What can you gain from an early weaning program? - Elders Rural Services
golden fleece sheep lambs

What can you gain from an early weaning program?

Early weaning is a management practice that can help improve the health and productivity of calves and lambs. There is a common misconception that early weaning is only beneficial when feed is scarce (during a drought) or when producers are joining more than once per year and ewes need to regain condition quicker. Whilst this may be true, early weaning can be of benefit for any lambing program and with any amount of feed availability. ‘Weaning’ age is variable, often based on the tail of lambs that are the result of a prolonged joining period. Weaners require adequate nutrition to meet their needs in this critical growth period and so aiming to wean at their heaviest weight possible is best practice.

Some important factors to support an early weaning program are outlined below:

Significant savings on feed costs
By removing the demand to produce milk (weaning the lamb), the energy required for a 50kg ewe with twins declines from 15.8ME to 8.3ME. This is a 7.5ME difference.
This is a potential saving of 650g of barley/HD/day.

Increase lamb survivability
Small increases in weaning weight make a profound difference to weaner survival. For example, a 14kg weaner has a 34 per cent lower mortality risk than a 12kg weaner, whereas a 20kg weaner has a 22 per cent lower mortality risk than an 18kg weaner.

  1. Lambs that have gained, on average, 75g per day from weaning to joining will be have significantly higher survivability rate and productivity statistics.

Ewes can regain condition faster ready for next joining
Ewes will usually take approximately a month and a half to regain one condition score on pastures with a FOO of 1500kg per hectare. Until the lambs are weaned, ewes will continue to lose weight on this level of feed.

Don’t forget it takes 3 times the amount of feed for a sheep to gain weight compared to what it would take to simply maintain.

Set up your weaners for a productive life
The development window for rumen production closes at 16 weeks of age. A well-executed early weaning program, including protein, functional fiber and starch, will significantly impact the lining development of the rumen. This means your weaners will be more effective at absorbing nutrients for the rest of their lives.

  1. Better nutrient absorption means more weight, more wool and greater productivity.

Advanced early weaning programs involve understanding, preparation and care and can increase margins considerably without a great deal of work or capital outlay.

For more information about weight management for lambs and calves, contact your local Elders Livestock Production Advisor. Elders’ Spring Catalogue is now live offering savings on key animal health products, including weight management tools, supplements and troughs. Click here to view the catalogue and contact your local branch for further information.


The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your specific circumstances.  Before undertaking any livestock management activities, you should contact your local Elders livestock production advisor.