It’s raining lambs
We dedicate this message to the 10 remaining ewes of this spring lambing. We give you permission to have your babies. No, really. We insist. (#MondayMotivation)
We admit, we panicked a little when our winter lambing shaped up to be small. We overcompensated for the spring. So did the rams. Hence, the biggest — 204 ewes — and most successful lambing we’ve ever had. Oops.
With 11 ewes to go, we’re hitting 180%, with less than 5% losses. Yes, that’s a lot of lambs. We’re ecstatic and befuddled at the same time. Our ewes came through the winter on hay supplementation and nothing else. No late gestation supplementation, because we assessed them in the weeks leading up to lambing, and they looked good. That’s what we select for: ewes that do well on sometimes less than ideal conditions, but still.
Not only did we have more lambs per ewe, they have been big, strong lambs. The losses we did have were not from systemic issues. We have good sheep, but some years, it can be a crap shoot. That’s farming. This time, our singles pen is the smallest it’s been in a long time. Our bummer pen is the biggest it’s been, because, well, more triplets and quads, and we didn’t get many single ewes for grafting.
We’ve always had good stock and a lot of lambs. But we’re seeing an increase over recent lambings — even as small as it was, our December crop was roughly the same percentage, even higher. And very few singles. This time, we also had some true yearlings. A lot of them twinned.
What’s changed? At this point, we can pinpoint a few things:
1. Maternal trait selection
Over the past several years, we’ve drilled down on multiple traits we want to see in our maternal ewes. Part of that is having our ewes’ production histories at our fingertips. Often, we pick our replacements out on paper now, and back it up with physical assessment. And certain ewe lines are really standing out, both on paper and in person.
We use Shearwell RFID technology, including the software and electronic weigh crate. There are other products on the market, but bottom line: electronic data is your friend.
We believe in culling. And in recent years, we’ve gotten even more particular about it. Last year, we trimmed down quite a bit. Even running at a smaller number of ewes right now, we’ve already seen equal production in two lambings than we have had on an annual basis.
We’re not experts, but some things that might help: how you cull depends on what you’re selecting for. Some sheep folks take data and automatically cull the bottom 10%. That’s one way. We do a combination. Even if a ewe produces a lot of lambs, we want to make sure she’s raising them, and doing it well. Even within maternal genetics, there are really instinctive naturals that really go above and beyond, and there are the ones that just get the job done.
3. Ram selection
In recent years, we also decided that if we were going to bring in new genetics, we wanted those genetics to be a good as they could possibly be. Our ewe flock is closed. Outcrossing comes from the rams.
So, we started focusing on National Sheep Improvement Program-backed breeders. We looked at what we wanted: more lambs, with less input. Continuing to keep our prime carcass traits as we drilled down on these maternal traits.
Not every ram we’ve brought in has flourished, but that’s true of any system. The ones that have done well here have done very well.
Once we finish building up our livestock guardian dog pack — a never ending task, it seems, to carefully build a group of dogs that are right for our setup — we’d like to have pasture lambing as an option at certain times. That will be easier with the ewes that not only know how to be good moms, but can troubleshoot when the chips are down.
As funny as it sounds, we see some amazing intangible instincts in a number of our sheep, and we’d love to see what it would look like to drill down even more to those.
We’re still learning and compiling observations to mull over. Our work is never done. In the mean time, we’re impatiently waiting for those last ewes to pop out their lambs, so we can call it a wrap. They, of course, are mooching without a care at the moment.
Any time, ladies.