Producers share lambing practices that increase lamb crop, provide more revenue for their operationsWritten by Saige Albert
“We work on building a lamb every day of the year,” Shaun Sims, an Evanston sheep producer, says.
Sims was joined in a panel discussion on lambing best practices by producers Henry Etcheverry of Idaho, Sunnie Titmus of Utah and Don and Peto Meike of Wyoming. The group discussed the importance of genetics, feed, rams and lambing practices in getting the best results from lambing.
On his operation, Sims notes that he has utilized genetics to increase his ability to achieve live lambs.
“We have bred a composite ewe that we feel will give us more ewe lambs,” he says. “We cross the best we have to build our composite ewe, and we do it because of mothering ability.”
While they strive for twins, they are also able to achieve triplets, and with larger lamb crops, it is essential that ewes are capable of mothering the lambs.
Etcheverry also notes that not every ewe is capable of producing and raising twins.
“We look at their udders and bags,” he explains. “We have to shape up the ewes.”
Ensuring that ewes and lambs alike have access to an adequate feed resource is also important.
Sims notes that they test their winter rangelands each year, then develop a pellet feed that contains the nutrients their rangeland lacks.
“The pellet is better than feeding corn, it ups the sheep’s body condition score and lowers the acidity of her stomach,” he says. “It has also been found to help ewes ovulate more eggs.”
The result is an improved fertility, and Sims has seen a 10 to 20 percent improvement in their lambs in the spring.
“We have to keep our ewes in very good condition until February,” Sims says.
Peto Meike notes that their ewes are trailed and summered in high mountains pastures in the Big Horn Mountains.
“In the fall, we put those ewes on meadows, and when we get out of the mountains, they go onto alfalfa-type meadows, where we flush them,” he says. “We breed up really well, and these ewes go out on the winter range in the hills.”
During the winter and into lambing, their ewes are also supplemented with a pellet.
For Etcheverry, the ram is important to maintaining the size of the lambs.
“I see a trend going away from the good, standard breeds that have been successful in the West,” he comments. “Our ewes are mainly Columbia, and we breed them to terminal Suffolks.”
In addition, Sims also notes that testing their rams is also important.
“Epididymitis is a serious problem,” Sims explained. “If we have a ewe that is going to ovulate and have twins, it doesn’t matter if the ram is not doing his job because of epididymitis.”
Additionally epididymitis also stretches lambing out and increases the number of ewes that are open.
In addition to getting and keeping ewes pregnant, Sims notes that measures taken during lambing are also important.
“We do some small shed lambing, but we mostly lamb on the range,” Sims says, explaining that they utilize both drop lambing and pasture lambing. “In this type of lambing, we drop the ewes, advance the herd and in the afternoon, do the same. We sort the lambs out. In our pasture lambing, we go through the ewes heavily and shear before lambing. The herder's job is to help the ewes if they have problems.”
Herders also focus on controlling predators.
“This is a matter of getting the lambs on the ground, onto the ewe and raising as many as we can,” Sims comments.
While Sims focuses on pasture and range lambing, Titmus utilizes shed lambing.
“I married into a sheep family, and my father-in-law always dreamed of having a shed lambing place,” Titmus says. “Every year we change things and make adjustments. In November, all of our sheep are in the hay fields and we flush them.”
After going to the desert range for the winter, they return home, shear and begin to lamb.
Titmus comments that when they shed lamb, feeding is still important. They feed straight alfalfa hay, dressed with whole corn.
“When we have our ewes in the jugs, we feed pellets and whole corn,” he comments. “After about five days, we turn them onto some pasture if we have moisture, and if we don’t, we continue to feed hay out on the ground.”
Meike also shed lambs.
“We do a lot of ‘planned parenthood,’” Meike comments. “If one ewe has a single and has a good udder, we switch her with another ewe with twins that can’t raise them. If we do this before she has a chance to clean them off, it works, and we come out with a 165 to 170 percent lamb crop.”
Etcheverry comments, “My dad always said we have to take good lambs out of the lambing shed and good lambs out of the desert. The intermediate country takes care of itself.”
Sims, Meike, Etcheverry and Titmus spoke in a panel during the 2015 West Central States Wool Growers Convention at the beginning of November 2015.