Tips on Managing Ewe Flocks with Reduced
Feed Resources

Paul Lewis
Professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences
College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences
(304) 293-2631 X-3314

Drought situations place significant pressure on the feed and water resources available for livestock. Producers need to plan for the most effectively management and conservation of their resources. Early planning and decisions regarding the management of the livestock are most critical. Every operation may have different options based on stocking rates, production status of the animals, total available feed resources and the financial position and cash flow situation of the operation.

The following are some general management tips and guidelines that producers will find useful in their planning and decision making processes regarding the ewe flock.

1. Reduce number of animals and/or nutrient demands of the flock.

  1. Wean all lambs. You have the options, depending on the average weight of these lambs, to either market them as feeder lambs or put them on feed for the slaughter lamb market. If you put the lambs on feed, you need to provide a ration that is 12-14% protein, add a coccidiostat (Deccox, 2 lbs/ ton of complete feed; 2 lb / 50 lb of mineral mix), deworm the lambs and vaccinate for overeating (C & D) 2-weeks prior to weaning. Maintain a deworming program as necessary.
  2. Cull all the nonproductive and lower producing ewes from the flock. The remaining nonpregnant ewes will do fine on poorer quality pasture or low-quality hay until you get ready for breeding in the early fall. Monitor their body condition (2.5 is adequate). Do not allow the ewes to lose excessive body condition. A ewe at maintenance needs a dry matter intake of only about 2% of her body weight/day (a 150 lb ewe needs 3-4 lb of hay). If necessary, you can provide up to 1 lb of whole shelled corn or barley per head as a substitute for at least half of the hay. Deworm these ewes and maintain a deworming program as necessary until breeding. Do everything you can to limit hay feeding. Use racks, feed daily, provide adequate space for all ewes, and do not feed off the ground.

2. Fall breeding ewes.

If these drought conditions continue, you will need to flush these ewes for up to 16 days before the start of your breeding season (September-October). You can do this effectively with to 1 lb of whole shelled corn. You need to increase body condition score to 3.0 at breeding. Now is a good time to feed a free choice mineral mix.

3. Ewes due to lamb in October–December.

These ewes will do well on average quality hay before the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. Save the better quality hay supply to feed during these last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy and during the early lactation period. Again, it is important to monitor the body condition of these ewes and to maintain your deworming and vaccination programs.

During the last 4 weeks of gestation, you should begin to feed these ewes to lb of concentrate (12 to 14 % protein) with 3-5 lbs of your better quality hay/head/day. If you do not feed a total mixed concentrate, you should be sure to offer a free choice mineral mix at this time. Be sure that you deworm the ewes prior to lambing. Following lambing, increase the amount of concentrate up to 1 lb for singles and 1 lbs for twins. This means you need to separate the ewes at lambing for best management of feed resources. If feed resources continue to be limited, early-wean these lambs. The ewe produces 75% of her milk in the first 8 weeks of lactation. After that period, the ewe provides more companionship for the lamb than nutrition. You should consider creep feeding as a necessary component for the transition to total weaning. This helps ensure good rumen development and function of the lamb. Again, do not forget to give the lambs a booster vaccination for overeating disease at least 2-weeks prior to weaning.

4. Keep accurate records of feed and livestock inventories.

If federal or state disaster assistance becomes available in response to the drought, these records will be important when applying for assistance.