Lambing Time Management Tips

   February is here and it is time to think about lambing season which has begun for many and will soon for others.  An important part of successful lambing is proper ewe management. A few management checks or changes can save money down the road.
     Pre-lambing- Ewes should be vaccinated 2 to 3 weeks prior to lambing with Clostridia perfringes C & D with tetanus. If they are ewe lambs they should be vaccinated twice. 5 weeks prior and 3 weeks prior. This will stimulate the ewe’s immune system and pass immunity to her lambs in her colostrum.
Nutrition– The ewes’ nutrition should be increased continually during gestation.  Requirements for ewes in late gestation greatly increases. Ewes that are carrying twins or triplets require even more. Thin ewes should be sorted into smaller groups to eat a more concentrated ration and have less competition for bunk space.  If the ewes are on a hay diet the vitamin level may be sufficient although you should start feeding a mineral high in Selenium and Vitamin E.  This is important so the lambs are not born deficient with these and more susceptible to White Muscle Disease. Gestating ewe lambs should be separated from the mature flock because they are still growing and are less competitive at feeding time. It is also important to feed some corn to your ewes as you approach lambing. This gives the ewe the added nutrients she needs at this time. Late gestation is when the lambs grow the fastest and take away from the ewe’s reserve energy.
Ewes should be shorn and de-wormed one month before lambing. Lambs have an easier time finding the udder on shorn ewes.  Shorn ewes take up less space in the lambing barn and give off more heat. Care must be taken the first week after shearing. It’s important that the ewes have shelter that will protect them from rain and snow.  If the temperature is below zero shorn ewes will require more energy and this can be supplied by increasing the grain fed.
All feed fed to gestating ewes should be fed in bunks or feeders. Feeding ewes on the ground greatly enhances the transmission of abortion disease. Also feeding 200-300mg per head daily of chlortetracycline will help control Chlamydia abortions.  Any aborted fetuses and placenta need to be immediately removed from the pen to prevent transmission.
Lambing Time- A rule of thumb is the number of available lambing pens equal at least 10% of flock size. For most medium or large framed sheep the lambing pens should be 5’x 5’. Healthy ewe and lamb families should remain isolated for 48 hours to assure bonding and monitor the lamb well being.  Temperature (35-50 F) and ventilation control is important. As the temperature rises the air holds greater moisture and increases the risk of lamb death.
Get lambs to suckle as soon as possible, use a stomach tube if unwilling to voluntarily nurse. They must receive colostrum, at least 4 ounces. Repeat every 4 hours until nursing.  If the ewe has inadequate colostrums then use some from a donor. If donor or frozen colostrum is not available, use an artificial product such as “colostrx” or “lifeline”.
Other things that need to be done to care for the lamb include:
  1. Clip and dip the navel in 7% iodine.
  2. Identify lambs with eartag or paintbrand.
  3. Supplement every lamb with vitamin E, either by oral pump or an injectable lamb booster.
  4. Check health status on each lamb several times a day. Be sure all lambs are nursing and receiving adequate milk.
  5. Keep lambs in lambing jug for 2 days to reinforce mother to lamb bonding.
Nearly 20% of all lambs born die before weaning, 80% of those losses occur in the first 10 days after birth. Good baby lamb care can significantly improve the number of lambs reared by each ewe.  The major causes of lamb death are starvation, hypothermia, pneumonia and scours. The first two causes, starvation and hypothermia are physical ailments, which upon action by the manager can be corrected. It’s very important to recognize these symptoms early on.
Hypothermia often occurs with lambs failing to nurse soon after birth. To determine whether a lamb is hypothermic use your finger to check the temperature inside the mouth.  If the mouth or tongue is cold, supplemental heat is needed immediately. Once the lamb is warmed up it can be placed on the ewe to suckle or have colostrums delivered using a stomach tube.  It’s important to note that the use of stomach tube with a lamb that is experiencing hypothermia almost certainly leads to death. First warm up the lamb.
Starvation occurs frequently. Identifying whether a lamb is receiving adequate milk is important to avoiding lamb losses.  With experience producers often judge the ewes’ ability to feed lambs while in the lambing jug, the lambs are either grafted on a ewe with more milk production or reared on lamb milk replacer.
I hope some of these tips help out and everyone has a successful season.