Feeding Lambs

If the farm enterprise is geared to producing marketable lambs in the shortest possible time, creep feeding the lambs early in life is essential to early weaning and to subsequent rapid development in the feedlot. The size of the lamb at weaning is more important than its actual age. Generally, lambs should weigh at least 50 pounds before weaning. Lambs that are on full feed at weaning generally have little difficulty adjusting to a feedlot environment.

After weaning, ewes can be placed on lower quality pasture because their nutritional requirements are low.

One of the biggest advantages of not pasturing the lamb with the ewe is that lambs have less chance of internal parasite infestation. In some situations, it can be more economical to wean lambs and place them on clean, high-quality, fresh pasture, while continuing to provide them supplemental feed. However, this method of finishing lambs does not maximize growth rate under most situations. Ordinarily, pastures are most efficiently used by old-crop lambs. Typically, older lambs can more economically use alfalfa, grain sorghum stubble, wheat pasture, and corn fields. Temporary woven-wire fences or electric fences can be used to effectively control grazing on such fields.

Usually, the lambs must be placed in a feedlot to be adequately finished for market. Intensive management is the key to success in lamb feeding.

In the feedlot, the first few days are the most critical. Generally, lambs have been transported long distances without adequate feed or water, and they often are highly stressed when they arrive at the feedlot.

Range lambs sometimes refuse to drink or eat. For this reason, drylot range-raised lambs for three to four weeks on the ranch so that the lambs know how to eat feed from a bunk and drink from a trough.

Feed newly arrived lambs a high-roughage ration (unless they have previously been adapted to a high-grain diet) and allow them to rest. Lambs should be placed on feed cautiously and gradually adapted to the desired concentrate level.

As soon as the lambs are over the stress of relocation, treat them for internal and external parasites. Also, vaccinate them for enterotoxemia type D, and sore mouth.

Adequate feeding pens should be available so that the lambs can be sorted by size and fed accordingly. Immediately isolate weak or sick lambs. Size and age of lambs influence the ration composition. Heavy lambs must be finished more rapidly, so they need a ration with a higher level of grains for energy. Lighter lambs can be fed rations containing more roughage. Generally, lambs are started on rations containing 60 to 70 percent roughage. For general lamb feeding, where both legume hay and feed-grains are readily available, a ration of 50 to 60 percent grain and 40 to 50 percent hay can produce very economical gains while minimizing the occurrence of digestive disturbances.