Selecting Replacement Ewes

First time ewe with newborn lamb

The replacement ewes I kept are starting to lamb. I am very happy so far with their performance. How do I select a ewe lamb to become a replacement ewe for my flock? I look at the mother of the ewe lamb.

I raise sheep for meat. The quicker a lamb reaches market weight, the less money I have invested in the lamb. I choose ewe lambs from ewes who produce the faster growing lambs. Do not confuse fast growth weight with large birth weight. I do not want 12 pound lambs, I like 8 pounds lamb that gain over 1/2 pound a day. Large birth weight lambs are hard on the ewes during delivery. I want my ewes producing the most amount of milk that first day and forward, not putting a lot of energy into healing from a hard birth.

Fast growth weight also helps the wool or fiber producer. The quicker the lamb matures, the sooner they will produce wool. The energy used for growth will be then used to produce wool and fiber. Growth rate is an indication of the sheep’s metabolism of nutrients. The faster growing lambs metabolize the energy in their food better than the others. Better metabolism means better growth of body and wool.

Three month old lambs

I want good conformation on my ewes. Each ewe lamb is evaluated several times during their growth on conformation. A lamb changes during growth and some characteristics are hidden or not as oblivious when they are small until they are larger. I want ewes to have a good pelvis size, important for easier birthing of lambs. If a ewe has crooked legs, they will not be able to travel as well as one with sturdy straight legs. Conformation is directly related to the sheep’s ability to forage, produce young and care the lambs.

One of my most important factors is the mothering ability – how well the mother takes care of her lambs. Ewes will care for their lambs the same way their mother cared for them. I have had ewes, that the lambs had to hunt them down when they were hungry. The lambs from these ewes did not grow well, and were smaller than the others. I want the ewe to be in love with her lamb when it hits the ground, to talk to it and know where the lamb is at all times. I currently have one ewe, who will paw her lambs to get them up to nurse often during the day. Today I watched one of her daughters, a first time ewe, do the same thing. She hoovers over her lamb, and gets it up frequently to nurse.

You want the best ewe lambs from the best ewes in your flock for replacement ewes. Not every ewe lamb in my flock becomes a replacement ewe, only the best. By being selective I improve the mothering nature of my ewe flock. Since I started being very selective in which ewe lambs I keep, my work as a shepherd is less, with the ewes doing the raising of their young.

First time ewe from Big Bertha with newborn lamb first time standing

What about bottle raised ewe lambs for breeding ewes? I have two ewes I raised on a bottle. While these ewes do not show specific characteristics of their mothers, they are good mothering ewes. A specific example is my ewe, PeeWee, who I raised as a bottle baby in the house for two months. Her mother, Big Bertha, paws at her babies to make them nurse often. PeeWee, does not paw at her lambs, but she knows where they are and finds them to nurse often. PeeWee has done a very good job raising her lambs. Yes, bottle babies can be good mother depending on why the lamb had to be raised on a bottle. PeeWee was taken from her mother as her mother only has one working teat. A ewe who has produced triplets, one lamb is going to be a bottle baby. That does not rule out this bottle baby lamb being a good mother.

I do not let emotions or sentimental attachment influence my decision on keeping lambs to add to the flock. I am raising sheep for my income. But there are exceptions to my hard fast rule.

I do have three ewes I will keep due to sentimental reasons. One is Old Doper, she was my first registered Dorper ewe. Old Dorper has produced twins for me every time she lambs and she does not miss any breedings. In five years of owning Old Dorper, she has produced six sets of twins. She has earned her retirement spot on our ranch. Another is Big Bertha, like Old Doper, she has produced twins or triplets for me each lambing season. Big Bertha has the conformation I desire, the excellent mothering characteristics. In three years, Big Bertha has produced seven lambs, two sets of twins, one set of triplets. Even though I have to bottle raise one or two of her lambs, she is more than paid for her retirement. Depending on why you are raising sheep, you can allow for sentimental attachment.

Big Bertha with a set of triplets

I choose the best to raise the best, and to replace the best.


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