Weaning: Avoid ‘one size fits all’ approach, warns vet

A mid-Wales vet has encouraged farmers to consider three main aspects when weaning lambs, in order to promote the long-term health and profitability of the flock.

Through the Stoc+ project coordinated by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), Iolo White a veterinary partner at Camlas Farm Vets, Welshpool has been advising farmers to consider three main aspects when weaning.

Weaning usually takes place 12 to 14 weeks after lambing; however, there are some factors that may influence the farmer’s decision on when the best timing for their flock.

Iolo White, who is also a Stoc+ vet ambassador explained that the three main aspects to consider when weaning are: the lambs’ growth; the ewes’ body condition; and grazing availability.

“One question that farmers often ask is when should they be weaning. There isn’t one answer for every situation,” White said.

“Each farm is different, and it’s important that weaning begins when it suits the farm and the sheep. It is also equally important to plan post-weaning nutrition and management and ensure the lambs have access to good grazing pasture.

It is also important to look at the ewes’ body condition, as this is the first chance to start preparing them for tupping. Farmers should be wary that the ewes’ body condition score doesn’t drop too much before weaning. The target body condition score for lowland sheep is 2.5 and 2 for hill sheep.

“If the lambs stay with the sheep for too long, there’s too much competition for grass and the sheep will lose body condition. This will also slow down lambs’ growth due to lack of milk and nutrition. It takes 6 to 8 weeks for a sheep to gain 1 condition score so there’s not much time to lose.”

Elizabeth Swancott, HCC’s programme officer working on Stoc+, reminded farmers to monitor worm burdens and to plan control during weaning.

“Faecal Egg Count (FEC) and regular weighing of the group to map growth are both important tools to monitor worm infection,” she said.

This year, a prolonged dry period followed by rain and warm spells poses a risk of a mass hatch of worm eggs on the grazing and high infection rates. This could coincide with weaning and it is important to avoid a high worm burden.

Farmers are encouraged to consult their vet to discuss their individual farm needs and to ensure that a health plan is in place.