 16 hectares of better quality land. It supports a flock of 300 Welsh, crossbred and Romney ewes.
Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and Welsh Government.