Most people associate baby farm animals with spring, but in all actuality, babies are born on the farm all year long. For us, that means baby lambs arrive in January and February. These tend to be the coldest months of the year here in SE Minnesota, but it is the optimal time of year to have lambs ready to market as feeder lambs or as show prospects. A feeder lamb is a young lamb sold at around 30lbs that another farmer will buy to feed until it is grown and can be marketed as a finished lamb. A finished lamb usually weighs between 120-140lbs will be butchered for meat. It takes 5-6 months for a lamb to go from birth to finished weight.
Since we have to buy all the feed we give to our livestock, it makes sense to us to sell the lambs at a younger age. At this point, the feed costs more than what we make by selling a finished lamb.
We allow our ewes to lamb in an open barn. Once the lambs hit the ground, we move mom and babies to small pens we call “jugs”. These small pens allow mom and babies to bond, keep mom from getting distracted by the other sheep, and helps keep babies warmer. It also helps us keep a closer eye on the ewe and lambs to ensure they are eating well and see if the ewe is having any issues. We use heat lamps in the jugs to keep everyone warmer. After a few days, the ewe and lambs are let back into the big pen.
Before we release the sheep back into the bigger pen, we “process” the baby lambs. “Processing” in this case means eartagging, giving shots, and banding the lamb’s tail.
Eartagging: This is a process by which we place a small plastic tag in the lamb’s ear to help us identify it. The process is much like having a human ear piercing – the tag has a sharp metal post that goes through the skin of the ear and is attached to a “back”. It’s not a pain-free process, but much like when you got your ears pierced, the skin soon heals and the eartag is not a bother to the animal. We tag our lambs with 2 tags, 1 being our farm tag, and the other being a Scrapie tag. By law, all sheep and goats in Minnesota must have a Scrapie tag. This tag not only has the animal’s individual number, but also has a number assigned to our farm on it. This forever links that lamb to us, no matter who we sell it to in the future.
Vaccinations: We vaccinate our lambs against Clostridium Perfringens Type C& D Tetanus, or CDT for short. This shot goes just under the skin and protects our sheep from tetanus.
Tail Docking: We dock our lambs’ tails using a rubber band that is placed high on the tail. In time, the tail loses circulation and falls off. Many people don’t realize that sheep are born with long tails. We remove them because as they get older, the tails grow wool, which catches urine and feces. This can lead to flies laying eggs around the back of the sheep and other infections. In lambing ewes, it helps to maintain a clean area around the vulva and also the udder. Docking the tails when the lambs are young is much less uncomfortable for them then if it is done when the lamb is older and the tails are larger.
Paul and I have quite the system down and can complete this process in a short amount of time. These practices help us maintain a healthy flock! Clara and Hazel joined us in the barn for these chores. As they get older, they will help with this process as they are able. It was a great day in the barn as a whole family!