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More lambs, less stress

By Staff | Feb 14, 2015

A EWE WITH HER LAMB recover in the new ventilated birthing barn, adjacent to Laughton’s bonding pen facilities. It includes split pens for the ewes with separate pens allowing ewes and lambs to be moved easily between the barn areas.

LE MARS – Dave Laughton, a 30-year sheep producer, said he welcomes the end of long nights constantly scurrying out on cold winter mornings to aid his flock of ewes while they are lambing.

His 10 lambing barns not only eased his management responsibilities, but meant more lambs. It’s also the reason approximately 50 fellow producers could be found Feb. 9, at his farm north of Le Mars.

Some 48 ewes bleated out their welcome as attendees at the lambing workshop, hosted by Laughton and Iowa State University Extension, filed into a 50-by-80-foot barn filled with bonding pens of newly born lambs before proceeding into his most recently completed facility – a large indoor lamb birthing area.

The facility is in sharp contrast, Laughton said, to the first of the barns in his operation.

“What I’ve tried to do here is provide the most comfortable conditions possible for the lambs and their mothers,” he said. “This has included ventilation, approaching 37 to 40 degrees, maybe not as warm as you and I would enjoy, but comfortable for the sheep.

DAVE LAUGHTON said he sees his new lambing facilities are contributing to improved lambing success as well as an ease in production management at his farm near Le Mars.

“The split pens with individual alleys provide for easy movement of the lambs and mothers when it’s time for them to move into the bonding pens.”

Laughton said one of his goals is ewe longevity, especially those with good hooves and are attentive to their lambs.

Laughton’s flock consists of 800 ewes, dropping an average of 2.5 lambs for a 250 percent average.

The. Iowa average is 150 percent. He said averages such as these are important to the sheep producer when looking at marketing to Superior Farms in Denver.

A Hubbard-area producer, Jon Faust, said he had been eager to see Laughton’s lambing facilities and his trip from central Iowa was well worth the visit.

DR. DAN MORRICAL, right, a sheep specialist with ISU Extension, visits with producer attendees as they arrive for a Feb. 9 lambing facilities workshop in rural Le Mars. The event included a tour of facility innovations on the Dave Laughton farm.

“I’m just starting back into the business not having been a producer for a number of years,” he said. “I enjoy sheep and feel there’s profitability in a sheep operation.

“What’s more I like the personality of sheep. They’re an easy animal to handle, adding to the enjoyment of having.”

Faust said he’s restarting his livestock career on a small scale with 25 ewes with plans calling for an increase in herd size.

Successful techniques

Dr. Dan Morrical, an ISU’s sheep specialist, discussed successful lambing.

“I like the personality of sheep. They’re an easy animal to handle adding to the enjoyment of having them.” —Jon Faust Hubbard-area farmer

“If I’m right I would expect Dave’s new facilities have probably lambed 150 in the last four or so days,” Morrical said. “He’s done the right things with his new facilities.

“Many of us lamb in cold weather and talk about ways to improve lamb survival, to prevent hypothermal lambs and the management of ewes ahead of time so they’re in good shape.”

Avoiding burnout is another tool for success.

Morrical said this is one of the overriding factors in the trend towards blitz lambing.

As producers get lambing done within a few days, they should take a couple days off when it’s done.

A large number of producers in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota are already taking this approach in their sheep production, he said, comparing it to the established and organized farrowing programs of today’s pork producers.

“Some sheep producers in the Pipestone, Minnesota area,” he added, “have also incorporated contract agreements so as to get the same price for all lambs marketed no matter when the lambs are born.

Morical said blitz lambing has been practiced for the past three to five years. It’s “basically a non-stop, 24 hours a day,” strategically pulling the rams out when ewes stop lambing.

The producer then takes two to four weeks off to get his facilities ready to move sheep and prepare for another batch of lambs. “This then allows for a concentration of producer labor and a rest.

“Other program benefits are making it possible to have a tight group of ewes all in the same stage of production, nutrition going exactly where it needs to be with overall improved management,” Morical said.

Lambing in facilities like Laughton’s, he said, “means a producer’s not out there breaking his rump in the snow in the winter.”

Morrical said Iowa’s current sheep industry in general is in the uptick position as the result of good prices and lower feed costs.

He said producers of all levels of experience are eying sheep as less capital intensive than cattle.

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