The connection between a shepherd and her sheep
Observing a mother and her new born is a heavenly site. We respond based purely on emotions, whether we've actually "mothered" or not. At the moment you lay your eyes on this site all the world around is a blur and all that matters is the true love that halos around them. It is such a pure connection that under no circumstances one should want to come between them, right?
A lot of the methods used in sheep farming are about "management" of the flock. The larger the number your trying to manage the harder it is to keep "order". Orderliness becomes a goal for efficiency. Efficiency adds to profits. Follow me? This is a slippery slope.
Weaning is one of those "management" tools. According to reference books, lambs should be removed from their mothers at 8-10 weeks old. The reasons are mainly that the needs of the lambs for maximum market potential are different then the mamma's. Growth of the lambs requires richer, higher protein grasses or grains which the mamma's don't need. The only way to accomplish such a task is to separate them. The other argument we found (didn't read it in a reference book) to support weaning is the mothers will give and give until they are basically spent. We find the heat of the summer, coupled with the very selfless nature of mom's takes everything out of them and begins to compromise their own health.
For these reasons one might wean.
Wean:accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.
Now that I've given you a bit of knowledge about weaning I'd like to share our journey with this decision.
We began this farm knowing we would make choices about the care of our animals based on our experiences, not just because everyone said so. Many topics of care and handling were researched and we found enough disparaging information that we felt strongly our decision to observe first was a worthy one.
Many of our farming practices were established by observing, educating ourselves, then we'd established our way. Weaning the lambs was one really challenging task. Now 8 years later, after going back and forth, this year, we're not weaning again. The first three years we didn't wean. I wish I could tell you why we decided to wean the 4th year but I'm betting we succumb to the "text" book ways. Most other shepherds around us weaned which made us question our decision even more. Our farm was growing and as often happens after you've immersed yourself in something you loose some of your "curiosity" or better yet, the luxury of time to remember to be curious and ask questions.
So, we spent a few years weaning. It is a very difficult task, not physically challenging, just heartbreaking really. They cry and baa for easily 48 hours. The mothers also. Eventually they all settle in but gosh it never felt right. As often I'm guided on this farm, if it goes against nature my heart cannot find peace with it...this is one of those lessons.
With most industrial farming models, maximum growth of the lambs became the shepherds primary goal in order to get those lambs to market fast and efficiently. Is fast and efficient our ultimate goal. Those that know this farm know our answer to this question is NO. We strongly believe you sacrifice so much in order to achieve those fast/efficient goals. It is this very reason that so many breeds of livestock are in danger of being lost for good...they don't meet these industrial models!
In summary, we've have some of the best looking, healthiest lambs ever, happily growing on mothers milk...there must have been some divine wisdom in that!