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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Late Fall Sheep Management Tips

Livestock Update, November 2008

Scott P. Greiner, Ph.D., Extension Animal Scientist, VA Tech

Breeding to 6 Weeks Before Lambing

  1. Mature ewes in average to good body condition should be fed to maintain or slightly increase their bodyweight during the first 3.5 months of gestation.  This is the time to take advantage of poor quality pasture or crop residue.  If this period occurs during the winter, hay will normally supply the necessary nutrients, with no supplemental grain required.
  2. Thin ewes should be fed separately and supplemented with 1 to 1.5 lbs of grain per day to gain 10 to 15 lbs by 6 weeks before lambing.
  3. Pregnant ewe lambs should be fed separately from mature ewes.  They should gain approximately 25 lbs from breeding to 6 weeks before lambing.  Attempts to cause large weight gains in ewe lambs during late gestation may lead to lambing problems.
  4. If pregnant ewes are to be brought into the flock, keep these ewes separate from the main flock through lambing when feasible.  This will diminish the risk of introducing abortion and other diseases into the main flock.  Consult with your veterinarian regarding health management protocols for these newly received ewes.
  5. Shear ewes if facilities are available to shelter ewes appropriately during winter months.

6 Weeks Before Lambing

  1. Start feeding 0.5 lb of grain per head daily as a preventative for pregnancy disease.  Grain may be in the form of whole shelled corn or barley.  Even if ewes are on good quality pasture, they still require the extra grain.  During the winter or when on poor quality pasture, feed approximately 4 lbs of hay in addition to grain.
  2. Supplementation of tetracycline pre-lambing has been shown to reduce the incidence of abortions.  Consult with your veterinarian on a flock health management protocol.
  3. Make sure there is plenty of feed trough space so that ewes do not crowd each other at feeding time.
  4. Check and avoid ditches, sills, narrow gates, or any other objects that would cause ewes to jump, crowd, squeeze, or climb before lambing.

4 Weeks Before Lambing

  1. Shear the wool from around the head, udder and dock of pregnant ewes.  If covered facilities are available, shear the ewes completely.  Sheared ewes are more apt to lamb inside, facilities stay drier because less moisture is carried in by the ewes, sheared ewes require less space, and environment is cleaner for newborn lambs and the shepherd.  Sheared ewes must have access to a barn during cold, freezing rains, and they must receive additional feed during periods of extremely cold temperatures.
  2. Vaccinate ewes for overeating disease and tetanus.  These vaccines provide passive immunity to baby lambs through the ewes’ colostrum until they can be vaccinated at 4 to 6 weeks of age.
  3. Check and separate all ewes that are developing udders or showing signs of lambing.  Check and remove heavy ewes once a week during the lambing season.  Increase the grain on all ewes showing signs of lambing to 1 lb daily, and feed all the good quality grass/legume hay they will clean up.
  4. Observe ewes closely.  Ewes that are sluggish or hang back at feeding may be showing early signs of pregnancy disease.  If so, these ewes should be drenched with 2 ounces of propylene glycol 3 to 4 times daily.
  5. Shelter ewes from bad weather.
  6. Get lambing pens and lambing equipment ready.  There should be one lambing pen for every ten ewes expected to lamb.
  7. Stock lambing supplies such as iodine, antibiotics, frozen colostrum, stomach tube, injectable selenium and Vitamin E, OB lube, lamb puller, ear tags, etc.


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