Q.

When should I wean my lambs/kids?

A.

Weaning age varies among sheep/goat farms and could differ from year-to-year, depending on feed conditions and markets. Different weaning ages are appropriate for different production systems.

There are pros and cons to different weaning ages. Size is usually more important than age when deciding when to wean. A good rule of thumb is at least 2.5 to 3 times birth weight.

While it is common to wean between 2 and 3 months of age, some producers never wean. They let the ewes/does wean their offspring naturally. Others wean the males, but not the females. Some lambs/kids are never weaned. They are sold off their dams.

Lambs/kids that are creep fed and finished in dry lot are usually weaned early (about 8 weeks, but less than 90 days). Milk production peaks between 3 and 4 weeks in the ewe. It is more efficient to feed grain to the lamb than the ewe. Early weaning eases the lactation stress of high-producing females. It allows females to return to breeding condition earlier, which is advisable for accelerated breeding programs. Culls can be sold sooner.

Lambs/kids that go to pasture with their dams are usually weaned later (more than 90 days). Late weaning is more natural and causes less stress to the lamb/kid and ewe/doe. There is less risk of the ewe/doe developing mastitis. An Ohio State study showed that lambs weaned late (120 days) were better able to cope with worm parasites than early-weaned lambs (60 days).

Artificially-reared lambs/kids are a special case for weaning. For various reasons, they should be weaned at younger ages than dam-raised lambs/kids. Pipestone Vet recommends 30 days. Six weeks is probably more common. There’s little reason to wean later than 8 weeks. To be able to wean orphan lambs/kids early, it is important that they be of sufficient size and be consuming enough dry feed and water.

According to the most recent NAHMS studies, the average weaning age is 15.6 and 14.4 weeks, respectively, for lambs and kids. On-average, producers in the West wean later than producers in the East. A lot of western lambs accompany their dams to the range for grazing, before being put into a feed lot for finishing; thus, the late weaning age for lambs. In farm flock areas, it’s more customary to wean early


05/08/2021

Additional reading
How can delayed weaning benefit your operation? - Ohio State University
Early weaning protocol - Alberta, Canada
Goat weaning management - eXtension