Sharing – or not

One pair of our hay bale feeders after this morning’s filling – four adult ewes (can you find them?) try to find a great spot between the lambs, with Queso (R) in the foreground.

The lambs are either well past or rapidly approaching their one month birthdays. At this age, they are well into familiarity with solid feed in addition to their mothers’ milk; high quality alfalfa and a custom grain blend are always available in their creep area where the ewes cannot enter. Although the digestion of the youngest flock members is not quite what it will be in a couple of weeks, the oldest lambs are digesting well and beginning to dig into the feed that we provide – some gaining at near or just over one pound per day.

Although we provide unlimited feed in their creep area, it never ceases to surprise me how very much they want to eat just what their mothers eat. We provide the ewes with grain and alfalfa, too, but the alfalfa is a bit less green and also a bit stemmier than what the lambs get, and the grain is the creep blend cut 50/50 with corn, providing more energy and less protein. When I pour the grain into the troughs for the ewes, the lambs swarm the feeders, trying to get as much of it as they can before being pushed out of the way by the bigger ewes – and the same happens with the hay in the hay feeders. The lambs want in and the ewes want them out!

The adult ewes are often willing to share with their own lambs, showing them what is palatable and which plants are not such great eating. Yet, the lambs of other ewes are pushed away – the ewes know that they need this nutrition if they are to provide milk for their own lambs, and both lambs and ewes are ravenous! The lambs know that this is how it works, and when younger and smaller, will stay close to their dams, trying to find a place at the feeders.

For this reason, we always provide more feed and more feeder space than our ewes need at this point in production. There is no way to know how much the lambs are eating out among the ewes rather than in their creep area, and I do want them to eat – and to learn from their mothers. Providing too little feed space in the common area forces the ewes to become even more forceful in pushing the lambs out, and to me, this seems counter-productive. I want the lambs eating as much as they can, and I also want them learning what to eat – and what not to eat – from the adults in their lives. We burn through a lot of hay this time of year – but I view it as an investment in the future of the flock: in our lambs.

The older lambs have become more intent on finding a way in. They stand at the top of the bales, even knowing that most of the ewes have little patience for this and will push them off. Once pushed off of one bale feeder, they immediately hop onto the next, playing a continual game of king of the mountain on their feed.

The little lambs find access through the sides of the feeders where the ewes stand above them and don’t even notice them below. Because the hay is alfalfa hay with the best nutrition in the fragile leaves, these side-feeding lambs get some of the best of the bale, eating below the ewes who keep knocking leaves down into the bottom of the bale as they eat.

As the bales are consumed, the ewes become more and more insistent that the lambs find elsewhere to eat – and this forces the lambs into their creep area and its all-you-can-eat buffet. When I leave the barn in the morning after feeding, nearly all of the lambs are crowding the feeders as in the photo above, but when I am back out for the last check of the day at dusk, there are few lambs to be seen in the common area that aren’t dozing along the walls – the rest are all crowded into the creep area, nibbling at the lamb-sized feeders of hay and grain, climbing on straw bales provided for that purpose, and head-butting or mounting the other lambs in practice for their adult roles.

It won’t be much longer before I let them out onto pasture to learn how to graze – but I need to finish my internal parasite plan for this year before we allow them out. I have nearly completed the overall plan, with one piece left to fall into place. It is my goal to have them out and grazing by the end of the month or the first weekend in May at the latest. Until then, I will keep loading hay and grain into their feeders!


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