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  • Don't Overfeed Replacement Ewe Lambs

    Don't Overfeed Replacement Ewe Lambs
    By Martha McGrath

    I ran across an interesting article on the Internet recently, Effect of Growth Rate on Udder Development in Ewe Lambs, that stated, "Rapid Daily Gain in pre-pubertal replacement females can significantly reduce udder growth. By growing replacements as quickly as possible, sheep producers may be producing ewes with less capacity for milk production"

    The report by Bee Tollman and Brett McKusick DVM, MS, PhD summarized current findings from scientific literature and was reported in the April 2002 issue of The Shepherd Magazine and the 6th Annual Great Lakes Dairy Sheep Symposium in November, 2001.

    The research indicated that feeding a high energy diet to prepubescent ewe lambs during the second or third month of life inhibited Growth Hormone levels in the blood, and increased excess fat deposition in the udder, which may cause a reduction in the growth of the cells that will eventually secrete, and the ducts that will transport, milk. This reduced udder growth due to a high growth rate prior to puberty may result in 10-17% less daily milk production. High levels of nutrition after puberty do not appear to have negative effects on udder development.

    We raise our lambs on mother's milk and pasture, as do most Coopworth breeders that I know. The only time we have creep-fed grain is when drought has forced us to wean early and supplement the sheep. Most years I don't even wean lambs. All rams and ewes run together until August, when we put the rams in a pasture across the driveway from the ewes. Ewe lambs stay with their dams and do not receive any special diet. We breed our ewes at about 7 months. Most of our Coops lamb for the first time at about 12 months of age with singles and occasionally twins. We do not supplement the ewes on pasture. Before hay feeding begins in the fall, we have our hay tested by our extension agent and look at the cost of hay and grain, and decide if it makes more sense to limit-feed hay and supplement with grain or grain by-products, or feed hay exclusively until the last few weeks of gestation. Perhaps this feeding system would not work with some breeds, but our easy-care Coopworths do well.

    Another excellent article on the subject of raising ewe lambs by Virginia Tech's Scott Greiner is-
    Development of Replacement Ewe Lambs

    Jim and Martha McGrath
    178 Lough Rd.
    Franklin, WV, 26807
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