production in Uruguay must be considered in the context of mixed
livestock production systems since there are virtually no farms engaged
exclusively in the production of sheep. Most of the livestock farms are
mixed, running both beef cattle and sheep. There are approximately
20.000 farms with sheep, but in most of them the income from sheep is
only a minor proportion of total income. Those more dependant on sheep
meat and wool income are, in general, of smaller sizes and located on
less-fertile soils where more profitable activities are not possible.
sheep flocks are self replacing, with breeding ewes and replacements
being the most important categories. The declining proportion of wethers
(mainly of fine-wool producing breeds) is now close to 10% of the
overall sheep population. Autumn mating and spring lambing is the most
common practice in order to match sheep requirements with pasture
Typical commercial sheep production systems are low-input enterprises
and are based on the direct utilization of native pastures. Therefore,
wool production and reproductive rates are closely dependent of weather
conditions throughout the year. In general, on a national level,
nutrition is the main factor limiting increases in production per head
and stocking rates. The average percentage of lambs weaned per ewe
joined varies between 70% and 85% with significant variation between
years due to changing climatic conditions. However, many farmers who
have adopted good management practices, consistently wean above 100%.
has been the main product of these production systems but in recent
years -due to higher meat prices- the importance of sheep meat (mainly
lambs) has increased. Fat lambs are finished on improved pastures for
slaughter with carcass weights between 17-20 kg and 6-11 months of age.
For the moment these lambs are produced from the existing dual-purpose
systems and basically there is no specialization of farms to particular
production such as fat lambs, or the production of cross-bred ewes, to
be used in cross-breeding systems for the production of meat.