Today, we weaned the fall-born lambs here in Rio Vista. This involves separating the lambs from their mothers. Because of the drought, we're doing this about a month earlier than normal - which has several benefits from a management perspective (as well as some challenges).
First the benefits. Ewes that are nursing lambs have a higher demand for high quality forage than "dry" ewes (ewes that are not lactating). By weaning early, we're able to reduce the feed demanded by the ewes. In addition, we'll be able to sort through the ewes in the coming week and sort off animals that have developed health issues during their lactation - uneven or hard udders, bad feet, or other problems. These ewes can be sold, further reducing our feed demand. Finally, weaning the ewes now gives us a bit longer to get them in shape for breeding this spring (in anticipation of next fall's lambs).
On the flip side of this coin, the lambs are younger than usual at weaning (and a bit smaller). This means that we'll need to make sure they are grazing on the best grass on the ranch in the coming months (and we'll probably need to supplement their forage intake). Because we're weaning the lambs while the ewes are still lactating heavily, we'll have to manage the "drying off" period carefully as well. The ewes will be on fairly low quality forage for the next two weeks so that they won't develop mastitis.
As I've written previously, drought conditions require management flexibility. While we hate to reduce our flock size, de-stocking and early weaning give us more flexibility to deal with continued dry conditions.
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