Culling Strategies for the Sheep Flock

Culling unproductive ewes every year reduces carrying costs for the flock. Regardless of market conditions, unproductive ewes should be removed from the flock to save valuable feed for higher producing ewes. You can generally afford to carry a ewe that produces. When lamb prices are depressed, the need to keep only the productive ewes is even more apparent.

Traditional Culling

Make sure that you use a management system that identifies unproductive ewes: those that did not lamb, had difficulty lambing, raised weak or small lambs, or have health issues. As well, use your Sheep Flock Improvement Program (SFIP) records to help you rank ewes and lambs for genetic potential. You may identify some ewes as unproductive through this process.

Marketing Cull Ewes

Currently there is a relatively strong market for sheep culled for production issues. If the price of cull ewes decreases significantly, then you should compare the cost of marketing a ewe against the cost of euthanizing and burying or composting it. Marketing costs (trucking, checkoff, and commission) vary depending on where you live in the province. As long as sheep prices remain above marketing costs, it makes sense to sell these ewes. If the price drops below marketing costs, then burying or composting may be a preferred option. Check the OMAF factsheets "On-farm Composting of Livestock and Poultry Mortalities" and "Proper Burial Techniques for Small Animals and Poultry Mortalities under 25 kg" for details about on-farm disposal options.

Extraordinary Culling

What about the productive females in the flock? Should you cull any of them as well? At present, cull ewe prices are strong relative to ewe lamb prices, so this may be a good time to cull a little harder and keep more replacement ewe lambs.

If a ewe has a higher market value than the replacement ewe lamb, then keeping the lamb may make more economical sense, provided genetic parameters are considered. If the ewe lambs are from a maternal line, the lambs could be kept as replacements. However, if the lambs are from a terminal line, keeping the ewe lambs would probably result in lower reproductive efficiency.

There is no proven way to predict future markets to know whether selling cull ewes now would make more financial sense than selling later. If you think the market for cull ewes will decline, you may want to explore alternative marketing options for productive ewes. For example, small producers may be looking for good quality breeding stock.

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