We run our own little mob of rams, however if you are only running enough ewes to keep your own family in lamb, you may find it more economical to borrow or "hire" a ram for the period of joining. One ram should be able to service 50-100 ewes.
TIME OF JOINING
Choosing when you want your lambs to be born determines when you need to put your rams out with the ewes. For us - we chose to have our lambs born in June/July as we have the most grass on the farm during September, October and November, which is when the ewe/lamb unit has the biggest demand for feed. It also means our lambs are ready to sell in December which suits our markets perfectly.
Ewes have a gestation period of (are pregnant for) roughly 6 months. So working back from the 1st of June when we want them to start lambing, that means we are putting our rams out on the 1st of January - New Years Day, nice and easy for us to remember!
PRIOR TO JOINING
So backtracking just a bit - knowing that we are putting the rams out on New Years Day, we do have to do a bit of planning leading up to then. When we wean the previous year's lambs we always give the ewes a good check over - looking at their mouths to make sure their teeth are sound, we check their udder to make sure it is still in good condition, we make sure their weight is good. We check over the rams leading up to joining also.
We like to put our rams on some better pasture leading up to joining, to ensure they are in terrific condition at joining as they do work pretty hard over those few weeks!
All our ewes and rams are shorn at the end of November. Rams in particular will not mate at their optimum if they are carrying a long fleece as they will get hot and tire quickly.
As I mentioned our rams start running with the ewes on the 1st of January. Ideally we would keep them together for about 6 weeks, however this often drags out to 8 weeks, just because of other activities happening around the farm at the time. During this time we more or less leave the mobs to themselves, and besides checking them once or twice a week they are left undisturbed.
This is one of our rams, in the foreground, above, running with some of the ewes.
It is crucial that the paddocks we use for joining contain enough good quality pasture or feed to see them through the mating period.
Two rams, above, with their rumps to the camera - sniffing their girls!
If you were just running a very small mob of ewes, for your own use you probably wouldn't worry about scanning your ewes. The main reason we scan our ewes is to determine which ewes are having just one lamb and which ones are having twins (or more...!) Our breed of ewe is extremely efficient in converting feed into body weight, in that one of our biggest issues is keeping the weight off, rather than the other way around! Come lambing, if the ewes are too fat, they can often have quite a bit of difficulty giving birth. This is particularly the case if they are only have a single lamb, as the single lambs are often quite large by birth.
So scanning allows us to run our single lambers separately from the ewes that are having multiples. The ewes having two or more lambs run on the better pasture, giving them the best chance to have a higher birthweight (better for survival in the twins) and the ewes only having one lamb have slightly restricted feed so that their birth weights are lower(although still usually quite a bit higher than the twins) allowing for an easier birth.
Scanning is usually done as close to 70 days after the start of mating, as possible, to give the best chance of detecting twins or multiples.
NUTRITION DURING PREGNANCY
Besides managing the pastures that our mobs are grazing we always make sure there is plenty of water available for drinking. We also put some nutrient blocks out - usually high in calcium, just to make sure that all their nutritional requirements are being met. Twin bearing ewes in particular have a very high energy demand in the final weeks leading up to lambing.
This is the most fun time on our farm - I love lambing season.
Often we get our first couple of lambs in the week leading up to the first of June. I guess just like humans, lambs can come early! So I usually start checking the mobs regularly about a fortnight prior to lambing. Besides wanting to actually check for problems, I also want the ewes to get used to me driving/wandering around them. The more relaxed they are when I'm around, the more likely they are to let me get close to them, so the more likely I am to pick up any issues early on.
This ewe, above, has literally just "dropped" these little ones. The white one was born first and has already been licked all over. The yellow coating on the other one is the goop they are covered in when they are born. The ewe is still expelling her afterbirth.
When I'm driving around the mobs there are a few predominant issues that I'm looking out for. Firstly I'm looking for ewes that may be having difficulty giving birth. This can be caused by a number of different issues, just like people: the most common issue in ewes is the lamb not being presented in the "normal" way, which is front legs first, with their head between their front legs. On Balancing Rock Farm we don't tend to see too many completely breached lambs, our most common issue is one leg back, or one leg caught at the hock joint.
Both of these issues are very easy to rectify, usually by gently pushing the lamb back into the ewe slightly and feeling around for where the leg is stuck, and manoeuvring it into its correct position. You don't want to be faint hearted doing this however - its very slimy work! So satisfying though when you know you have contributed to a live lamb, that may otherwise have died.
Other issues I'm looking out for as I'm driving around are weak lambs that perhaps haven't been able to drink properly for one reason or another, or a lamb out on its own, that may have become separated from its ewe.
I have a lambing "kit" that I take with me when I'm checking the mobs. It contains long thin veterinary gloves, a couple of old towels, a set of sheep cuffs (a simple method of holding a ewes legs together gently while I'm assisting, so she doesn't get up and try and run away), a notebook and pen, so I can make notes about what I'm seeing if I think it will help down the track. For example I like to note the ear tag numbers of ewes who need assistance during lambing, and then the following year if the same ewe needs assistance again, we may decide to remove her from the mob.
If there is a weak lamb, and it is with its ewe, I will usually try and catch the pair of them, so I can inspect them both. In some cases the ewe may have a damaged udder, and not be producing milk, or the lamb may have got cold over night and be too weak to stand at the udder. Usually in these cases I take both the ewe and lamb back to the house where I have pens set up in a shed and I monitor and assist if needed until the lamb is strong enough again to go back out into the paddock. If the ewe is incapable of producing milk then we hand rear the lamb. Similarly if I find a lamb out on its own, and can't find its ewe, we will hand rear it.
I have a detailed post here on rearing lambs with a bottle. The kids love taking charge of the bottle babies, and often years on the grown up lambs and the kids recognise one another!
AS you can see from this pic above, the bottle lambs really become part of the family!
Finally I keep an eye on the state of the pastures and decide whether I think the mobs need any supplementary feeding in the form of hay or grain, or whether they need to be moved to a new paddock. A ewe's appetite increases quite a lot post birth. On average they need about 2.5 times more feed in order to produce the milk for their lambs as well as maintain their condition.
Ideally lambing should be winding up 6-8 weeks after the first lamb is born, for us that's mid to late July. So late July we schedule our lamb marking. Marking involves castrating the males (making them much easier to manage, and also ram meat has a very strong flavour) and also giving them a priming vaccination against some of the major diseases that can be prevalent in our area. It also gives us another chance to check over the ewes and highlight any that have health or structural issues.
Generally once all the ewes have lambed they again, are able to be run quite independently, and so long as we are confident that their feed needs are being met, we more or less let them be, except for perhaps a quick drive around once a week.
By mid August, to early September the lambs are well and truly eating more and more grass and drinking less and less milk, so by mid September we have weaned them from their mothers. This allows us to put the lambs on the best feed so that they are growing well, and the ewes are on lesser quality feed so they are just maintaining their body weight. By weaning in September we are also giving the ewes a good three to four months rest before they meet up with the rams again! The lambs will get their booster vaccination at weaning.
So there you have it! The lambs then live happily on the best pastures until it is time for them to be sold. We usually start sending them off early December, and hope to have most of them gone by Christmas, so we can then save those good pastures for joining on again.
The butcher we use for our own meat supply comes to our property in February, so we always keep a handful back to save for ourselves. Butchering for us is only a couple of weeks away now, so I'll make sure I do a post about it - come back and check it out if your interested! Otherwise, let me know if you have any questions, in the comments below! ⬇️