The process of separating ewes from lambs is known as weaning. Separating ewes from lambs is an important part of rearing sheep. It is basically a process whereby lambs are removed from ewes as a means of controlling their milk intake. The main objective of this process is to separate lambs from a dietary plan consisting of only milk and introducing them to more solid feedstuff of forage, grain, or mixed foods. The process involves completely separating lambs from the same paddock ewes. As simple as it sounds, care should be taken when separating ewes from lambs because errors usually lead to a number of health related issues. Farmers are therefore advised to be familiar with the process of weaning for the maintenance of sheep health and production.

The Weaning Process

The process of separating lambs from ewes helps to reduce stress in both ewes and lambs. The process allows farmers to control costs directed towards the nourishment of lactating ewes. This is because lactating ewes with feeding lambs require higher feeds, thus an increased financial investment. There are various methods used when separating ewes from lambs. However, the process remains the same hence the need to be knowledgeable on how it is carried out. As previously mentioned, the weaning process must include separating the paddock pastures of the ewes and those of the lambs. The ewes are removed from the pen and placed on a separate one away from lambs. It is recommended that the lambs be placed in same groups of siblings for easier stress management. Note that sheep are susceptible to diseases and infection during this period; the common ones being coccidiosis and enterotoxaemia. As such, when separating ewes from lambs, it is of the utmost importance to monitor the medical conditions of the ewes as well as the lambs. Farmers are therefore advised to vaccinate the animals prior to weaning. Ideally, lambs should be vaccinated at about 6 weeks of age and again 2 weeks later. Castration and tagging should also be completed before separating ewes from lambs.

Despite the variations in weaning methods, the practise of separating ewes from lambs is often started at least two weeks before the actual weaning process commences. Lambs can be weaned off milk when they are about 10 to 15kg depending on the breed.  During this period, they should be consuming at least 200g of lamb hard feed daily. Note that lambs should be started off on solid feed so that they easily adapt to the new diet. They are generally allowed to feed on limited pasture from as early as 2 weeks after birth. This however varies according to the farmer’s preference. Keep in mind that pasture must not be given as the only diet during this period. This is because lambs are born with poor immune systems which develop overtime. Providing more pasture might cause diseases and infection as the immune systems would not have fully developed during this stage.  The pasture can be introduced as the main component of the diet at about 6 weeks of age. Solid feed chosen for weaned lambs should comprise of large amounts of protein. In addition, there should always be fresh supply of water for the lambs.

Weaning Methods

There are different ways of separating ewes from lambs. These can be practised as early as possible or the process can be allowed to proceed naturally. Note that despite the weaning method, the newly weaned lambs should be provided with the same type of feed prior to weaning and afterwards, which is often for approximately 7 to 10 days. It is common to offer lambs milk replacers during the weaning process. Milk replacers should contain at least 30% fat and 25% milk protein. During the process of separating ewes from lambs, the young sheep should always be given fresh pasture each day and the pasture that contains urea should only be introduced after two weeks of past weaning stage. Another important point to keep in mind is that hard feed is of the essence as it determines the development of the rumen. Also, the pasture provided to lambs should be of good quality to encourage continued growth rates.

Early Weaning

Some farmers prefer the early method of separating ewes from lambs. A rule of thumb is to introduce early weaning when the lambs are 60 days old for meat and wool production. Dairy sheep are commonly weaned at 30 to 35 days of age while pasture reared lambs should be weaned at 90 days of age. Orphan lambs on the other hand, should be weaned when they are 40 days old.  The upside of early weaning is that it allows for early growth and development. Sheep weaned early tend to mature quicker than their counterparts. Early weaning is most common in arid areas with frequent droughts. In most cases, milk production declines after the 4th week of lambing; supplementing for the required nutrients to enable increased milk production becomes difficult and so farmers settle for early weaning. The downside of separating ewes from lambs is that it makes them prone to mastitis.

Late Weaning

Separating ewes from lambs can also be done using the natural process. The lambs are allowed to remain with the ewes and are separated naturally. A rule of thumb is to naturally separate ewes from lambs at 4 to 6 months of age. A common natural method used when separating ewes from lambs is removing ewes from the grain dietary plan, replacing it with low quality hay. Consequently, milk production is reduced forcing lambs to voluntary supplement their milk diets with solid feed. The late weaning process allows the udders for the ewes to completely dry off reducing any chances for mastitis. The ewes are also given the chance to naturally return to their breeding state without altering the process. However, since this method involves placing the lambs in the same pastures as the rest of the sheep, the lambs are forced to contend with the other sheep for pastures. This interaction means they are exposed to a pasture that contains urea thus weakening their system. The lambs are also prone to early mating as they are exposed to the rams in the pasture fields.

Two-stage Weaning Process

This method involves preventing the lambs from feeding for 1 to 2 weeks of separating ewes from lambs. During this one week, the lambs are allowed to be in the same pen as the ewe but nose rings that prevent suckling are used. This aids the lamb in adjusting to the new upcoming no milk diet while grazing on pastures and hay. It is important that the lambs be weighed at each weaning stage to monitor the growth rate of the lambs. For less performing lambs, adjustments can be made so that profitability of the sheep can be realised at the production stage. The process of separating ewes from lambs is one of the crucial ways of allowing farmers to breed and maintain large amounts of flock on the farm.