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Published by jack elliot



Spring comes along with Lambs


A lambing system concerns when lambing will occur (what season or months), how often a ewe will lamb (annual vs. accelerated), and how and where lambing will occur (shed vs. pasture). There is no one "best" lambing system or way to raise lambs. Producers need to match the lambing system to their goals and objectives, resources, and market demand. The same farm or ranch may utliise different lambing systems for different groups of sheep.

The first decision to make is when to lamb. There are pros and cons associated with lambing at different times of the year. 

Early lambing systems have several advantages. High on the list is labor availability. For producers who farm full-time, the winter may be a time when labor is more readily available versus the spring when field work and planting begins. Lambs born early in the year are usually gone by the time summer comes, which frees labor for other farming operations.

Another advantage is marketing. Historically, lamb prices have been highest during the first half of the year, especially during the Easter season. As a result, lambs born in the winter were usually sold for higher prices than those born in the spring. In more recent years, population demographics have altered the demand for lamb. Very often, the highest lamb prices of the year occur slightly before the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice. This holiday moves 11 days forward each year.

Producers who lamb in the winter can usually carry more ewes on their pastures, since ewe feed requirements are only maintenance and lambs are not competing for a possibly limiting resource, pasture.

If lambing occurs during the winter months, good facilities are needed. Housing is a big consideration. Overhead costs are higher with winter lambing . Mastitis, scours, and pneumonia can be bigger issues with early lambing because sheep are confined into smaller areas. Early-born lambs are often creep fed and finished on concentrate rations. They usually grow faster than those born later in the year, but their cost of gain is usually higher. If winter-born lambs are put to pasture, they usually have less parasite problems compared to lambs born later in the spring.

Late lambing has many advantages over early lambing and is gaining in popularity. With spring lambing, the sheep production cycle is synchronized with the forage production cycle, allowing for maximum use of forage resources. Late lambing takes optimal advantage of the spring flush of grass. For most of the winter, ewes can be maintained on a maintenance diet of relatively inexpensive hay or silage.

Spring lambing coincides with the natural breeding and lambing seasons. With spring lambing, breeding and lambing periods tend to be more condensed, because ewes and rams are most fertile during a fall mating season. Most ewes conceive during their first heat cycle and almost all will settle within two heat cycles, resulting in a short 35-day lambing period.

Another advantage is that ewes usually give birth to larger lamb crops. Even the breeds noted for out-of-season lambing will produce a 10 to 20 percent higher lamb crop in the spring than in the fall. Any breed of sheep can be raised in a late-lambing season.

The primary benefit to late lambing is reduced production costs: lower feed costs, less labor, and overhead. However, late lambing requires better pasture management than early lambing, since lambs are usually fed or finished on grass. Internal parasites and predators can be a significantly larger problem with late lambing programs. 

Early spring and late summer conditions are the worst for parasite infestations. Highest predation typically occurs from late spring through September-October, as most predator species have pups or kits to feed. It is essential that producers have a plans for dealing with both potential problems.

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