Lamb production with fermented forage

In late fall of 2018, Bio Minerals Technologies began a gestational experiment using sheep and fermented forage with fermented juniper as a supplement.

The objective of the experiment is to see what effect fermented juniper has on lamb development and growth, looking for a shorter time to market weight.

We purchased 15 range sheep, 14 unbred first-year ewes and one 2-year old ram. The sheep and ram were all together for about 45 days, giving him ample time to breed the ewes. The sheep were bred later in the year because we wanted the weather to be more moderate when the lambs were born (targeting May for births). After breeding, the ewes were divided into two groups, each group identified by the color of their ear tags (Y=yellow, B=blue).

The base forage for both groups of sheep was fermented grasses and fermented alfalfa. We had to balance the two and watch carefully because the alfalfa alone was too rich for their digestive system. Group B also received regular rations of ground and fermented juniper sprinkled on their forage.

The first two lambs were born on May 13, 2019, one male and one female. Both lambs were singles (one lamb per ewe). The female lamb weighed 14.1 lbs and the male lamb weighed 14.3 lbs. The final lamb was born on May 31, 2019 and weighed 12.7 lbs. All told, there were 9 lambs born, all singles, 7 female (one still born) and 2 males (both in group Y).

The details of the surviving lambs are shown in the table below:

Tag# Birthdate Birth Weight Sale Date Sale weight
Females   lbs   lbs
Y1-1 5/21/2019 13.8 8/23/2019 77.0
Y5-1 5/24/2019 12.3 8/23/2019 66.7
Y6-1 5/25/2019 15.6 8/23/2019 67.6
B4-1 5/13/2019 14.1 8/23/2019 78.0
B6-1 5/25/2019 14.1 8/23/2019 70.0
B5-1 5/31/2019 12/7 8/23/2019 52.5
Y4-1 5/13/2019 14.3 8/23/2019 82.0
Y3-1 5/20/2019 14.3 8/23/2019 81.0

The lambs were all significantly heavier than normal, though only one ewe required outside assistance. The average birth weight in group Y was 14.06 lbs. The average birth weight in group B was 13.6 lbs.

In group Y, which only received fermented forage, there was one still-born lamb (data excluded from the table above) and one ewe which either did not conceive or did not maintain her pregnancy.

In group B, there were only three lambs born. The other four ewes either did not conceive or did not maintain their pregnancy. The current theory is perhaps the juniper supplement interfered with the pregnancies in group B.

Once all the lambs were born, we combined the sheep all together again and removed the juniper supplement. The remaining diet was all fermented forage (grass and alfalfa). The sheep and the lambs were all healthy and content.

The female lambs were all sold in mid-August with weights ranging from 52 lbs on the youngest (10 weeks) to 78 lbs on the oldest (13 weeks).

One male lamb went to a co-worker who fed it until October 1st and then took it to slaughter at about 110 lbs. That was only 4 ½ months from birth to slaughter. It was a few pounds on the light side, but still much younger than the standard 6 ½ - 7 months generally required. The other male lamb went into the pen with the ram to keep him company.

The experiment continues. We have continued to feed the sheep fermented forage, though we have not continued the juniper. Once they start to lamb, we will separate them again and supplement one of the groups with the juniper to determine if it has any difference on the growth rates of the lambs.

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