Evaluation of continuous suckling or ewe-rearing strategy by lamb producers
Traditionally, weaning of lambs from their dams at 3-4 months of age have been practiced to facilitate the finishing of these feeder lambs in feedlots. However, weaning prior to slaughter may not be necessary as there is an increasing demand for younger lambs at lighter slaughter weights with minimal finish. Additionally, An increase in the demand and price for lighter (< 100 lbs) market lambs in the Northeastern United States, suggests that market weights can potentially be achieved by 3-5 months of age without a requirement for finishing lambs in feedlots. Lambs for this market can be finished on pasture while still suckling their dam and in so doing avoid the stress of weaning and subsequent effects on the health and growth of the lambs. The project was designed to demonstrate in partnership with producers the effects of continuous suckling (CS) versus weaning on growth, intestinal parasitism, and productivity and profitability, and, to increase producer awareness of the CS by conducting on farm demonstrations at partnering producer operations. Over the last year demonstrations were conducted using 228 animals on 4 farms located in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Continuously suckled lambs grew faster (90 g/d) and gained an additional 5.2 kg over the 50 day observation period. CS did not affect the level of parasitism of lambs or the weight and body condition of the dam. A Partial budget analysis indicated that producers who implemented this practice realized an increase in profit of $25 per lamb sold (16-24 percent increase), with greater benefits associated with producers rearing hair sheep breeds/types
- To determine the effect of continuous suckling/“ewe-rearing” on growth rate of lambs.
2. To determine the effect of continuous suckling/“ewe-rearing” on degree of parasitism of lambs.
3. To determine the effect of continuous suckling/“ewe-rearing” on weight and body condition changes of ewes.
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.
5. To increase awareness of the benefits of continuous suckling
This year 4 farms and 228 animals were used to compare the effect of continuous suckling/“ewe-rearing” and weaning on growth rate of lambs, weight and body condition changes in dams and parasite load in lambs. Each farm was visited between 4-5 times to conduct various activities involved in the demonstration. These visits were also used to discuss the findings with producers. Additionally visits were made to collect marketing information.
Our results indicate that lambs that continuously suckled their dams grew faster (90 g/d; 149 vs 59 g/d ) and gained an additional 5.2 kg (8.3 vs 3.1 kg) over the 50 day observation period compare to lambs that were weaned. Continuous suckling had no effect on mortality or on parasite load in lambs or on weight and body condition score of ewes.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
1. At prevailing prices of between $4-5/kg live weight the additional 5.2 kg per animal achieved in continuously suckled animals producers’ realized an increase in profit of approximately $25 per lamb sold
2. Producers became more away of the prevailing parasite load and growth rate of their lambs. Most producers did not previously assess growth rates or do fecal egg counts.
3. Producers became aware that market weights can be achieved earlier (younger age) which facilitated targeting specific markets. Further it reduced the time spent on pastures and so lowered the risk of predation.
4. Producers were also informed that it is likely that continuously suckled animals had better feed conversion rates which would have lowered the cost of production of lambs.
5. Producers became aware that continuous suckling had no effect on the welfare of the dam as assessed by weight changes and body condition score.
5. Demonstrations on two additional farms are continuing.
To support objective 5, all data will be pooled and presented at a workshop to be held in spring 2015. Additionally, a summary of the findings will be published on our small ruminant project website
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