As we move further into the season, the task of weaning lambs will most likely be on the to-do list for many sheep farms over the coming weeks. Once lambs get to between 12 and 14 weeks old, farmers should consider weaning them off the ewes. By not doing this, it can have a negative impact on both; ewes would be competing with their lambs for grass and at this stage of the season, we want to be giving lambs access to the best quality grass on the farm. Grass growth rates continue to vary big time across farms, and those with a higher stocking rate are feeling the pinch more so. For farms that are still in a tight position for grass, then weaning lambs off ewes will provide a good opportunity to take the pressure off.

Farmers can afford to graze ewes on lower grass covers and/or poorer quality grass after weaning. The focus is on the lambs and maximising their performance.

It's best to restrict the ewes’ diet after weaning anyway, for approximately 10-14 days, to ensure that they dry-off properly and to avoid mastitis issues developing. Not only do we want to wean lambs to free-up good quality grass for them, but we also need to give ewes a break from their lambs to allow them to recover and regain body condition gradually, for breeding later in the year. Because breeding is a while away yet, we can afford to put ewes into lower covers of grass for the time being.

Weaning options

Abrupt weaning is the most common method used on most sheep farms. This involves separating all of the ewes and lambs at the same time.

In the case of abrupt weaning, ideally, farmers should be giving lambs access to good-quality, leafy swards, straight away after weaning, which will help the lambs to settle quickly and avoid any major dip in performance.

Good fencing is a necessity and it is best if ewes and lambs are kept well apart and out of sight – in order to make the transition period easier and less stressful. If you're thinking about weaning just some lambs only, particularly those that were suckling ewe hoggets or any thin ewes in the flock, a gradual weaning approach could be used. It's a less stressful method and would be very beneficial to these younger ewes, as they will need a longer rest period than mature ewes before breeding commences again.