I received several letters and email messages regarding the article "Laissez-Faire Lambing" published in the October 1999 issue of this magazine. All were extremely positive. Perhaps, those who disagree or operate from a much different philosophy chose not to respond. At any rate, the questions I was asked, the responses I received, have prompted me to write this article. Lambing 2000 is just around the for most of us and what better time to begin and/or revamp our record keeping and selection process. No matter the size of your flock or the ultimate purpose of your having sheep on your farm, however small or big it might be, exercise the four basic steps to easy care, 'laissez-faire' lambing:
Get a Good Night's Rest
Ewes known to have a better than average lambing percentage, that more often than not have twins and triplets, need more food than "the average bear," more food than most books tell you is enough, during the six to eight weeks prior to lambing. They won't get too fat and they won't have trouble lambing; they will have strong lambs weighing in the neighborhood of 10 lbs., lambs with enough “get up and go" to do just that. I begin feeding a concentrate (grain) supplement equal to ½ lb. per day per ewe of anywhere from 12 to 16% protein, depending on the quality and quantity of hay I have available to feed to my ewes during late gestation and the concurrent winter temperatures, and slowly build up to as much as 2-2 ½ to 3 lbs. per day per ewe. The grain mixture may contain ground alfalfa hay, corn, barley, or oats, and soybean meal (for increased protein supplementation), and wet molasses. There are other additives that may be added to augment vitamin deficiencies or provide the necessary levels of Magnesium and Selenium. In areas (like ours) where poultry litter is widely used to fertilize hay and pasture fields on a regular basis, it is advisable to add sufficient Magnesium Oxide to the grain supplement to provide 1/8 oz. per head per day to prevent ewes going out on pasture coming down with "grass tetany," resulting from a Magnesium deficiency in the grasses and soil. Also, Magnesium is further depleted by the use of poultry litter. A topdressing of Terramycin or OxyTetracycline (2 gram) crumbles equal to 100 mg. per day per ewe (equal to 1 cup per five ewes per day) during the last four to six weeks prior to lambing will aid in the prevention of chlamydial abortions as well as respiratory illnesses. Often, Aureomycin or ChlorTetracycline crumble mixtures are added to commercial feeds at very low levels to prevent outbreaks of a wide spectrum of bacterial diseases. Our West Virginia Department of Agriculture Veterinarian recommends topdressing with Terramycin rather than Aureomycin prior to lambing at levels that ensure adequate uptake by each and every ewe at the feed trough. lt is her well researched opinion that Terramycin is a better choice for preventing abortion outbreaks. Ewes that are fed well during late gestation will have more milk at lambing and will have more reserve in feeding lambs during early lactation...both ewes and lambs will fair better overall. Pennies saved on feed during gestation may be quickly "devoured" by starved ewes and poorly fed lambs during lactation. More and better hay means a lesser protein and energy requirement of the concentrate (grain) supplement you feed. When I can afford it, when the weather permits, and we are able to make enough hay to feed our 80 Coopworth ewes and rams and two "hay burning" farm horses, I prefer to feed free choice legume/orchard grass hay to the tune of (+ or -) three to four lbs. hay per sheep per day. When I am forced to purchase and feed alfalfa, I am more likely to feed (+ or -) two to three lbs. per sheep per day and make up the difference in grain supplementation, although feeding alfalfa can mean feeding a lesser protein percentage feed (say feeding a 11-12% ration rather than a 14-16% ration containing additional soybean meal, at a greater expense). There are many other things that can be used in feed-–wheat middlings, wheat bran (hard to find in this area these days), beet pulp, distiller's grain, cottonseed meal, peanut meal, pelletized alfalfa, etc, Find yourself an old Feeds and Feeding textbook from the'30s, '40s, or'50s and familiarize yourself with sheep nutrient requirements, feed nutrient contents. A little knowledge can go a long way in saving mega $$$ during the most crucial feeding period–from late gestation through early lactation into weaning.
Well fed ewes don't get sick, don't fall prey to pregnancy toxemia, don't KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT! (Unless, of course, you pull an "oops" like I did just this week.) Warning: When you decide to do something new and different in feeding replacement ewe lambs, don't surprise them with too much of "something new and different" too soon. And, don't keep old ewes with ewe lambs thinking they simply eat THEIR SHARE and be better fed than if they were kept with their own kind.
Ewe lambs don't take well to being the guinea pigs in our all too anxious attempts, as well-meaning shepherds, to IMPROVE AND ENHANCE their feed consumption! At the suggestion of our vet, I bought a 50 lb. bag of Beet Pulp and topdressed the ewe lambs' feed, equal to roughly 1 lb. per head twice daily (morning and afternoon) at a ratio of ten parts feed: 1 part Beet Pulp–they would not eat it, not the Beet Pulp, not the feed! I fed the topdressed mixture that first morning and left the feed in their troughs, thinking they would eventually figure it out and pig down. One ten-year-old ewe who had hurt her shoulder last fall, "WW0990," who we have named Kimi, has been in with the ewe lambs since early December. Her teeth are good, but she's aged and lame, so we hoped keeping her with the replacement ewe lambs would get her through late gestation better than having her fight the younger, more aggressive mature ewes at the feed trough. Well, the ewe lambs may not have liked the Beet Pulp, but Kimi thought it was candy, and while I ventured over the farm that day, visited a friend, and did other things, she ate..and ate...and ate, apparently.
At the afternoon feeding, there she lay, on her side, in agony. It didn't dawn on me at first what the REAL problem was–-all I saw, all I knew, was Kimi had prolapsed BIG TIME! It was a blustery 18 degrees, the sun was NOT shining down on me, warming things up. Winter clouds cast a cool grayness all around me...no one was home. My neighbor might be home, but she feeds about the same time that I do, so chances were I wouldn't catch her in the house. Kimi was miserable...this vaginal prolapse mass of exposed tissue was not as large as a basketball, but certainly bigger than a softball! I was SHOCKED! Problems due to Vaginal Prolapses disappeared on this farm in 1991 when we sold all the ewes and ewe lambs descended from a ram that I traced (because I had kept records) to have thrown ewes that tended to prolapse!!! I was also horrified that we might be faced with putting Kimi down...she had to be carrying twins or triplets, as she had done eight out of nine previous lambings. She still had two months to go and if the prolapse were this big now, heaven help what I would face a month from now. I fed the ewe lambs hurriedly, noticing the amount of leftover Beet Pulp and feed in the troughs, and simply added more feed, but no more Beet Pulp...l put hay out and flew to the house to get suture material, make a 10% soapy Iodine solution for cleansing the prolapsed vagina, grab some sugar, and prepare my head to do what I hadn't had to do in nine years! I was alone, but I would manage, as I had in other crucial times.
Kimi was on her side when I got back to the barn corral. She was breathing heavily, and I wondered if I shouldn't go back for the .22 (rifle) instead. But, could I do that? Kimi got left behind one year by mistake in the "Back 40" the night the weatherman had called for snow up to 8-10", and, of her own accord, had come home over the hill through the woods to lamb up the hollow from the house under a Cedar tree. She'd had twin ewe lambs. When I got up that morning, all three laid very contentedly beneath the tree...I couldn't imagine having to end her life. Bev is always my savior when it comes to having to do the horrible task of ending the life of one of our sheep. Help me, I thought, please God...get me through this. I propped her "back-end" on a quarter-bale of hay to put the prolapsed area on top of where it needed to go, and stood across her, facing backwards, facing this mass that needed cleansing–her rear legs were flailing about, so I stuck them in behind mine and began the task of washing the area.
Now, I know some vets don't think using sugar to shrink the swollen prolapsed mass is necessarily a good idea–-some don't think it even works, but I'm gonna tell you, it works! Sugar (granulated or powdered) is considered a bad choice because it could enhance bacterial growth, but when faced with the task of putting a camel through a straw, anything that helps is welcomed in my book! If the shrunken prolapse is well cleansed and an antibiotic ointment is used in conjunction with systemic antibiotics, chances are you will NOT experience problems. It's immediate too–-sugar sprinkled on the swollen mass shrinks the prolapse to a more manageable size, one-half its original size, I'd estimate. That's a lot less to be working back into a space you can't believe it once resided. Kimi was very uncomfortable, but it wasn't going to be any easier on her to not do this. I anticipated having to box stitch the area as recommended, but wasn't sure I wanted to attempt that alone. I decided that I would try and get this now softball size protrusion back where it belonged and wait another hour and one-half until Bev got home when he could hold her, so I didn't get catapulted onto the barn roof attempting to suture what had to be, sheep or not, a most sensitive area. Somehow, I managed, little by little, to put everything back in place (it took two attempts, the first not so successful as I was trying to be easy and less manipulative than necessary to get the folds of the vaginal canal as far back as possible into place). I got Kimi on her feet; she was wobbly, very exhausted, but holding steady. I noticed once I had her up just how "bloated" she was and in a flash, I suddenly realized, she hadn't EXACTLY prolapsed–-she had BLOATED bigtime and had pushed everything the only place it could go-–out the back door! She apparently liked the Beet Pulp even if the lambs didn't and made herself quite a meal, a snack, and yet another snack until she couldn't get even one more bite down. It was new to her and her system blew a gasket. I suppose I am lucky she didn't explode or have to be punched with a trocar to expel the gases. Bev got home, she was "out" again, but considerably less "bloated" than she had been just an hour and one-half before. I had him hold her and I swabbed the area once more, covered it with the triple antibiotic ointment, and squeezed back into place, a larger-than-grapefruit mass into a hole the size of a banana–we held off stitching her until later (we decided to check once more at bedtime) since I felt that she would probably be okay once she'd belched a bunch and expelled the gas from her rumen.
The good news when we checked at10:00 that evening she was still "in," up, and munching hay, her sides deflated from the last check at 7:30 when Bev got home. Kimi does have a ways to go before lambing, but she will make it. This was a very unusual "prolapse," if you can call it that...Whee!! I "don't do prolapses" I tell other breeders. I breed them out, cull them, and don't keep offspring! No matter what the environmental circumstances, the tendency to prolapse, the inability of the muscles to withstand the pressure of multi-fetuses in the uterus, has genetic roots and should be high on the lists of traits to eliminate in your flock.
So, back to the notion that it's important to Feed Well...yes, feed well, but watch to NOT introduce changes in grain supplements too rapidly! And, keep an eye on the "pigs" at feeding time.
It's easy to think that you might and it's another thing to do it. Over a 17 year stretch of maintaining very precise records, however, I can tell you it is well worth it...that's how you make the "easy-care lambing, easy-care management" philosophy become reality. What records are needed and how do you go about it is, in part, determined by the GOALS you set for you and your flock. Ask yourself what you want from your flock in five years: Besides a reasonable profit, what are your goals, your markets? Are your sheep meat breed sheep or wool producers, primarily? Do you market feeder or "blue circle" slaughter lambs and are they sold to the area livestock yards or to private individuals and consumers? Do you market wool and in what form and to what market–-handspinners, crafters, or a wool cooperative? The answers to these questions tell you what records you will need to keep to improve your flock's performance. I list below a sample of the data sheet from which you can design your own. It is fashioned like that of the NSIP lambing record data sheet. (NSIP is currently "on hold" and has no home. Hopefully, that is temporary.) Editor's Note, See Dr. Lane's "From the Feed Trough" this issue. I will try and make RECORD KEEPING EASY for anyone willing to keep records, whether or not the intent is to utilize sophisticated computer programs or other sheep management schemes or not. It is my observation that ALL breeders should record at least the following data (refer to Figure 1 at the end of this article):
EWE – Dame or Ewe in Flock to Lamb in Current Year
SIRE – Sire or Ram to whom Ewe was Bred
DOB – Date of Birth of Each and Every Lamb Born
LMB – Tag or Paint Number Assigned to Each and Every Lamb Born
SX – Sex of Each and Every Lamb Born
NLB and/or NLR – Number of Lambs Born and/or Number of Lambs Reared for Each Dame or Ewe in Flock (NLB corresponds to the Rank = 1 if single, 2 if twin, 3 if triplet, 4 if quadruplet, etc.) (NLR corresponds to the Actual Number of All Lambs Born which the Ewe Raises on her Own That Year)
RD – Rearing Code for How Each Lamb is Raised: 1 = raised by dame, 2 = raised on "bottle," and 3 = fostered
WT1, WT2, WT3, Etc – Weight 1, Weight 2, Weight 3 of Each and Every Lamb Born to be taken on
DT1, DT2, DT3, Etc – Date 1, Date 2, Date 3 for Those Times which Best Fit the Marketing Pattern for Your Lambs
DDISP – Date of Dispersal (Sale, Slaughter, or Death) of Each and Every Lamb
DISPERSAL – Description of What Happened to Each and Every Lamb Born
EWE or SIRE DDISP – Date of Dispersal (Sale, Slaughter, or Death) of Each and Every Ewe or Sire (Ram)
EWE or SIRE DISPERSAL – Description of What Happened to Each and Every Ewe or Sire (Ram)
LAMB REMARKS – Remarks about the Birthing, Rate of Growth, Bone or Stature, Health, Breed Character and Well-Being of Each and Every Lamb Born
EWE REMARKS – Remarks about the Ease of the Birthing Process, Mothering Ability, Bone or Stature, Health, Breed Character, Well-Being, and Productivity of Each Ewe that Lambs
SIRE REMARKS – Remarks about the Bone or Stature, Health, Breed Character, Well-Being, and Apparent Genetic Potential of Any Ram Used
Weights may seem like a chore, but they are really helpful in determining how well your lambs are doing, how well your ewes are feeding, and whether or not you might have a problem which needs fixing. Woolly lambs can often appear to be heavier than they are while long, tall, growthy lambs may be heavy, but not so rotund in appearance. Even if you have to use a bathroom scale and hold the lambs to get a weight by subtracting your own from the total of your weight + the lamb's, JUST DO IT! There are differences among breeders as to how important it is to record and maintain birth weight. If you feed well, it may or may not make a significant impact on your data...typically, sheep who are fed well have decent sized lambs (+ or – 10 lbs.). However, if there is a history in our flock of smaller, weaker lambs being born on a regular basis, you might want to record "Birth Weight, Birth Date" as WT1 , DT1 . Genetically speaking, a ewe may continue to throw smaller, weaker lambs no matter what her age, her condition, and the sire to whom she is bred. "Breed" obviously has something to do with it, but as a rule, all breeds, Dorset, Columbia, Suffolk, Cheviot, Coopworth, Lincoln, Romney, etc. (meat and wool alike), should result in lambs + or - 10 lbs. at birth. The exception, of course, are the Boorola and Finn and Barbados Black Belly breeds which may produce multi-litters of more than three or four lambs per ewe. These lambs will be lighter at birth...which may or may not mean weaker, less "get-up and-go" type lambs. I record and will continue to do so, "Birth Weight, Birth Date" as WT1, DT1. Lambs that weigh 10 lbs. at birth are more likely to weigh 15 lbs. in a week to ten days than ones that weigh six lbs. at birth. I like to know which ones have the head start. Singles usually weigh more than twins, etc. You might compare your data from one year to the next and discover a ewe that always has small lambs, she, you realize, goes you know where? Yes, the "cull" list. If you sell feeders (60-95 lbs.) and it's not critical that you get your lambs to market at any particular time, you might consider weights taken at 60 days, then again at 90 to 100 days. Everything written about sheep and every smart producer will tell you by the time most lambs are 60 days old, they will have caught up to all other 60 day old lambs in weight pretty well. lf you are creep feeding, this is especially true, assuming the lamb in question is neither sick nor wormy. Still, weights taken at 60 days give you a pretty good feel for whether the ewe is doing her job of taking good care of her lamb(s) and providing sufficient milk for them to grow at a decent rate. The actual weights at 60 days will vary for breed somewhat, for feed environment (creep or no creep), and for milking ability...at 30 days you might see similar results, but at 60, the discrepancies will be more obvious for ewes doing a poor job of nursing their lambs or for lambs not keeping pace. Weights at 30 days might fall in the 25-30 lb. range, at 60 days in the 45-60 lb. range. You can use this simple formula for adjusting weights to make comparison among lambs easier. NSIP and other sheep management schemes calculate adjusted weights for you. NSIP calculations take into account both management and genetic factors. However, this is, at least, a start and can be easily calculated with an adding machine or "by hand" (God Forbid)!
Adjusted "__"-day weight = (WT2 taken on DT2-WT1 taken on DT1 [Birth Weight] over DT2-DT1 X “__” days + WT1
**This formula works best if weights are taken with a few weeks on either side of the “__”-day, within a week on either side of 30-day weights, within two weeks on either side of 60- and 90-day weights.
If you are marketing your lambs as top "Blue Circle" (105-110 lb. optimal) slaughter lambs and your goal is to get them to that weight as quickly as possible so that you can market them as quickly as possible, 60 day weights help you identify the ewes doing the best job of assisting you in feeding lambs, i.e., converting either milk or grain to meat. Ninety or 100 day weights (which are most often the weights at the times producers wean lambs from their dames) are more about how the lamb is doing in terms of efficiently converting, at this point, either grass or grain, to meat. The ewes are pretty well "dried up" at the end of a 60 day lactation period. How they factor into the recording of 90 and 100 day lamb weights is in passing onto their lambs "growth traits." Genetic potential is realized in the sense that a lamb born of a bloodline and a breed that grows faster and produces more weight than another at 90 or 100 days would put more $$$ in your pocket, and so would be the lamb and the dame (ewe) to earmark for productivity in your flock.
If you are raising long wooled sheep or if you are raising dual purpose wool and meat breed sheep, you have to consider the fact that for every pound of milk or grain or grass consumed, some GREATER portion of it when compared with the same amount of feed consumed by a meat breed sheep, will be utilized for wool production. lt will take longer or more feed or more milk or richer, higher protein feeds to get that lamb to market. The 90 or 100 day weights may or may not be as critical to you if you market at consecutively later times than most other meat breed producers...in the fall and winter. This would also be true if you choose to not feed and market your lambs at full slaughter (105-110) weights, but choose to market them as "feeders" (60 lbs. and up typically). Remember, 90 and 100 day weights are more about "rate of growth" while 60 days weights are more about how the individual ewe and her lamb(s) are performing early on.
It might be equally important for you to record and evaluate six months' growth, or even 15-18 months' growth, depending on your market and your goals. I, for instance, have wanted to increase the size (mature body weight) of my ewes and other than breeding to sires that were larger in stature, known to possess the genetic ability to increase the mature weights of their offspring, I have recorded and maintained 60 day, 180 day, and hogget (15-18 months') weights for all ewes and rams retained in the flock for over 10 years now. The 90 or 100 day or weaning weights were not as important to me as were the weights of the more mature lambs and those retained for breeding as hogget (15-18 month old yearlings). Keeping the latter weights were crucial to deciding which lambs and which ewes to retain vs. which ones to market. The fall and winter feeder lamb market is a fairly profitable one in this geographic area, if you are able to pasture feed lambs with little to no grain required for maintaining or supporting adequate growth. We have far more pasture than sheep to eat it–our Coopworth sheep grow approximately ¾ inch of wool per month, which can adversely affect getting lambs to market early on. Keeping them healthy and holding onto them for six or more months allows me to make better choices about those ewe and ram lambs that would enhance my flock's overall performance and help me achieve the "5-year goals" I've set for my flock. You must decide what goals and what records you need based on how you want your flock to perform in years to come.
In cases like ours, where WOOL is so very important, it is imperative that you keep at least the following records (refer to Figure 2 at the end of this article):
SHR – Date of Shearing for the Current Year
WLWT – Total lbs. Sheared as "Grease" Weight for Any and All Ewes and Rams in Flock
SKRT – Amount lbs. Discarded as Belly and Skirted Wool for Any and All Ewes and Rams in Flock
If you are serious about improving wool quality and quantity (shearing weights) in your flock, you may want to consider other wool parameters as well. The NSIP (National Sheep Improvement Program) evaluations allow for both grease weight and staple length measures, as well as crimp (expressed as fiber diameter–especially important to purebred and commercial breeders of fine-wooled Rambouillets and Merinos) to be figured into their productivity analysis. NSIP uses only a single record of the sheared wool weight, length, and diameter data for one year for existing sheep in the flock and those data obtained for newly shorn yearlings retained for breeding in evaluating wool genetic merit. It is felt that the amount of variation over the lifetime of the ewe or ram is insignificant to warrant continued assessment on an annual basis. With this in mind, however, I still record on a yearly basis, independent of age, including grease weights and staple lengths, a personal judgement assessment of crimp, britchiness, evenness, and “color” (color = the degree of brilliant white, lustrous character, not color, per se). It is my goal to improve the overall lifetime quality of the wool produced by all sheep within my flock and should any fail to continue, due to age, to produce wool within the guidelines of the breed, I would cull that sheep and discontinue their use as a breeding animal.
I also attempt to track all fleeces as to where they ultimately end up–whether sold as raw fleece, shown in competition or retained for exhibition later in the year and sold, at some point, or simply thrown "into the wash," washed and sold to doll makers and crafters, or washed and dyed and/or carded and sold to handspinners, felters, and crafters, or used for my own feltmaking projects.
Record Keeping to this extent seems like a lot of work, but it teaches you best who your best sheep are, who made you money and who didn't, who you should retain, and who you should sell. Ultimately, there will come a time when your selection/culling process will be a far more difficult task than it is when you first start out. When most of your sheep have passed the test of time and the more specific traits regarding wool quality will determine who you select for replacements. At that point, maybe you redefine your goals and reevaluate the records that you maintain. For those who are interested in the genetics of wool traits, I suggest you read in the SID handbook the heritability section. Here is a listing, again, of the records that I choose to document for selection and maintenance of wool quality for all sheep in my flock (refer to Figure 2 at the end of this article):
SHR – see above listing
WLWT – see above listing
SKRT – see above listing
WLLT – Total Length in inches of the Fleece (taken from a sample just down from the loin area over the side well above the belly) for Any and All Ewes and Rams in Flock
WLQ – Judgment Call from 'l to 5 to Rate the Overall Perception of Fleece Character with respect to Breed and Market Potential for the Wool Quality I Set as ideal for my Ewes and Rams (includes an evaluation of crimp or fiber diameter, britchiness, evenness, and "colo/')
WLREMARKS – Description of Wool Quality or Lack Thereof and Where Character Compromised
WLDISP – Date and Description of Whether Shown, Sold, or Dyed or Dyed and Sold or Used in Felting
Lastly, if you choose to maintain your records "at the barn" and wish to make it handy having everything in one place (instead of having, like I do, the set for the house, the set for the barn, and the data base which is maintained on the computer. I may change that this year and at least eliminate the set at the house–oh, how I would love to own a Hi-Tech Laptop that responded to voice commands!!) DO THE FOLLOWING AND RECORD (refer to Figure 3 at the end of this article):
DT – a simple Y for yes and an N for no for Docking Tails
CS – a simple Y for yes and an N for no for Castrating Wethers
CT1, CT2, and CT3 – Enter Dates as Mo/Day when First CD/T Shot Given, Booster, and 2nd Booster Repeated
What will do you the most good when the time for Step Three (Cull Hard) rolls around is knowing when and why you no longer have every lamb and ewe or ram in the flock that you started with at the beginning of lambing season for that year. Did you sell them? Did you slaughter them? Did they die? And to whom or where did they go and why? Obviously, the ones that are sold are already "culled"...but the hard task comes when attempting to sort through weight and lambing data and decide which of the lambs you wish to retain for breeding or for selling as breeding stock. Which ewes, if any, are not pulling their weight and should be culled. Most smaller flocks may only breed one ram to their ewes in a given year, but in the case where more than one ram is used, it is wise to know which lambs are sired by which ram and to be able to compare data from the offspring of each, for the purpose of selecting those lambs which best suit your goals for improving your flock's performance. This is where the question of "Hope, how do I breed for 'Laissez-Faire' lambing?" comes into play. The answer is Cull Hard! Read and pay close attention to your records...and when I say the word, "Cull," what I mean is this: sell, slaughter, or discard, but do NOT retain these animals for breeding purposes! If you chose to sell them, either inform the buyer as to why you are selling them or send them to the slaughter market. And, please, do not sell them as registered animals, whether Coopworth or Dorset or Suffolk or any other breed. The word "cull" actually means "bring together"...keep this in mind as you read through the next paragraph.
And, do I practice what I preach? Yeah, but it might take me several lambings to do it. I will admit I have kept ewes that were marginal in the interest of numbers, but over the years, I have continued to practice the art of CAREFUL SELECTION to achieve my goals. Will I keep Kimi, you ask? But, of course, she is a member of the family! She has earned her rightful place among my "retired" and will remain on the farm "till death do us part." Her lameness is the result of a displaced shoulder–her accidental prolapse the result of overeating too many candy bars! I am not telling you to cull every ewe that gives you a problem the first year you begin the practice of selection for easy care, "Laissez-Faire" lambing. But the sooner you eliminate (cull) your problem ewes, your problem bloodlines, the sooner you will be eating chips and drinking beer (or soda) in the evenings, and sleeping the whole night throughout lambing season. I am not particularly fond of the word "cull." It has acquired very negative connotations. It is better to think of what you are doing as selection of the "fittest" and culling, or bringing together, those which do not live up to your standards for performance... but for lack of a better term, here are the means to developing hardiness and easy care within your flock:
Cull any ewe that has to be assisted during lambing...NOTICE, I said ANY ewe
Cull any ewe that prolapses and do not keep her offspring for breeding purposes
Cull any ewe that does not mother her lambs at birthing
Cull any ewe that does not have milk at lambing or develops mastitis
Cull any ewe (or ram) that is no longer sound on her feet and legs
Cull any ewe that is barren for more than one year
Cull any ewe (or ram) that develops poor wool quality
Cull any and all lambs that do NOT perform to a specified standard for growth that you set for your flock or who fall below a certain percentage with regards to weight gain (i.e., within the first 25% of all lambs born indexed by NSIP analysis for weaning weight)
Cull any and all lambs that do NOT perform to a specified standard for whatever trait that you set for your flock's performance or who fail to exhibit those traits you decide are critical to performance with regards to breed character
Cull any lamb (ewe or ram) born to a ewe that falls in the above categories
If you so much as select only those lambs and ewes that perform above average over time you will continue to improve the quality of your sheep for the traits you select. It is really that simple. Records are the key to defining average, to selection for above average performance!
Remember, I didn't say you had to do this all at once. You might, as I have done in the past, select the "cream" for retention and recognition as "registrable," quality ewes and rams. The "cull" ewes that you just don't have the heart to sell YET, you retain on "probation," retire, and/or nurture until some time in the future when once again, some cold night when snow is blowing in your face and you're up to your elbows in muck and mire, you scream at the person snug in their bed next door, "Okay, I get it–she's on the truck come springtime–no looking back!"
Get a Good Night's Rest...
If you've done your homework and you've chosen the path of selection of the "fittest," you can put your boots away for the night, crawl in bed, whether it's in the barn or the house, shut your eyes, and look to the dream maker to take you to fantasy land where all lambs born are bright and beautiful, fat and sassy, strong and healthy. I know some might find this next little tidbit a little on the wild side, but when you leave the barn that last time, when you turn the last light out before you lie down, ask God and your sheep and whoever else you are connected to in the realm of the unknown to simply wake you if there is a problem. It might surprise you, but it works. We sleep in the barn, as I had mentioned in the article last October, and admittedly, I keep one ear cocked and my third eyelid open–just in case. One thing I have learned after 20 years–if you think you've seen it all, you haven't; if you think you're prepared for all that CAN happen, you're NOT; and if you think you've got all the answers, you haven't. Still, it's a "helluvalot" easier now than it was 10 years ago–and if our sheep could talk, they would tell you so, too! A Toast to "Laissez-Faire" Lambing and A Good Night to All!