You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Sheep Update

Livestock Update, July 2000

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, Virginia Tech

Summer Lamb Management
Summer lamb management will vary from flock to flock, depending on forage availability, lamb age/weight, and marketing goals. For many late winter and spring-lambing flocks, a substantial portion of lamb gain comes from grass. These systems provide for cheap lamb gains as they graze the spring and summer months with the ewes. However, as hot weather sets in and forage production declines, lamb performance tends to stabilize. Increased parasite loads also contribute to the static performance of grazing lambs during the summer months, many times resulting in little or no weight gain for an extended period of time. This is most often the case during periods of little rainfall, or when stocking rates exceed forage supplies during the summer. In these instances, placing the lambs on feed is advantageous to the sheep enterprise by allowing for more effective use of forage resources by the ewe flock and enhancing the performance of the lamb crop. In recent years, lamb prices have remained relatively strong through the summer and early fall. Supplies are normally shorter in summer as compared to mid or late fall, thereby creating an opportunity to feed and market lambs during these months.

Lamb feeding need not be complicated nor expensive. Growing and finishing lambs on whole grain rations has advantages of promoting feed efficiency and rate of gain, decreases days on feed, and results in lower costs of gain. The principle behind whole grain diets is to utilize the grain as a "built in roughage factor." The preference of very young lambs for finely ground diets gradually switches to feeds with increased particle size as the lambs grow older, and by weaning they should be able to consume whole grains. The simplest and usually the most economical ration during this period will consist of whole corn (or barley) and a commercially available pelleted protein supplement. These protein supplements normally contain 36% to 40% crude protein, and are designed mixed with whole grain or barley for a complete ration. An added benefit to many of these supplements is that they may contain Bovatec, which aids in the prevention of coccidiosis and also promotes weight gain and feed efficiency. These diets can be readily mixed to create total rations ranging in protein from 11% to 16% (see table for requirements). Feeding grain in the whole form provides adequate "scratch factor" as a roughage source. To avoid excess feed costs, it is important not to overfeed protein. Regardless of the source, protein will be more expensive than energy. Altering the protein content of the ration to match the weight and performance level of the lambs will keep feed costs down and add to the profitability of the feeding program.

There are several factors to consider if diets for growing/finishing lambs are to put together from feedstuffs available on the farm, or purchased. First, maintain a proper calcium to phosphorus ratio of at least 2:1. Ratios below 2:1 may lead to problems with urinary calculi. Providing fresh, clean water is also critical. Ammonium chloride added at the rate of 10-15 lb. per ton, or .5% will also aid in the prevention of urinary calculi. Secondly, energy grains such as corn and barley are low in calcium and high in phosphorus. Therefore, limestone or another calcium source will need to be added to ensure adequate calcium intake and proper Ca to P ratio. Thirdly, intake of hay should be kept to a minimum. If some hay is offered, it should be lower quality and long stem. Feeding high quality hay is not economical, as it is an expensive source of energy and inefficient use of protein. The final ration should be formulated to contain approximately 78% TDN.

There are several key management considerations when placing lambs on feed after coming off pasture. To avoid digestive disturbance and enterotoxemia, lambs need to be adjusted to a grain ration gradually. Start by feeding the lambs .25 lb. of grain per day. This amount can be adjusted up slowly over a two week period based on how the lambs are cleaning up their grain. It is important that lambs be vaccinated for enterotoxemia properly during this period.

Table 1. Protein concentration (%) of rations for lambs of varying weights and performance levelsa

 Average Daily Gain                               
Lamb Wt..
a From Morrical in Proceedings 13th Annual Iowa Sheep Sym., 1991.

Summer Development of Replacement Ewe and Ram Lambs
Nutrition from birth to first lambing has an influence on the lifetime productivity of the ewe. Ewe lambs should be in production by the time they are 12 to 14 months of age, as ewes that lamb first as yearlings rather than two year-olds have higher lifetime production. Therefore, development of replacement ewe lambs over the summer months prior to breeding has an impact on the overall productivity of the flock. Ewe lambs should be targeted to reach 60% to 70% of their mature weight at breeding. Winter born ewe lambs generally have early rapid growth resulting from creep feeding and grain diets prior to forage being available. Winter born ewe lambs that will be kept for flock replacements should be prevented from becoming excessively fat. Excess fat deposition has been shown to reduce future milk production. Development of these winter-born ewe lambs is best accomplished through pasture grazing and additional grain supplementation as needed to enhance gains. Early and late spring born lambs traditionally are developed primarily through forage-based systems. Potential replacements should be identified and weaned so they may be properly grown and managed. These ewe lambs may need to receive supplemental corn or barley (.5-1.5 lb./head/day) to achieve daily gains needed to reach target body weight prior to breeding. The amount of supplement needed will vary with forage quality and availability, as well as anticipated breeding date. As forage quality and availability declines during the summer, supplemental grain feeding will become necessary if breeding dates are early. Shearing of replacement ewes in will enhance growth rates during the hot summer months. An effective deworming program is also crucial for optimum gains.

Growing and developing ram lambs can be fed similarly to market lambs in an accelerated program. Due to sex differences, ram lambs with high genetic potential for growth will not become excessively fat until reaching 130+ lbs. At this time, rams need to be limit fed to avoid excess fat deposition and also to condition them for the breeding season. Rations containing 12% to 15% crude protein should be utilized for growing and developing ram lambs. As with market lambs, their requirements for protein decline as they get heavier. See table for nutrient requirements.

Daily Nutrient Requirements of Replacement Ewe and Ram Lambsa

Wt. gain
or loss




Vit. A

Vit. D

Vit. E
Ewe Lambs66
Ram Lambs88
a Values adopted from National Research Council for Sheep, 6th Ed. b To convert dry matter to an as-fed basis, divide by percent dry matter.

New Information on Direct Payments to Producers
In July, 1999 President Clinton announced $100 million in assistance for the U.S. sheep industry as a result of the industry's successful Section 201 trade action. A portion of this assistance, $30 million, will be in direct payments to producers over a three year period ($10 million per year). In May, a tentative outline of this assistance was announced for Year 1, which runs from July 21, 1999, to September 30, 2000. Details of the program are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register for public comment and approval June 21. A broad overview of producer payments at this time are as follows:

  1. Payment of $100 per ram purchased from 7/21/99 to 9/30/00 meeting the following criteria:
    1. 90 days or older at the time of purchase.
    2. Intended and used for breeding purposes.
    3. Owned for 90 days, and continue to be held when payment is made.
  2. Payment of $.50 per head for sheep enrolled in a qualifying sheep improvement program such as the National Sheep Improvement Program. Maximum of $500 per operation.
  3. Payment of 20% of total cost of facility improvements (such as new and improved feedlots and lambing sheds) with the following criteria:
    1. Improvements made between 7/21/99 and 9/30/00.
    2. Improvements used in the operation for at least 3 years.
    3. Maximum of $2500 per operation.

The program will be administered through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Payments in Year 2 (August 1, 2000, to July 31, 2001) and Year 3 (August 1, 2001, to July 31, 2002) will be direct payments of $5 per head for slaughter lambs and $3 per head for feeder lambs meeting quality specifications. There will be a bonus payment $3 per head for slaughter lambs marketed from June 1 to July 31 of each year. As with Year 1, details of the program are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register for public comment and approval.

Assistance Announced for Depressed Wool Prices
Payments of approximately $11 million is expected to be available for U.S. wool producers as a result of low wool prices in 1999. These monies are part of the legislation included in the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, which includes $7.1 billion in emergency spending for commodities. In 1999, the average price of wool was just $.38 cents per pound nationally, the lowest price in history. Approximately one-third of the 1999 clip remains unsold due to depressed prices in the U.S. and internationally. Direct payments will be available after October 1, 2000, for the 1999 wool clip, with payments to occur during fiscal year 2001. Details on the implementation of the program will be released at a later date.

2000 Eastern Stud Ram Sale Results
The 59th Annual Eastern Stud Ram Show and Sale was held June 9-10 in Staunton. The show was held on Friday with over 400 sheep exhibited. Wilson Stock Farm of Rural Retreat, Va., exhibited the Champion Hampshire Ram and Reserve Champion Hampshire Ewe. Wade Brothers of Greenville, Va., exhibited the Champion Dorset Ewe. The Champion Southdown Ram was exhibited by Carrie Lynn Wolford of Wytheville, Va. Sponaugle Suffolks of Grottoes, Va., consigned the Champion Suffolk Ewe. The sale on Saturday had a $306 average on 352 total sheep sold. Sale results, including price and number sold for each breed were as follows:
Breeding Sheep
Rams Ewes
Hampshire $284 (17) $439 (37)
Polled Dorset $318 (40) $294 (70)
Southdown $177 (11) $273 (30)
Suffolk $324 (25) $305 (37)
Wether Sires & Dams $368 (22) $300 (42)
Total $310 (115) $319 (216)
Club Lambs $156 (21)

Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension