Pasture Rotations & Shutdowns
Close to November 1st, the pastures all get locked down and the sheep are in “sacrifice areas” for the winter. The Llamas and rams in one area, the almost yearling ewe lambs and horse in another, and pregnant ewes in the areas between the house and barn as well as the back of the barn. We start feeding hay at this time and as it gets closer to lambing time, we gradually increase the pregnant ewe’s intake of alfalfa. The ewe lambs get steady alfalfa throughout the winter to keep growing and not have to expend all their growth reserves for cold weather.
Pastures open up soon after the Spring Equinox on either a new or full moon. Ewes with lambs go into the “maternity pastures”. The yearling ewes stop getting alfalfa at this time as there is plenty of grass and browse in the “open ewe pastures” that they will go in with the horse and a llama. Rams and a llama go into the “ram pasture”. The “open ewe pastures” and “maternity pastures” rotate every couple weeks giving each pasture a month off to regrow. The “ram pasture” only has 2 rams and a llama so don’t rotate.
Breeding takes place so that lambing happens on the full or new moon directly after the Winter Solstice. This means breeding on a new or full moon just after July 28th. Ewes are sorted into breeding groups (now there are only 2 groups so it’s much simpler). One group goes back out to the “open ewe pastures” and the other out to the “maternity pastures”. The ewe lambs will hang out in the barnyard during this time so the two breeding groups never share a fence-line (keeping the rams from fighting through the fence). We keep the breeding groups together for 6 weeks, then bring each group into the barn where the rams are sorted away and put in a solid walled horse stall with empty car tires on the floor. This makes it hard for the rams to get their footing to ram each other and forces them to learn to get along without hurting each other. We let the ewes back out to the “open ewe pastures” and let the ewe lambs back out to the “maternity pastures”. After a few days the rams have worked out their differences and are let back out to the “ram pasture”. They continue pasture rotations as usual up until the pasture shutdowns.
I compiled links to blog posts and YouTube videos where I shared how we set up for lambing season and our procedures for handling mom’s and babies. There is also information on how we handle everything after lambing is over such as castrations and weaning.
Here we have a blog concerning the barn setup for lambing season. I change my mind often about where I put the medical pen versus the jug pens, but this year the jug pens went next to the medical room and the medical pen doubled as the social pen.
Here we have a video of the lambs using the creep pen, which a 12×12 gets set up right away. The other 12×12 section stays the medical pen/social pen until lambing is over.
Next we have the supplies we use for lambing season. Not much has changed here, though syringe sizes and needle gauges fluctuate based on what I’m able to get a hold of.
In this video you will see Colby giving birth to ram lambs. This is a pretty typical birthing with no difficulties.
This is a video I made of our process for jugging mom and babies (Colby again!). I sound a little out of breath because I had just carried those lambs across the barn, low and walking backwards, to the area I started filming. FYI, I did NOT have to bottle feed her lamb, she stayed in the “medical pen” for 30 days getting premium feed, and was then let out with no issues.
Once the lambs and moms have had shots, ear tags, etc, they stay in a couple days to make sure no issues come up, then, if I have several, I put them in the “social pen” for the night before letting them out the next morning.
Castration & Weaning
We typically breed for lambs to start on a new or full moon in late December/early January and then wean on a full moon in April. Lambs are roughly 104-115 days at the oldest when we wean.
Castration of ram lambs that don’t make the cut the first round happens usually a month before weaning on a full moon as well. The theory behind castration and weaning on a full moon or just after is that the blood flow and milk flow is reduced by a waning moon so you have less issues with mastitis or infection. We castrate a month before weaning so we don’t stress the lambs and moms out quite so much in one day.
After weaning, the mama ewes are locked in a low grass barnyard area with crappy hay to dry off. We watch closely for signs of mastitis and bring them in once every few days to feel udders for heat or other signs of problems. Usually after a couple weeks of this, the ewes are ready to go back out to pasture. They move from the barnyard out to the open ewe pastures, with a llama and coyote hating horse, that range into the woods. Here they will get back into condition and be reunited with the yearling ewes kept from the year before. They will stay out there until breeding season comes around again where they will be sorted into breeding groups and sent back out to pasture in those groups. We typically do biosecurity testing at weaning. I have a page dedicated to the details of that as well.
Lambs weaned from their dams will be kept in the barn for a few days to get over their “trauma” (which really only takes a couple days). They are sorted into groups of keeper ewe lambs, breeding stock ewe lambs for sale, breeding stock ram lambs for sale, and market wether and ewe lambs for sale. After things have settled down, the keeper ewe lambs go out to the maternity pastures again for the summer. Anything for sale, we contact people on the waiting list and get them sold as soon as possible. If there is anything left over, we then determine whether to put it out in the barnyard grass or run it to the auction. The leftover market lambs often get run to auction along with any ewes that are getting cut for various reasons. Breeding stock ewe lambs left over will go out with our keeper ewe lambs in pasture while the breeding stock ram lambs left over end up out with our rams in their pasture. A final evaluation is done and any lambs not making the cut to keep around or who don’t sell through the summer, will be sold at auction in late summer/early fall after breeding season has finished.