Lambs: Weaning, Scrapie tags, and worming

This past weekend I headed out to the ranch to help wean lambs. Weaning just means that they have become old enough and/or weigh enough to be able to flourish on their own, so they are separated from their mothers. For lambs, our rule of thumb is 60 days or 60 pounds, meaning they must be at least 60 days old to be weaned or weigh at least 60 pounds.

The ewes (the mamas) can start getting thin at this stage because these bigger lambs are still nursing and the ewes have a hard time maintaining their body weight and condition with these big lambs nursing them. The lambs at this age and stage are also eating hay and can graze, so it is time for them to be weaned. Plus, in a few short weeks excited 4-H members will come and select the lambs they will raise and show this year.

We sorted the lambs into two pens, one pen held lambs that met the 60/60 requirements and the other pen held the lambs that still need more time. Twenty-nine lambs were sorted into our wean pen and everyone else was let out to go eat their morning hay.

Luckily we started early enough in the morning the ground was still frozen and we could get the horse trailer backed up to the shed. We have gotten so much moisture in the last month that there is mud that is at least ankle deep. Once the horse trailer was in place we let the lambs out of their pen and they ran right to the trailer and loaded (yay for this going so well).

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Kelsey helping make sure the lambs stay put

Now since we had them in a confined space (i.e. the horse trailer) we wormed them (they can get internal parasites from drinking out of running water sources, worming helps keep them healthy) and they got their Scrapie tags. Scrapie (pronounced scrape – e) is a fatal, degenerative disease of the central nervous system of sheep and goats, of which there is no cure. Other animal species can get a form of this prion misfolding disease too. In cattle it is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “Mad Cow Disease”), in people it is variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has a national scrapie eradication program, and each state department of agriculture has a premise identification program. In the premises ID program, each animal rancher/farmer verifies what their address is and what species they raise. Before sheep (or goats) can leave where they were born they must be tagged with one of these tags, if there ever was a Scrapie outbreak, the animal could be traced back to its home ranch/farm. Fun fact – it is illegal to remove the Scrapie tag before an animal is harvested. That tag must remain in the animal’s ear for its entire life.

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Scrapie tags

Once each lamb had been wormed and tagged with the Scrapie tag, the lambs were taken to their new home. A pen near where they had always been. They will stay in this pen until they go to a new home with the 4-H members, until any replacement ewes are big and mature enough to rejoin the flock, or they are harvested for meat. In this pen they have access to alfalfa hay, grain, and fresh clean water, as well as two sheds.

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The weaned lambs settling into their new home

It usually takes a couple of days for the lambs and ewes to recover from weaning. The lambs learn how to eat hay and grain out of feeders and the ewes have a chance to start putting some weight back on that they may have lost while nursing. If the ewes get too thin they have a hard time cycling and breeding again.

Weaning lambs is a lot of work that requires all of us to get it done. But it is also rewarding because you can really see how well the lambs are doing and have pride in knowing that under your care they will reach their full potential.

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The lamb weaning and working crew

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Champions… Throwback Thursday

I was fortunate enough to raise two Nevada State Fair Champion steers (“Red” and “Sisco”) as a 4-H member. The Nevada State Fair always made mugs with the name of the youth that raised the Champion animals and the buyer of the animal. My parents still have and use their mugs!

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Show Ring Days…Throwback Thursday

I was a 10 year 4-H member as a kid. If you are not familiar with 4-H I encourage you to check it out – it is a program for youth (ages vary across the country from 8-18 or 9-19). While there are livestock projects, there is also robotics, rocketry, sewing and fashion review, interior designs, fisheries and wildlife, and so much more!

Today my throwback Thursday are a couple shots in the show ring my last year in 4-H (1997). My sister and I worked hard with our homegrown animals and as a result we often did well.

This show was in Bishop, California and we had to wear the official 4-H uniform: dark jeans and boots, long sleeve white shirt, green tie, and a 4-H hat.

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My steer “Lu” short for Lucifer (yes, he was quite the handful) was a class winner. My sister and her steer were right behind us in the second place spot.
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In another class, my sister was the class winner with her steer, and I was in the second spot with “Sisco”, who went on to become the Nevada State Fair Champion later that summer!

What are your favorite 4-H memories? If you don’t yet have any, it is never to late to get involved – as a kid or adult!

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Stepping on the scale and ear piercing time!

In Nebraska it is the time of year when 4-H and FFA market beef animals are officially weighed and tagged.

In case you need a refresher, 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development and empowerment organization that reaches more than 7 million youth. In Nebraska, youth need to be 8 to 18 years of age to be in 4-H, and one in every three age eligible youth are members of 4-H! The Future Farmers of America (FFA) is also a youth organization, but for high school youth only. This organization helps in the development of leadership, personal growth, and career success. Both are excellent youth development organizations you should check out if you are not yet familiar with them.

As I was saying, market beef (market beef can be steers (males) and/or heifers (females)) weigh-in and tagging days are occurring across the state. It is important to have an “official” record of all animals (and all projects for that matter) that these youth want to exhibit at a fair or other exhibition. Since beef are the largest animal and will need the most time to grow, they are weighed and tagged earlier than the other animals youth can take (i.e. pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, poultry).

Each beef animal receives an official ear tag. An ear tag is a flexible piece of plastic that is put in the ear as a means to identify the animal, very similar to an earring for a person. This ear tag cannot be removed (unless cut) and it is unique to the animal, meaning no other animal will have the same number. The animal will keep this tag until it is harvested for meat, or returned to a breeding herd (applies to females, aka heifers, only). Sometimes a tag can fall out or get ripped out of the ear, but for the most part the animal never looses it. (Disclaimer: I am not promoting a brand, I just wanted to show you how a beef animal is tagged.)

Other means of identification are a nose print, yes you read that right, a nose print. Just like no two people will have the same fingerprints, no no two cattle will have the same nose print. Since a nose print never changes this can be a great way to ensure the same animal that was weighed and tagged in January is being shown in July or September.

We can also pull a few hairs and follicles from the tail switch to get DNA on an animal. Like the nose print, the DNA will never change and it is a great way to also ensure that the same animal entered is the same one shown many months later. Additionally, many of the larger livestock shows require that a hair sample has been pulled on all animals entered.

Once the animal has been tagged, or identified, it is weighed. This will be the beginning weight. Today I was the official “scale master” and weighed all of the animals; the majority weighed between 500 and 800 pounds. It is important for youth to know how much their animal weighs now so they can determine how much they want their animal to weigh at fair. For example, if a steer weighed 600 pounds today (January 4) and the youth wants it to weigh 1250 on July 28; that is 205 days, and it needs to gain 650 pounds. So the youth will need to set a goal for it to gain at least 3.2 pounds a day. That goal is very obtainable. It also teaches youth management of their animal and the animal’s diet, record keeping, and goal setting.

So despite the cold temperatures, Extension folks across Nebraska and many other states are weighing and tagging beef animals in preparation for livestock shows that won’t happen for many months to come. It is all in a day’s work!

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Market beef animals waiting for their turn – many thanks to all of the volunteers and parents that helped today!

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This steer is sporting an official ear tag and is getting an official weight!

What did you do today?