Want to add grass-fed/pastured lamb to your repertoire? Here are some tips to succeed, especially if you’re farming in a hot, humid climate. My husband and I have been raising sheep since August 2011. We’re still new to this whole farming/ranching venture, but we’ve learned a good deal since we started. What follows was born out of a text message conversation I had with a fellow young farmer and prospective grassfed lamb producer in Louisiana. After spending some summers raising sheep in a fairly “sheephostile” environment, we have compiled some considerations for grass-fed and pastured lamb producers located in the Gulf South and in other hot, humid environments.
Parasites are your biggest enemy. Grass-fed/pastured lambs can take 10-14 months to finish in our environment. That means you have to hold them through those harsh summer months when
parasite pressure is high. Combat the worms with the following strategies:
1) Don’t buy resistant worms!
When you’re pulling away from the seller, and he calls to tell you to “make sure and deworm those ewes every four to six weeks,” turn around and drop those ewes back off at their birthplace. You don’t want breeding stock or feeder lambs from flocks that have been blanket wormed for years. They’ll fall apart in your forage-based system, and you’ll drop a nice, big population of anthelmintic-resistant parasite eggs on your pasture. Cull at purchase.
2) FAMACHA lambs every four to six weeks from weaning to mid-fall and/or harvest.
Read about FAMACHA scoring here. This is not a foolproof signal of parasite load, but it gives a good indication of barber–pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) infestation. Anemic animals should be treated for the barber-pole worm, but you should monitor fecal egg counts (FECs) as well to make sure you’re after the right culprit.
3) Graze High!
High quality forages grazed no lower than 4-5 inches will limit exposure to parasites and provide nutrition to help lambs combat infestations. Most grasses in our environment lose quality in late summer as they mature; we find warm-season annuals work well for oversummered lambs. Sorghum-Sudan grass, millet, cowpeas and other species are great. Brassicas
in the fall can also get lambs “grazing high.”
4) Rotate, rotate, rotate!
Get the sheep off their poo and don’t return for at least six weeks, longer if you can. Graze pastures with cattle when rest periods are shorter than six weeks or clip to keep the forage vegetative. Mature cattle are end-hosts for most sheep parasites, so cattle can “clean” paddocks for you. Long dry spells in late summer also kill off parasite eggs, but wet weather requires extra
These strategies can help you plan your grazing and management of pastured lambs. 100% grass-fed lamb is a challenge in Louisiana and other hot, humid areas, but with some time and consideration, many pitfalls can be overcome. All operations are different and necessitate different management strategies. The best indication of success is real-world observation; hopefully, our short experience with lambs can squash your learning curve a little.
Bill Fosher shared some great info on saving hypothermic lambs, and how to manage parasites in your flock. Check them out!
I am curious why it takes so long to finish lambs on grass? I’m just north of you in TN and have raised (mostly) hair sheep for about 10 years. I finish them at 80-90 lbs in 6-7 months. What weights are you getting in that 10-14 month time frame?
Same weights as you, but we cannot grow the same forages I would think. And/or, perhaps, we don’t have the same genetics (?)–from talking to other producers, our stock seems to compensate parasite resistance for size. We do not always get a hard freeze every winter; this winter we had barely any freezing temps. What is your forage chain like?
We have mostly fescue pastures. I’m working to change that. Grazing starts in March and runs into December. This year, we continued to rotate through the winter, feeding mostly orchard grass hay. There was enough residual and growth until February to supplement the hay. I did, intentionally, allow the sheep (and dairy cows, we graze both together) to eat the pastures down to 2 inches to knock back the fescue this winter. Low temps here were in the teens but generally winter was warm. My flock is also parasite resistant. We only get good, cool season grasses until mid May. Then it is fescue and whatever summer grasses come in. Thank you for responding, btw!
G’day, An interesting item and sound advice,however I would add the following.Select a “breed” that evolved in an environment similar to yours and “before” you buy any stock try and have a chat to your potential customers to get a feeling for what “their” needs are.Frank.
Hi Frank. Yes, these are two very important points. I guess I overlooked the breed issue as the majority of shepherds in the Deep South are now raising hair breeds that are adapted to our hot, humid climate.
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