University of Illinois Extension

Illini SheepNet / Meat GoatNet Papers

Weaning Management of Lambs and Ewes is Important
Dr. Gary E. Ricketts
01/29/1999

Weaning lambs should not be done on impulse, but should be a well-planned activity. This is a critical period in the management of your flock and it should not be taken lightly. If you wake up some morning and decide it would be a good day to wean lambs, then reconsider. There are several things that need to be done ahead of time before you separate the ewes and lambs. The following suggestions may help minimize your weaning problems:

  1. Lambs should be vaccinated for Enterotoxemia (Overeating Disease) at approximately 30 days of age with Clostridium CD Toxoid. A booster shot should be given two to three weeks later and definitely before weaning. This second shot is critical and should not be forgotten.
  2. Lambs should be eating creep well prior to weaning. The level of concentrate consumption prior to weaning has a big effect on weaning stress.
  3. Sixty days is a very common weaning age unless ewes and lambs are going to pasture. Most ewes hit their peak milk production three to four weeks after lambing and then begin to decrease. This is one of the reasons why creep consumption usually picks up dramatically from four weeks on. By 60 days after lambing, many ewes will be producing less than half of the amount of milk they produced at peak production.
  4. Starting a week before you plan to wean your lambs, feed the ewes only roughage and no grain or protein supplement. This will help to dry up the ewes more rapidly, force the lambs to eat more creep, wean the lambs with a minimum of stress, and minimize udder problems after weaning.
  5. During the last two days before you wean, the day you wean, and the day after weaning, limit the ewes' water consumption. Allow them access to water only twice a day. However, be sure the lambs have plenty of water. During this period you will need to have water available in the creep.
  6. There is less weaning stress on the lambs if you remove the ewes from the lambs, and leave the lambs in the same area rather than vice versa. The lambs are familiar with where the feeders, mineral box, and water are located. Therefore, there is less drop in feed and water consumption than when lambs are moved to a strange area. It is best if the ewes and lambs are far enough apart that they can't hear each other.
  7. In the process of separating ewes and lambs, use a good working facility and handle the sheep in a slow, gentle manner. Everything should be done in such a way as to minimize stress on the lambs.
  8. Be sure the newly weaned lambs have plenty of clean, fresh water at all times.
  9. Weigh lambs at weaning time so you can calculate 60-day adjusted weights. This will help you to evaluate the lambs, their mothers, and their sires.
  10. Watch ewes carefully after weaning. Very thin ewes should be brought up in condition after they are dried up. This is especially true for first lambing ewes.

Remember that weaning should be a well-planned activity.