Fence Line Weaning
When weaning lambs, it is recommended to either move the ewes far enough away from the lambs so that they cannot see or hear each other or to do fence line weaning where they are in adjacent pastures and can see each other but lambs are not able to get to the ewes to nurse. Fence line weaning is supposed to be less stressful on the lambs than just removing the ewes, they can still see their mommas and talk. In studies done in cattle they found that calves that are fence line weaned were heavier 10 weeks after weaning when compared to their contemporaries that were totally removed from their mothers at weaning.
On weaning day we had the chute set up in the barn and released the lambs and ewes into the pasture we have adjacent to the barn but had the two groups separated by electrified netting. As we were releasing the lambs, we could see that a lot of the lambs were trying the fence but backed up when they touched their noses to the wire. Our ewes and lambs are contained in electric fencing at all times so they are trained to electric fencing. We did not see any of the ewes touch the wire but a lot of them were encouraging their lambs to cross the fence.
The first 24 hours they were LOUD, I think more noisy than usual at weaning. On the other hand they are all in one area and 250 lambs and their mommas together make a lot of noise. We finished weaning at about 4 pm and went back to check on them about every hour until it got dark to make sure nobody was stuck in the fence. The next morning they were quieter but we did notice that some of the posts on the electric netting were not 100% upright and we had two lambs in with the ewes. We re-planted the posts and left those two with their moms for the day. We did notice as the day went on that the lambs and the ewes left the fence more frequently to graze and that they started moving further and further away. They were a little quieter by the end of the day. Surprisingly, by the second morning they were almost quiet and grazing well, just a few hold out mommas trying to convince their offspring to cross the fence.
We ran the ewes through the chute a second time and removed the two lambs as well as a companion ewe to put in with the lambs. The added benefit is that this enabled me to visually check all the ewes udders as they were passing by. My sentimental wool sheep did not lamb this year and I decided to put her in with the lambs for adult companionship for them. If one of the ram lambs is an early bloomer and she gets pregnant it is not a problem if she lambs out of sequence with the rest of the flock. We moved the group of lambs with their substitute momma to a new pasture as the grass in the weaning pasture is a big over mature for good lamb growth. Having a ewe that is willing to follow me made moving the lambs a lot easier too. We kept the ewes in the barn as we move the lambs away for a bit of additional security. Both groups seemed pretty quiet after the move.
I do think that fence line weaning is less stressful on the lambs but do have some things that I think we can do better next year.
Solid fencing between the two groups would be better but we only have woven wire fencing between the barn yard and the pasture surrounding the barn. We would have to feed the ewes hay (which I hate to do when we have pasture available). This would hopefully prevent escapees.
The pasture became very soiled where the ewes congregated next to the fence the first night. I worry about the ewes getting mastitis when sleeping in the manure, not sure how to make that better, we can have a longer fence area but the lambs seem to congregate together in one area.
Leave an adult in with the lambs from the start. We ended up putting our flock of 7 rams in with the lambs after a few days and that is working very well but I am not sure how well that will work with all the ewes across the fence.