Tips for strengthening the ewe-lamb bond

By Janet McNally, Hinckley, Minnesota — At this writing I am smack dab in the middle of lambing, so please forgive me if I’m having a difficult time writing about any other subject. I had planned to finish a second article on crossbreeding, and will get to that in the next issue, but I would like to address lambing while it is fresh on my mind.

The subject here is bonding, which is of tremendous importance to lamb survival in pasture lambing programs where there are no pens to keep newborns with their mothers. The bonding process occurs from birth through the first few days of life. The dam may reject her lamb if they are separated for as little as 30 minutes after birth. The more lambs in each litter, the more important it is that all of them remain with the ewe at all times. Continue reading “Tips for strengthening the ewe-lamb bond”

Stop farming your ranch!

By Janet McNally, Hinckley, Minnesota — Seventeen years ago, Kelley O’Neil handed me a tattered magazine clipping from the April 1990 issue of Beef Today. Headlined “Stop Farming Your Ranch,” the article was festooned with handwritten comments, circled paragraphs, and underlined sentences. Kelley, a beef and sheep producer near Rushford, Minnesota, had long been a source of valuable ideas and philosophies.

I was definitely receptive to change in 1990. The lamb market was riding a roller coaster, ranging from $1.00/lb. to below 50 cents over a 10-year period. I had been pushing production continually higher, using all the latest practices promoted at the time. These usually entailed ever greater purchased inputs, such as more feed, higher-performing rations, antibiotics, and more labor. This was the era of “clip, dip and strip,” where we did everything possible to save every lamb and make it grow as fast as possible. Continue reading “Stop farming your ranch!”

Gain without grain: options for finishing lambs

Janet McNally with lambs

By Janet McNally, Hinckley, Minnesota — In the previous two issues I examined late-gestation ewe rations: and ewe lactation/early-lamb growth rations using conventional hay/grain and pasture-based solutions. In late gestation, the relatively little grain required had only a small impact on total feed cost. Pasture presented a much larger cost-saving advantage over grain/hay during the lactation phase. This month, let’s look at finishing, taking the lamb from weaning at 120 days of age (75 lbs.) through to 110-120 lbs.

As the accompanying table (made from available data and personal experience) indicates, there is potential for substantial savings with pasture finishing. Yet this stage and the relative benefits of alternative rations are difficult to analyze, because the number of possible options is so great. Continue reading “Gain without grain: options for finishing lambs”

Fall is for rebuilding ewe body condition

By Janet McNally, Hinckley, Minnesota — How you manage your ewes between September 1 and November 1 will make or break next year’s lamb crop. Once winter weather sets in, outwintered ewes seem to be challenged to gain any further weight, especially if they are starting off thin. For us the magic date seems to be November 1. Whatever we can achieve by then is what our flock has to live with for the rest of the winter. Body condition determines ovulation rate, ability to withstand the cold, and future milk production. Sure, you can purchase body condition by supplementing heavily with the grain pail, but the same can be achieved on pasture through management without spending a dime.

There are three components to fall sheep management that will determine what kind of body condition your ewes will be sporting when the rams go in. The first is weaning date, the second is pasture allowance after weaning, and the third is intestinal parasite status. Mismanage any one of these three, and you have to pay, either through reduced lamb production the following year, or through purchased supplements. Continue reading “Fall is for rebuilding ewe body condition”