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Production and Management

Right now as I look outside the window, the snow is flying and the sun is trying to peak through the clouds. It is very cold and I would much rather be inside where I am warm. So, it’s a great time to take advantage of a little “inside time” to do some farm planning for the spring and summer.

Looking at a group of healthy sheep peacefully grazing while their lambs bounce around the pasture can be a very satisfying experience. However, healthy animals don't just happen, they take time and care. One step to keeping animals healthy involves vaccinating them to protect against disease. In order to accomplish good protection against disease, it is important to handle vaccines properly.

A key to profitability of any livestock operation is a good set of records. Choosing what type of records to keep for your sheep operation initially starts with looking at what influences profitability of the flock. Once you decide what affects the profitability, then you can start collecting the records that help you make better informed decisions. These decisions might include tasks such as how to select the best performing sheep in your flock, how to identify sheep that should be culled, or how to identify expenses that could be decreased.

Here come the lambs! Fat ones, skinny ones, tall ones, short ones.

Record keeping is certainly not one of my favorite tasks related to raising sheep, but it certainly is necessary. In order to have a good handle on some of your production practices, you need to review your records on a regular basis. This includes not only financial records for filing taxes, but your production records for evaluating the sheep flock.

Big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones; ewes come in all sizes and shapes. But, which is the most efficient ewe size for your operation?

Ewes baaing, lambs crying, and shepherds wishing for quiet: these are all signs that weaning is commencing. However, some of that baaing and crying can be minimized if shepherds take a few simple steps to prepare for weaning. And, this can limit the stress to both ewes and lambs in the flock.

Livestock market prices are the highest in history and I can’t think of a better time to be more concerned about newborn lamb survival. Even if we are talking about only five lambs, at 75 pounds per lamb and at least $2.00 a pound market value, we are looking at an overall value of $750. This can be even more when we factor in the value of breeding stock. So, let’s look at a few ways we can ensure that lambs survive past birth.

Sheep selection should involve more than just visual selection characteristics. There are a number of tools available for selection, but the key is to combine operation goals with production benchmarks and visual appraisal to select the best sheep for your farm. Plus, producers should take a look at an often overlooked part of the selection process: culling strategies.

We all know that if we eat better, we feel better. For many years, we have also known that protein nutrition can affect a sheep’s resilience to gastrointestinal parasites and it can also reduce the consequences of parasite infections. Therefore, as sheep producers it is important to pay close attention to what our sheep are eating.

Lifetime performance is an often overlooked measurement in sheep operations. Ewes that produce a lamb at a year of age should have a higher lifetime production than a ewe that lambs for the first time at two years of age. However, these young ewes are not only producing a lamb, they are also still growing. So, producers should manage these ewe lambs differently than mature ewes.

Body condition, or fat cover, is one more evaluation tool that sheep producers can use to evaluate their sheep flock and management practices. Producers should evaluate sheep at key times throughout the year such as prior to breeding season, late pregnancy and at weaning. Evaluate body condition at these key times not only for profitability, but also for the health and welfare of the animals.

While total numbers of sheep and lambs in the United States is declining, so is the average consumption of lamb by consumers. The laws of supply and demand dictate that if supply decreases, then demand should increase. But, if demand for lamb is decreasing as well as the supply of lamb, perhaps as producers we need to take a look at what we are doing to increase the consumption of lamb in the United States.

Sheep producers should pay close attention to newborn lambs to make sure that lambs are healthy and thriving.