Weaning Time for Lambs and Kids

— Written By Emily Cope and last updated by
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Weaning time has likely arrived for many producers, but others may be making preparations for weaning now. Weaning can be a stressful event for offspring, ewes and does, and producers. Minimizing the stress of weaning on animals and producers will go a long way. Aside from recommending ear plugs to silence the crying lambs and bleating does, below are a few other suggestions that may be helpful:

1. Weaning is typically done between 60 to 90 days of ages. However, weaning by weight is a better recommendation (2.5 – 3 times birth weight). Aside for age and weight, lambs and kids should be observed foraging or eating creep feed well.

2. If you choose to creep feed, creep feeding should be started before weaning. This will help mitigate some stress on the offspring, as well as continue to encourage full rumen development. Creep feeding can come in the form of a high concentrate or high quality pastures and hays. At minimum creep feed (concentrate or forage) should be 14% crude protein (CP), although 16% is generally better for growing lambs/kids. Forage availability (quantity) and quality should be evaluated for dams and offspring prior to weaning.

3. Early vs Late Weaning. Some producers opt for early weaning while others prefer a later weaning (4 – 6 months of age). Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Early Weaning:
    1. May be more economic to feed offspring than lactating dams.
    2. Reduces lactation stress on high milking dams.
    3. Increased stress on offspring and dam.
    4. Allows dams to regain condition.
  2. Late Weaning:
    1. Reduced stress for offspring and dams.
    2. Reduced incidence of mastitis.
    3. Forage quality and quantity may be greater; however, dams may compete for forage with offspring.
    4. Reduces labor through group management.
    5. Increased chance for offspring parasitism.

4. Do not overload with additional stresses. Try to avoid vaccinating, deworming, castrating, and tagging at the same time of weaning. It is recommended to perform these other management practices two weeks prior to weaning.

5. Remove ewes and does from lambs and kids. It is best to leave the offspring in familiar surroundings to minimize their stress. Check all fencing prior to weaning. Reducing predation and escape artists is essential to help increase survivability of offspring.

6. Continue to monitor. Regularly monitoring for signs of health and performance are important in offspring and mothers. Identifying poor doers early is always best. Recording feed intake for lambs and kids can be a good measure of health.

If you have any questions, please contact Emily Cope at emily_cope@ncsu.edu or Nathan Kiger at nathan_kiger@ncsu.edu.