Lambing refers to giving birth to lambs, which are young sheep. It is a significant event in sheep husbandry and is typically closely monitored by farmers or shepherds to ensure the well-being of the ewe (the female sheep) and her newborn lambs.
Lambing usually occurs in spring when the weather is favorable, and ample food is available for the ewes to produce enough milk to nurse their offspring.
The lambing process can be a challenging and critical time for farmers, as they may need to provide assistance or medical care to the ewe or lambs if any complications arise during the birthing process.
Proper care and management during lambing are essential for the health and survival of newborn lambs, and the overall success of the sheep farming operation.
What Special Care Do Ewes Require Before Lambing?
As the season turns and the frost melts away, the arrival of spring brings with it the joyous anticipation of new life on the farm. For those who tend to a flock of ewes, it’s a time of careful preparation and special care as the ewes prepare to lamb.
These gentle and nurturing creatures require diligent attention in the weeks leading up to lambing to ensure a successful birthing process and healthy lambs. Let’s look at the special care ewes require before lambing.
First, proper nutrition is essential for the expectant ewe. During pregnancy, ewes have increased nutritional requirements to support the growth and development of their lambs. A well-balanced diet that includes ample protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins is crucial to ensure the ewe’s health and the vitality of her offspring.
High-quality forage, such as hay or pasture, supplemented with grain or concentrate feed, can provide the necessary nutrients. Regularly monitoring the ewe’s body condition score is critical to gauge if she is receiving adequate nutrition and to make adjustments if needed.
Regular health checks are also crucial during the pre-lambing period. Ewes should be closely observed for signs of illness or discomfort, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or lameness.
Any abnormalities should be promptly addressed by a veterinarian to prevent complications during lambing. Vaccinations and deworming should be up-to-date to protect the ewe and her lambs from common diseases.
As the ewe’s due date approaches, providing her with a clean and comfortable lambing environment is essential. A clean and well-bedded pen, sheltered from harsh weather conditions, is ideal for lambing.
This helps prevent stress and exposure to adverse environmental factors weakening the ewe and her lambs. Adequate space for the ewe to move around and nest and proper ventilation to prevent respiratory issues should be ensured.
Observation and monitoring are key during the lambing process. Ewes should be closely watched for signs of labor, such as restlessness, pawing the ground, or frequently lying down and getting up.
Once labor begins, the ewe should be allowed to progress naturally without undue interference. However, immediate veterinary assistance should be sought if complications arise, such as a lamb in a difficult position or prolonged labor.
After the lamb is born, special care continues. The ewe should be given the opportunity to bond with her lamb through sniffing, licking, and nursing. This strengthens the maternal bond and promotes the lamb’s ability to stand, nurse, and thrive.
The lamb should also receive colostrum, the first milk rich in antibodies, within the first few hours of birth to ensure proper immunity.
When Should I Schedule Lambing?
The ideal time to schedule lambing will depend on multiple factors, including the breed of sheep, geographic location, management practices, market demand, and personal considerations.
Different breeds of sheep have different gestation periods. Most commercial meat breeds have a gestation period of around 145 to 150 days, while some long-wool breeds may have a slightly longer gestation period of up to 155 days.
Know the gestation period of the specific breed you are working with to determine when to schedule lambing.
Your region’s climate and weather conditions can affect when you schedule lambing. In colder climates, lambing is usually scheduled during the spring or early summer months when temperatures are milder, and there is ample forage for the ewes and their newborn lambs.
In warmer climates, lambing may be scheduled during the fall or winter months to avoid the extreme heat of summer.
Your specific management practices may also impact when you schedule lambing. Suppose you prefer intensive management with close monitoring of the ewes during lambing. In that case, you may choose to schedule lambing during a time when you have more availability to provide supervision.
Alternatively, if you prefer a more extensive management approach with less intervention, you may schedule lambing when the ewes can give birth independently.
If you plan to sell the lambs for meat or other purposes, the market demand and prices may also influence when you schedule lambing.
If there is a higher demand for lamb during the holiday season, you may schedule lambing accordingly to ensure your lambs are ready for the market.
Your personal preferences, availability, and other farm or family commitments may also influence your lambing schedule. Consider factors such as your workload, labor availability, and other farm activities when deciding on the timing of lambing.
What Problems Should I Watch for During Gestation?
As a shepherd or farmer, there are several problems that you should watch for during gestation and lambing in your flock. These can include:
Also known as ketosis or twin lamb disease, pregnancy toxemia is a metabolic disorder that can occur in late gestation when the ewe’s energy demands exceed her energy intake. It can result in weight loss, lethargy, poor appetite, and death if not treated promptly.
Abortions can occur in ewes during gestation due to various reasons, including infectious causes such as Chlamydiosis, Campylobacteriosis, and Toxoplasmosis, as well as non-infectious causes such as stress, nutritional imbalances, and genetic abnormalities.
Keeping a close eye on your flock and monitoring for any signs of abortion, such as vaginal discharge or premature birth, is crucial to identifying and addressing the issue promptly.
Toxoplasmosis in lambing is caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii and can result in abortions, stillbirths, or weak lambs. Ewes can become infected by ingesting oocysts from contaminated feed, water, or feces. Proper hygiene and management practices can help prevent toxoplasmosis.
Also known as milk fever, hypocalcemia is a metabolic disorder during late pregnancy or after lambing, usually in ewes that produce large amounts of milk.
It can result in low blood calcium levels, leading to muscle weakness, lethargy, and even death if not treated promptly with calcium supplementation.
Ovine Progressive Pneumonia:
Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP) is a viral disease that affects sheep’s lungs and other organs. It can cause pneumonia, weight loss, poor appetite, and reduced milk production in ewes, impacting lambing success.
Vaccination, biosecurity measures, and regular monitoring for signs of OPP can help prevent and manage the disease.
Work closely with your veterinarian and implement proper management practices, such as providing balanced nutrition, maintaining clean and dry lambing areas, practicing good biosecurity, and monitoring the health and well-being of your ewes throughout gestation and lambing to prevent and address any potential problems on time.
What Equipment and Supplies Do I Need for Lambing?
Lambing requires careful preparation to ensure the health and safety of both the ewe (female sheep) and her lambs. Here is a list of equipment/supplies that are typically recommended for lambing:
Lambing pens or lambing jugs are small, clean, and dry enclosures where the ewe can give birth and bond with her lambs. They should be well-ventilated and have clean bedding, such as straw or wood shavings, for the ewe and lambs to rest on.
Heat lamps or heat pads: Lambs must be kept warm after birth, especially if the weather is cold. Heat lamps or heat pads can provide additional warmth to help them regulate their body temperature.
Clean towels or rags: These can be used to dry off newborn lambs and clean them up after birth. Use clean towels or rags to prevent infection.
Lambing ropes or straps: These can be used to assist with delivering lambs, especially if the ewe is having difficulty. They should be clean and sterile to reduce the risk of infection.
Colostrum replacer or frozen colostrum is the first milk produced by the ewe after giving birth, and lambs must receive it within the first few hours of life to acquire essential antibodies and nutrients.
If the ewe is unable to provide enough colostrum, or if the lambs are unable to nurse, colostrum replacer or frozen colostrum can be used as a substitute.
Lambing supplies kit: This can include items such as iodine solution for umbilical cord dipping to prevent infection, navel clamps or bands to help seal the umbilical cord, lubricant for assisting with difficult deliveries, and obstetrical gloves for hygiene and safety.
If needed, you may need bottles, nipples, and a milk replacer to feed orphaned or weak lambs.
It’s important to keep track of lambing information, such as birth dates, birth weights, and health concerns. You may need a notebook or a lambing record form for this purpose.
Have a basic first aid kit on hand that includes antiseptics, bandages, and scissors for minor injuries or emergencies that may arise during lambing.
Having a way to communicate with a veterinarian or experienced shepherd in case of emergencies is important.
How do I know when a ewe is ready to lamb?
As a shepherd, one of the most exciting and crucial moments in your flock’s lifecycle is when your ewe is ready to lamb. This eagerly anticipated event marks the arrival of new life and signals the continuation of your flock. But how do you know when the time has come for your ewe to give birth?
As your ewe’s due date approaches, her body will undergo noticeable changes. Her udder will become larger and firmer, and you may notice the presence of milk. The vulva will also become swollen and may appear red or elongated.
These physical changes indicate that the ewe’s body is preparing for labor and that the lamb is positioning itself for birth.
Ewes about to lamb often exhibit distinct changes in behavior. They may become restless, paw the ground, and separate themselves from the flock.
Some ewes may seek out secluded areas to give birth, while others may become more vocal or display signs of discomfort, such as repeatedly lying down and getting up. These behavioral changes indicate that your ewe is getting ready to lamb.
Ewes may exhibit nesting behavior when they are about to give birth. They may paw or rearrange bedding material like straw or hay to create a cozy nest for their lamb. This instinctual behavior indicates that your ewe is preparing a comfortable space for her upcoming delivery.
As your ewe gets closer to lambing, her vulva may change in appearance. It may become looser, more relaxed, and may even have a discharge. This change in the vulva is a sign that your ewe’s body is getting ready for birth.
In the final stages of pregnancy, ewes may exhibit restlessness and discomfort. They may repeatedly lie down and get up, stretch, or paw at the ground. They may also show signs of discomfort, such as grunting, groaning, or heavy breathing.
These signs indicate that your ewe is experiencing contractions and is likely in the early stages of labor.
Ewes’ water may break before they go into labor. If you notice clear or pinkish fluid coming from your ewe’s vulva, it may indicate that her water has broken, and labor is imminent.
Closely monitor your ewe as her due date approaches, and be prepared to assist if needed. However, it’s essential to remember that most ewes can give birth without assistance, and interfering too early can sometimes do more harm.
What Do I Have to Do for a `Normal’ Birth?
Ensure you have a clean and dry lambing pen or area where the ewe can give birth. Provide clean bedding, such as straw or shavings, for the ewe and lamb to rest on. Ensure the area is well-ventilated and draft-free. Have clean towels or rags, iodine solution for disinfection, and lambing supplies such as gloves, lubricant, and a lambing book or record on hand.
As the ewe approaches her due date, keep a close eye on her for signs of impending lambing. These signs may include restlessness, pawing the ground, isolating herself from the flock, udder enlargement, and a discharge from the vulva. These signs indicate that she is getting ready to give birth.
When the ewe goes into labor and starts pushing, observe closely. Most ewes can give birth without assistance, but if you notice any signs of distress, you may need to intervene.
Put on clean gloves, lubricate your hands with lubricant, and gently feel inside the ewe’s birth canal to check for the position and presentation of the lamb. You may need to assist if you encounter abnormalities, such as a breach presentation (hind legs first) or if the lamb is not progressing after 30-45 minutes of active pushing.
If you need to assist with the birth, do so gently and carefully to avoid injuring the ewe or the lamb. You may need to reposition the lamb, pull gently in rhythm with the ewe’s contractions, or use a lambing jack (a specialized tool for assisting with lambing) if necessary.
Once the lamb is born, clear its mouth and nose of any mucus and use a clean towel or rag to dry it off. Dip the lamb’s navel in an iodine solution to prevent infection.
After the lamb is born, make sure the ewe and lamb bond. The ewe should instinctively start licking and nursing the lamb. Monitor the ewe and lamb closely for any signs of complications, such as difficulty breathing, weakness, or failure to nurse.
Provide the ewe with fresh water, hay, and a high-quality lambing diet to support her recovery and milk production.
Record the lambing process, noting the date, time, and any observations or interventions made during the birth. This information can be helpful for future reference and management decisions.
Provide appropriate post-lambing care, including routine health checks for the ewe and lamb, vaccination, deworming, and proper nutrition. Continue to monitor the ewe and lamb for any signs of health issues and seek veterinary assistance if needed.
How Do I Know if the Ewe Will Have Twins or Triplets?
Several signs may suggest that a ewe (female sheep) carries twins or triplets. If the ewe’s abdomen appears larger than normal for the stage of pregnancy, it may indicate that she is carrying multiple lambs.
Ewes carrying twins or triplets may have more body condition (fat reserves) than ewes carrying a single lamb, as they need to support the growth of multiple fetuses.
If the ewe exhibits increased fetal movement, it could be a sign that she is carrying multiple lambs. Ewes carrying twins or triplets may show more restless behavior due to the increased activity of the fetuses.
An ultrasound examination by a veterinarian can accurately determine the number of fetuses a ewe is carrying. This is the most reliable method to confirm whether a ewe carries twins, triplets, or more.
Ewes that have previously given birth to twins or triplets are more likely to have multiple pregnancies in subsequent pregnancies. Keeping track of the ewe’s past lambing history can provide some indication of the likelihood of her having twins or triplets.
I found a cold, hunched-up lamb. What should I do?
If you have found a cold, hunched-up lamb, it may be distressed and require immediate attention. Below are some steps to help the lamb:
Keep the lamb warm by moving it to a sheltered area away from drafts and cold weather. You can wrap it in a towel or blanket to help retain body heat.
If possible, use a heat lamp or a warm water bottle (wrapped in a towel) to provide gentle heat. Be sure to monitor the lamb’s body temperature to avoid overheating.
Check for Signs of Dehydration:
Cold lambs are at risk of dehydration. Check the lamb’s gums; they may be dehydrated if they are dry or sticky.
Offer the lamb clean water to drink in small amounts, and if it cannot drink on its own, you may need to use a syringe or bottle-feed it with an appropriate milk replacer for lambs.
Assess for Injuries or Illness:
Inspect the lamb for any visible injuries or signs of illness, such as open wounds, lameness, or discharge from the nose or eyes. If you notice any concerning symptoms, it’s best to consult a veterinarian.
Help the lamb to stand and encourage it to move around gently. Movement can help stimulate blood flow and keep the lamb active, which is essential for its well-being.
Contact a Veterinarian:
If you are unsure about the lamb’s condition or if it shows no signs of improvement, it’s essential to contact a veterinarian for professional advice and assistance. A veterinarian can provide specific guidance based on the lamb’s condition and provide appropriate medical treatment if needed.
Provide Appropriate Nutrition:
If the lamb cannot nurse from its mother, you may need to provide it with an appropriate milk replacer for lambs. Follow the instructions on the product label or consult a veterinarian for guidance on feeding the lamb properly.
Do I Need a Barn for Lambing? What About Lambing in the Pasture?
Lambing can occur in various settings, including in a barn or a pasture. The best choice for you would depend on various factors such as your location, climate, flock size, and management practices.
Lambing in a barn provides several benefits. It offers protection from adverse weather conditions, such as extreme cold, rain, or snow, which can be critical for the survival and well-being of newborn lambs.
Barns also provide a controlled environment where you can easily monitor the ewes (female sheep) and newborn lambs and provide them with appropriate care, warmth, and nutrition. A barn can offer privacy and security, reducing the risk of predation or interference from other animals.
On the other hand, lambing in a pasture, also known as “pasture lambing” or “lambing on pasture,” can also have its advantages. It allows the ewes to move around freely and express natural behaviors, such as finding their preferred spot for giving birth and bonding with their lambs.
Pasture lambing can also minimize the risk of diseases or infections associated with confinement in a barn and reduce the labor and costs related to building and maintaining a barn.
However, lambing in a pasture also has its challenges. Ewes and lambs may be exposed to inclement weather, increasing the risk of hypothermia or other weather-related health issues. Predators, such as coyotes or dogs, may threaten newborn lambs.
Additionally, monitoring and providing care for ewes and lambs in a pasture may be more difficult than in a barn, as they have more freedom to move around and may require more effort to locate and assess their well-being.