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Sheep producers hold spring tour

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 05/05/2011 9:04 AM

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BROWNSDALE, Minn. — It was lound inside John Weldon's lambing shed.

Ewe and lamb bleats provided the background sound as members of the Southeast Minnesota Sheep Producers Association gathered in the shed to discuss a variety of production issues during their spring tour.

Weldon started the discussion by pointing out a bolt snap hook. He started using the hooks this year to create lambing pens with hog panels and he was pleased with how they worked. He builds pens for each ewe and her lambs. The triplets stay in the pen environment until they are weaned, he said. If they are turned out, one tends to get lost, he said.

Singles and doubles are penned together after a few days. If the weather warms and grass greens, they will be turned out to pasture.

By April 16, Weldon had 18 sets of triplets. He has about 145 Polypay ewes.

All of Weldon's sheep are related. He raises his own rams. He tried buying registered rams, but didn't have any luck.

Weldon's ewes are hand fed a diet of cracked corn, salt, limestone and hay while indoors. The ewes with triplets receive three pounds of grain and the rest get two pounds. His sheep are fed between 10:30 a.m. and noon and that way 90 percent of his lambs are born between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., he said.

They talked about how to know if a lamb is getting enough to drink. Weldon said when a triplet is going to the water bucket he knows it's time to supplement with milk replacer.

He beds with corn stalks and said the ewes eat it like candy. He also gives them hay and what they don't eat is bedding.

Then he pulled a note from his jacket and began asking questions.

Dr. Cindy Wolf, a veterinarian with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, answered questions, with other sheep producers contributing what had worked on their farm.

Some topics:

• Composting mortalities. Use corn stover, manure or wood chips to cover the mortalities and try to turn the compost.

• Colostrum. Freeze it to keep it more than three days. Wolf recommended using a yogurt container with cover to freeze the milk. Another producer said he's had good luck freezing milk in six ounce freezer bags and putting them in a cooler with warm water to thaw before feeding. One suggested getting colostrum from dairy farms.

• Rectal prolapse. Some say coughing, short tail docking and genetics are contributing factors. One producer said he mixed sulfur in the water when he heard coughing and that helped reduce prolapses.

• Tail banding v. cutting tails off.

• Culling ewes.

• Hair sheep. Wolf was at a recent conference in Florida where hair sheep are common. Hair sheep handle heat and parasites better but have a less muscled carcass than wool sheep, she said. Many producers went to hair sheep because they had difficulty finding sheep shearers. Minnesota producers are fortunate to have the sheep industry infrastructure, Wolf said.