Preparing Sheep For Pasture
by A. Richard Cobb
For many producers, moving sheep from the barn lot to pasture is as simple as opening the gate and letting them go. While this may seem to work for many people there are other things to think about to make that can help to make your grazing season longer and more successful.
1. Cull, Cull, Cull !
Don’t turn your cull ewes out to pasture. They will be eating grass that your good producing ewes could be eating. For winter lambing flocks, springtime is an excellent time to cull your flock. Don’t waste good pasture on ewes that don’t deserve it. You know which ewes did not perform as you wished during the lambing season. Make note of them while it is fresh in your mind. Record their ear tag numbers or ID them is such a way that you can sort them off and send them to town. Candidates for culling will be ewes that refused to own their lambs, ewes that were nervous or crazy, ewes that have pendulous udders or don’t produce enough milk, and ewes that lacked behind the others in terms of pounds of lamb produced. Ewes that have Mastitis are also good choices to leave. There are many reasons for culling a ewe from you flock. Remember the saying “A short pencil is better than a long memory”, and write down when a ewe does not perform as she needs to. If you don’t do it while it is fresh in your mind she will be back to haunt you next year. Put her on the list. Reducing your ewe numbers before pasture will extend the grazing season for your productive ewes. This will allow your good ewes to graze longer in the fall and will help to reduce your feed bill.
2. Do they all go to Pasture?
It may be best to keep ewes in the barn or drylot that are a condition score of two or lower and have been excellent producers. Often these are the best producing ewes you have. By keeping them in the barn and supplementing them with corn or other energy source you can increase their body condition score faster than by putting them on pasture. Once there condition score is a 2.5 they should be better able to survive on the high moisture spring grass.
One particular age of ewes to watch closely are the young, highly productive ewes or ewes that lambed at 12 to 14 months of age. These ewes are still growing physically and their maintenance requirements are extremely high. It may be best to keep them in the barn after weaning and to supplement them with added energy for a month or so.
3. Worm, Worm, Worm!
There are a number of approaches to reducing the parasite problem in grazing sheep. (See: Deworm to Prevent Rather Than Treat Worms)
Worming has a cost in dollars and in time and so if you have the question weather to worm or not, take fecal samples and submit them to your vet. He/She can tell you how major a problem you may have. You can then worm or turn to pasture and worm in 21 days.
4. What type of forages are you turning your ewes onto?
Be aware what type of pasture you are turning animals onto. If you are turning onto a pasture with a high legume content or onto a corn field, DO NOT TURN HUNGRY, EMPTY EWES ONTO A LEGUME PASTURE ! Ewes will have a tendency to over consume the forage and this can cause bloat. You will be sure to kill a number of them. Rather, before turning the ewes to this type of pasture, fill their rumens full of medium quality hay, or allow them access to the pasture for a limited amount of time each for the first 3-5 days. While prevention of Bloat depends upon the cause, Bloat on green alfalfa can be prevented by a constant intake of poloxaloene (Thereabloat, Bloat guard). Another potential problem is Grass Tetany (hypomagnesemia, lactation tetany), which is a metabolic disease characterized by a progressive loss of coordination. Prevention of Grass Tetany involves supplying adequate magnesium during high risk periods. This is done by providing a high-magnesium salt and mineral mixture given free choice.
5. Observe, Observe, Observe!
Never stop watching and looking at your sheep! The new saying, “A good Shepherd walks upon his fields and among his sheep every day” is true. Never stop watching and looking at your sheep. If something looks, sounds, smells or feels wrong, it probably is, and needs to be investigated!