A Post Lambing Interview
by Richard Cobb
By the time you read this lambing season should be over. While everything is fresh in your mind take a few minutes to reflect on what happened, how it happened, and why it happened as it did.
First, do you want to do it again? That's a fair question, and one that should be answered as soon as possible. If the answer is yes then prepare now for next year and if the answer is no then make plans to get out of the business as sensibly as possible.
Let's assume that your answer to the previous question was yes. YES, of course you want to lamb another year!!! Great, but what did you learn this year that can be changed or improved upon to help you next year and the year after etc….
Have you made a cull list of all the poor milking, hard lambing, crazy mothers that you had to put up with this year? You know as well as I do that if you don't write their numbers down then you will forget and you won't get rid of them and next January when it is -30 they will have the same problem and you will remember then and wish you had shipped them last year. It's a viscous circle. So do yourself a favor and CULL them as soon as possible!!! CULL them before you go to grass in the spring. Whey should they be allowed to eat your good grass when a productive hard working, loving mother could be getting that grass? Get rid of those slime balls as soon as they wean lambs, if they do or get rid of them sooner if they fail to raise lambs. This one act, the culling or impostors, crazies and milkless wonders is the best gift you can give yourself. I guarantee that it will get rid of many of your nightmares and problems for next year.
Another list to make is a less obvious one, this is the list of ewes that might be expected to cause trouble next time list. That's right, the real old or thin ewes that may not make it through another year. These are probably your best ewes, they have earned their place in the flock. However, as times marched on they have become suspect and next year you may have wished that you sold them earlier. Prepare this list and consider each ewe separately. You don't have to sell these ewes before grass but rather give them time to gain condition and check their teeth and worm them and then at breeding time make a decision on them for another year. We all have ewes like this, good ewes that w like and feel we owe something to and so we breed them another time and then we suffer with them as they can't compete and need special care or they can't stand or don't have milk etc. I guess the question is do we move them on now or watch them suffer through their last lambing season? It's a tough question and one we will all guess wrong on a number of times.
What type of shepherd are you? Are you an active shepherd that has to be there for every birth or are you more like me and prefer to "let the ewe do as much as possible?" Don't be sorry if you suspect that you might not be the best shepherd in the world as you can still be successful. What is important is that you realize our shortcomings as a shepherd and select for the type of female that will benefit our particular program.
The "let the ewe do it" approach is not one of abandonment of the sheep but rather a realization that you have a life outside the lambing barn and that you plan on spending most nights in your own warm bed. To accomplish this lofty goal you must select ewes that can and will lamb by themselves and care for their lambs and have them up and fed and owning them when you wander in before hitting the hay. Another wonderful feeling is to discover a ewe proudly displaying her dry twins at your early morning (7AM) check. This approach requires more culling than if you are going to be there fore every lambing and it should be practiced by anyone raising sheep. First, any ewe having problem lambing should not be retained for another season and selection of replacements should not include daughters of hard lambing ewes. Ewe lambs that prolapse rectally should not be retained as replacements. Tails should be docked longer on your females as close docking does contribute to both rectal and vaginal prolapses. Ewes that exhibit ring womb should not be retained and neither should their daughters. Replacements should come from lambs born during the first 35 days their mother were exposed. Ewes that do not care for their lambs or are nervous or crazy and ewes that do not have enough milk should be culled. If that takes your whole flock then you need to reevaluate your approach to raising sheep. Culling under this system is never ending and constant, but you will find that lambing gets easier the longer you practice this approach.
Did all your rams sire the same percentage of lambs? I'll bet they didn't and if they were bred to similar groups of ewes as far as breeding and age then you should eliminate any ram that is not keeping up with the rest of the crowd. You can't afford to have him around.
Have you thought about not lambing during the coldest part of the year? Why do we lamb in January anyway? Could you move your lambing season to April instead? It's warmer then and temperature is the single most important factor in giving newborn lambs a chance at survival. I realize that April maybe right for you but think about it. How about August, September, and October? It's real nice then and if you have lambs then you can stay inside all winter long. Both of these times offer real advantages and also challenges.
In summary, don't be so happy that lambing is over that you miss the chance to make corrections in your program. It's fresh in your mind now and so now is the time to do it! Don't be afraid to drastically change your whole system of doing things if need be.