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Sheep Update

Livestock Update, February 2001

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, Virginia Tech

John Sponaugle Named Roy A. Meek Outstanding Sheep Producer

John Sponaugle of Grottoes, VA was named the recipient of the Roy A. Meek Outstanding Sheep Producer Award presented January 5, 2001 at the Virginia/North Carolina Shepherd's Symposium held in Harrisonburg, VA. This award is presented annually by the Virginia Sheep Producers Association to recognize an outstanding sheep producer in the state.

Together with his wife Pam and daughters Sarah and Laura, the Sponaugle's operate a diversified farming operation that includes turkeys, beef cattle and sheep in eastern Rockingham County. Currently, the sheep enterprise consists of a flock of 100 purebred Suffolk ewes, along with a small flock of registered Cheviots. The Suffolk flock was started in the 1970's, with genetics secured from the famed Luxford flock in Virginia. Flock selection goals have centered on the production of elite seedstock and commercial rams. The flock was one of the first in the nation to offer genetics free of the spider gene, and is currently enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program. Seedstock is merchandised annually through the Virginia Performance Ram Test, as well as several national shows and sales. The Sponaugles celebrated the 10th anniversary of their production sale this past October, in which they offer some of their top young ewes on an annual basis.

Sponaugle has been very active in sheep activities and organizations in the state of Virginia as well as nationally. John was instrumental in the formation of the Virginia Sheep Producer's Association, which was a merger of several Virginia sheep organizations to serve as one voice for the sheep industry in the state. Sponaugle currently serves as Chairman of the VSPA Seedstock Council. As Chairman of the Seedstock Council, Sponaugle has provided leadership for state activities including the Ram Lamb Performance Test, Eastern Stud Ram Show and Sale, and Bred Ewe Sale. Sponaugle also represents the seedstock industry on the VSPA board. As a board member, John was active in the decision-making process that brought about recent changes in the membership structure and board composition of VSPA to more equitably represent sheep producers and their interests in the state. Sponaugle is also serving as a member of the Virginia Sheep Industry Board as they make decisions in disseminating checkoff dollars for predator control efforts, research, and education. Sponaugle also serves as a member of the Virginia Scrapie Certification Board.

The Sponaugle family also recognizes the importance of youth sheep programs, and John has provided a great deal of leadership and hard work to create opportunities for young people. He was active in the formation of the Virginia Junior Purebred Sheep Breeder's, that hosts an annual junior show for the state. With two daughters actively showing sheep and participating in youth sheep activities, many family functions and social activities involve the sheep.

John has also held several key leadership positions at the national level. He is past president of the National Suffolk Sheep Association, and served as Eastern region representative to the board of directors. Sponaugle has also been Virginia's delegate to the American Sheep Industry Association annual meetings.

VSPA is proud to honor John Sponaugle with the Outstanding Sheep Producer Award. John has been a very dedicated leader, and contributed a great deal of time and effort for the betterment of the sheep industry and its young people in the state of Virginia.

Virginia Commercial Ewe Lamb Development Program Results

The 1st Virginia Commercial Ewe Lamb Development Program concluded with a highly successful sale at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds in Harrisonburg, VA on January 6, 2001. The goal of the commercial ewe lamb development and marketing program was to provide a source of quality replacement ewes with documented health, management, and genetics for Virginia commercial flocks. The program was initiated in September when crossbred ewe lambs were delivered to the Virginia Sheep Evaluation Station located at the Virginia Tech Shenandoah Valley Agriculture Research and Extension Center located near Steeles Tavern. Ewe lambs were developed on grass with supplemental grain mix provided to optimize growth and reproductive performance during the development program and breeding season. The ewes were mated to either Suffolk or Dorset ram lambs, which were selected from the 2000 Virginia Performance Ram Lamb Test. After a 60-day breeding season, pregnancy diagnosis was conducted via ultrasound. Of the 95 ewe lambs exposed, 88 were confirmed pregnant. These bred ewe lambs were sold in consignor groups based on based on breed, service sire, and approximate lambing date (ranging from late February to April). Sale results for the 88 bred ewe lambs and three performance tested rams used as service sires were as follows:

  Sale Gross Sale Average
88 Bred Commercial Ewe Lambs $17,010 $193
3 Performance Tested Rams $800 $267

Ewe prices ranged from $170 to $220 per head. Rules and regulations, as well as consignment and entry information for the program in 200l will be available late spring. The program is sponsored by the Virginia Sheep Producers Association. For more information, contact Scott Greiner at (540) 231-9159.

Saving Orphan Lambs
Orphans lambs may result a variety of complications including: abandonment, rejection, or death of the ewe. Options to consider are grafting the lambs on another ewe, artificial rearing with milk replacer, or selling the lambs if an outlet is available.

There are many methods used to graft orphan lambs to other ewes. The largest, most aggressive lamb is usually the best candidate. Grafting works best when the lambs to be grafted are similar in age to the ewe's own lamb. Grafting a triplet lamb to a ewe with a single is the usual case. The grafting process should be initiated as soon after birth as possible. The longer the ewe and her lambs are together, the stronger the bond to each other becomes. Older lambs are difficult to graft not only due to rejection by the adopting ewe, but also rejection of the ewe by the orphan lamb. In all cases, colostrum intake by the orphan lamb is critical in the first 24 hr.

To get ewes to accept orphan lambs, the ewe must think the lamb is her own. Considerable variation exists between ewes in their willingness to adopt lambs- some ewes are easier to fool than others. If grafting to a ewe that has just given birth to her own lamb, rub the orphan lamb in the birthing fluids and afterbirth to give the orphan lamb the smell of her own lamb. For ewes that lose their lambs, the skin of the dead lamb can be tied to the lamb to be grafted. Another method involves a stocking that is worn by the adoptive ewe's own lamb for a day or two, and then placed on the orphan lamb. In all cases, place the ewe's head in a stanchion so she can eat and drink but not turn to smell and fight the lambs. This forces the ewe to allow the orphan lamb to nurse. The length of time required for successful grafting varies. Over a period of 3-7 days, most ewes will accept the new lamb. Ewes with grafted lambs should be monitored closely once turned out.

Orphan lambs may also be raised artificially on milk replacer. Again, lambs require colostrum the first 24 hr. after birth and then may be placed on milk replacer. The best candidate for artificial rearing in a multiple birth situation is the smallest, weakest lamb. The sooner the lamb is taken off the ewe, the easier they are to train to the bottle. Frequently, several feedings are required to train the lamb to the bottle. Starting with a hungry lamb (5-6 hr. since last feeding) will assist in training. It may be necessary to tube feed the lamb initially. Lambs will consume around 20% of their body weight in milk per day. This amount should be divided according to how many times the lamb will be fed per day. One to two day old lambs should be fed a minimum of 4 times/day, while older lambs can be fed only twice. Once acclimated to the bottle, time and labor are saved if the lambs are fed cold milk in a bucket feeder. It is important to thoroughly clean the bucket at least twice daily and keep the milk fresh to avoid spoilage. When on the self-feeding bucket, group lambs by age and size to avoid competition. A warm, dry pen is important for health of artificially reared lambs. Another important aspect of bottle feeding is to get the lambs started on dry feed and water as soon as possible. Have fresh creep feed (20% protein) available to these lambs at 1 week of age. Artificially reared lambs can be weaned as early as 3 weeks of age (minimum weight of 20 pounds). Research at Virginia Tech has indicated lambs can be artificially reared for around $25 per head. For more information on this subject, refer to Virginia Cooperative Extension publication #410-023, Profitable Artificial Rearing of Lambs.

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