Evaluation of continuous suckling or ewe-rearing strategy by lamb producers

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,792.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Marlon Knights
West Virginia University

Annual Reports


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: general animal production
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop

    Proposal abstract:

    Weaning, the physical and physiological separation of the dams from off-springs, is a common management practice among lamb producers. Weaning is also associated with compromised health and well-being, depressed growth, and increased mortality in lambs. However, weaning may not be necessary as there is an increasing demand for younger lambs at lighter slaughter weights with minimal finish. Additionally, continuous suckling by lambs might enhance their utilization of concentrate rations/supplements and reduce susceptibility to parasitism. These claims were recently evaluated by researchers at West Virginia University but are yet to be evaluated under commercial production systems. Therefore, the purpose of this project is to engage in partnership with producers to evaluate the effect of continuous suckling on growth, intestinal parasitism, and productivity and profitability. It is also the intention to increase producer awareness of the management practice by conducting on farm demonstrations at partnering producer operations. The effect of continuous suckling on growth and level of parasitism would be determined by monthly average daily gain and overall weight gain, and fecal egg count and packed cell volume, respectively, in weaned (W, n =250) and in lambs reared continuously with their dams (CS, n =250) with or without concentrate supplements. A partial budget analysis will be conducted to assess the impact of rearing system on profitability. Research findings would be communicated to producers through extension agents, courses, newsletters, the university’s website, and in journals. The project could increase the adoption of a low-cost management strategy and enhance agriculture sustainability in the region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Specific objective 1: to determine the effects of continuous suckling and supplementation on growth rate of lambs. All lambs would be weighed at the start of the experiment and at bi- weekly intervals. The average daily gain (ADG), total weight gains (TWG), and final weight for lambs in each treatment group would be determined.

    2. Specific objective 2: to determine the effects of continuous suckling and supplementation on level of parasitism. Fecal and blood samples would be collected at the start of the experiment and monthly thereafter for determination of fecal egg count (FEC) and packed-cell volume (PCV). For determination of FEC, fecal samples would be collected from ten lambs selected at random from each treatment at each farm. Two pools of five samples from each treatment would be made for FEC determination. For determination of PCV, blood samples would be collected from six of the randomly selected lambs in each treatment group.

    3. Specific objective 3: to determine the effects of continuous suckling on weight changes and body condition of ewes. Ewes weaned from lambs and ewes continuously suckling lambs (n ~
    150) would be weighed at the start of the experiment and their BCS determined by an experienced evaluator. Additional weights and evaluations would be conducted at monthly intervals.

    4. Specific objective 4: to compare the economic benefit of continuous suckling/“ewe-rearing” of lambs to market to the traditional practice of weaning lambs and fattening to market. A partial-budget analysis will be conducted and used to determine the production system with the highest net return. All increased or reduced cost items and increased or reduced receipts as a result of the different production systems will be monitored and used. Additionally, the break- even price for lambs from each production system will be determined.

    5. Specific objective 5: Increase awareness of the benefits of continuous suckling.

    Increasing awareness of the benefits of continuous suckling is inherent in the interactive methods used in this study. Briefly, on-farm trials will be used to compare and demonstrate to producers the technical and economic feasibility of continuous suckling. Workshops and the annual shepherd’s meeting would be used to present and discuss findings with producers and stakeholders. The approximately 70 persons that attend this meeting would not only be made aware of the technical and economic feasibility, but also will directly contribute to discussion on additional approaches to enhance adoption. The results of the technical and economic analysis of continuous suckling will also be summarized and published via the WVSRP quarterly newsletter and made available online. At least two peer-reviewed journal articles and one station bulletin would be published from the proposed studies. Articles would also be published in the “News Ewe Can Use” newsletter of the West Virginia Small Ruminant Project.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.