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  • Writer's pictureFlockFinder Team

Preparing for Lambing: Essential Tips for a Successful Season

Newborn lambs

Prepare your team 🧑‍🌾🧑‍🌾

(if you have one)


Lambing is a busy time of year, with long days and sleepless nights. It’s easy to lose track of what is going on and forget what you should be doing. This gets even more complicated if you have a team of people helping in the lambing shed.


We would recommend that you have at least 2 people on hand to support the lambing season, with a minimum ratio of 1 person per 250 ewes.

 

It’s a good idea to put a plan in place to help things run smoothly. This should cover things like how you are going to segregate pregnant ewes, birthing ewes, ewes with lambs at food, how long you plan to keep the lambs in the shed before turning out, how you might quarantine (and identify) animals with medical issues etc.


Write it down, give everyone a copy and pin it on the wall of the lambing shed. It may seem unnecessary, but it will save you a lot of time and stress in the long run.

 


Lambing shed

Prepare the lambing shed 🛖

Lambing Shed

It should be clean, dry, well ventilated but draught free. Ensure there is adequate space for the ewes (min. 1.3m2) and easy access to water and feed. It's important to keep things feeling calm and relaxed to minimise stress on the animals.

 

Lambing Pens

A good ratio is to ensure you have 1 lambing pen available for every 8 ewes. Each pen should be a minimum of 2m x 1m and you should provide a hay rack, feed bucket and water for every pen. The pen should be cleaned and disinfected between each ewe.

 

'Hospital' Area

Organise an intensive care area for weak lambs. This should be away from the main lambing area, with access to hot water and a power supply (with a heat lamp). Healthy lambs (orphans and rejected lambs) should be kept in a separate area.

 

Isolation Pens

These pens should be separate from the main lambing area to help stop the spread of disease across the flock. Remember, ewes will have suppressed immune systems when pregnant and lambing.

 

When should I bring my sheep in for lambing 📆

Typically, ewes should be brought into the lambing shed about a month before lambing so they can acclimatise to the environment. Too early and you increase the risk of disease (e.g. lameness), too late, and this can place unnecessary stress on the pregnancy.  

 

Check your equipment & medication 🧤💉

Check the condition of your equipment in advance, replenish any items that are worn out or expired. Ensure you have sufficient (in date!) medication on hand to deal with any issues that might arise.

 

Some useful items include:

  • Lubricant

  • Disposable gloves

  • Infra-red (heat) lamps

  • A worming box

  • Prolapse harness

  • Lambing ropes

  • Colostrum and milk replacer

  • Feeding bottles

  • Stomach tubes

  • Weighing scales

  • Sterile needles and syringes

  • Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory

 

(note: all feeding equipment should be cleaned daily and disinfected twice weekly)

 

How to prepare ewes for lambing? ✅


When should I start feeding my ewes before lambing 🕐

It can be difficult to provide adequate nutrition during the winter months, particularly for ewes bearing multiples. 80% of fetal growth occurs in the last 6-8 weeks of pregnancy and as a result the ewe’s energy requirement is highest during this period.

 

Ewes should be grouped by their litter size to ensure they receive the appropriate food rations for their needs. For twins/triplets, ewes should be provided with additional (concentrated) food from 8 weeks prior to lambing, with singles starting at about 6 weeks out. The rations should be started at about 0.1kg of concentrate in week 1, increasing 0.1kg each week in the run up to lambing.

 

Ewe feeding schedule

Make sure ewes have access to good quality water throughout. A late pregnancy ewe can consume up to 6 litres/day especially when consuming high levels of concentrate.

 

What about vaccinations? 💉

Ewes should be vaccinated with their annual clostridial booster in the final 4-6 weeks pre-lambing. This timing allows for antibodies to pass over to the lamb through the ewe’s colostrum and avoids having to vaccinate lambs after birth.

 

If farms have previously had issues with watery mouth at lambing time ewes can also be vaccinated for certain strains of the causative E-coli bacteria 2 to 4 weeks pre lambing.

 

Should you worm a sheep before lambing? 🪱

Yes. It is still common practise for the majority of UK flocks to drench their ewes in the last few days running up to lambing. As ewes approach lambing, their immune system is weakened. Worms in the gut then produce a lot more eggs which are passed out through their faeces, infecting the pasture which is subsequently grazed by their lambs. Ewes with poor body condition are most affected by this immune suppression.


You can read the SCOPS guidance here.

 

How do you know when a ewe is close to lambing? 🐑

A ewe’s gestational period is approximately 147 days, so if tupping started in October, lambs will be due around the end of February.

 

About 10 days before lambing, the ewe’s teats will begin to feel firm and full of colostrum. Between this point and lambing the vulva will slacken and become slightly swollen.


In the last hours, many ewes will separate themselves from the flock and may start to paw the ground and ‘nest’. This is a good time to separate them into a lambing pen.

 

 

How often should you check your sheep when lambing? 🧐

This can depend on your breeding mix and flock size. However, we would recommend checking the lambing shed every 60-90 minutes when lambing is underway. Many smaller farms, who will be lambing less frequently, use cameras to help keep an eye on things with larger farms generally manning the lambing shed 24/7.

 

How long should a ewe be in labour? ⏱️

Signs of lambing may be present for some time before birthing takes place, this includes restlessness, pawing at the ground and ewes separating themselves from the group.

 

Firstly, the water bag should appear and hang from the vulva or burst. The lamb should be born within an hour of the waters breaking.

 

The average birthing time is around 30 minutes.

 

When should you intervene? 🙋

You may been to provide assistance to the ewe if :

  • Only the head appears (remember the front two feet should also be present)

  • The water bag has passed and no progress has been made in 30 minutes

  • If lambing takes more than 90 minutes

  • When only one leg, trail or head can be seen.

 

Keep an eye on ewe lambs, who typically suffer more complications during lambing than more seasoned ewes.


What are the most common issues when lambing? ‼️


What is a common mortality rate for lambing? 😔

In the UK, the mortality rate should be between 1-2% (the global average is 20%!). This will be higher for ewe lambs, and lower for mature ewes.

 

(Ideally, ewe lambs should only rear one lamb to minimise birthing complications and achieve good liveweight gain.)

 

Common diseases/illnesses 🤒

Hypothermia 🥶

Hypothermia is seen in lambs that are small, have had difficulty suckling colostrum or are exposed to wet or windy conditions.


If the lamb is less than 5 hours old and has a temperature less than 37°C then put it in a warm box and give it colostrum once its temperature is above 38°C.


If your lamb is older than 5 hours old then it may require glucose intraperitoneal before it is warmed up and it will also be low in blood glucose too. When giving glucose into the lambs belly it must be done using a clean needle to avoid infection. Aim to give the lambs 10ml /kg of 20% glucose that has been warmed up to 39°C.

 

Watery mouth 😪

Watery mouth is commonly seen when lambing indoors. It is caused by E.coli bacteria which the lambs ingests from the lambing shed. Lambs that are affected are wet around the mouths due to the production of excess salvia. They rapidly will go on to collapse and die if they do not receive any treatment.


The prevention of watery mouth relies on ensuring that every lamb receives adequate colostrum [50ml/kg in the first 6 hours of life followed by 200ml / kg over the following 24 hours of life] as well as ensuring that the lambing sheds are clean and hygienic to reduce the bacteria within the shed.


The routine use of antibiotics given to every lamb to prevent watery mouth developing is no longer best practice.


Navel ill / Joint ill 🩼

Navel ill can be seen when lambs are born in unhygienic conditions and it is commonly prevented by using a strong iodine solution on the lamb’s navels. Lambs with navel ill will have thickened and hot umbilical cords that will spread infection into the rest of the body and this commonly leads on to joint ill.


Both conditions should be treated with an appropriate antibiotic injection and anti-inflammatory where required. Joint ill can arise in older lambs due to other infectious causes. Discuss this with your vet if you are having issues.

 

Prolapses

Vaginal prolapses can occur in the lead up to lambing in ewes which are carrying multiple lambs and are in good condition. Prolapses should be replaced as soon as you identify them. You can do this by putting a harness and a spoon on the ewe where required. If they continue to prolapse then seek your vets help.


Following lambing some ewes will experience uterine prolapses and this requires immediate veterinary attention to replace them. Keep the ewe clean and quiet until the vet arrives.

 

With all of these issues, good record keeping is essential to help reduce reoccurrence in the future. It may also be advisable to remove a ewe from the breeding flock (e.g. if they have suffered a prolapse), marking them for culling at a later date - which can be done in the FlockFinder app!

 

What to do if the ewe rejects the lamb 🙅

More common in first time mums, but also if a ewe feels like she has more lambs than she can cope with.

 

When this happens, there are a few things you can do to “persuade” her to change her mind before you start bottle-feeding the lambs with expensive milk replacements. One of the most effective solutions is to use a stanchion or halter to hold the ewe’s head steady while the lamb nurses.

 

It is critical that a newborn lamb receives the colostrum during their first 24 hours of life to receive essential antibodies that fight off infection. Allowing the lambs to receive the ‘first milk’ through restraining the ewe is an import part of ensuring the survival of a rejected lamb.

 

Fortunately, as the lamb begins to digest the ewe’s milk, the lamb’s faeces and urine will start to take on a smell the ewe will recognise as her lamb.


The sooner you can get some of the ewe’s milk into the lamb, the healthier the lamb will be, and the greater the chances of re-acceptance by the ewe.

 

Before using a stanchion/halter, check for any reasons that the ewe may be rejecting the lamb. For example, mastitis and/or sore teats can cause the ewe to pull away when the lamb tries to feed.

 

To use a stanchion/halter make sure to allow enough freedom to allow the sheep to move their head up/down and even lie down. Place a tub of hay and bucket of water under her head so she can eat/drink and remain calm.

 

Encourage the lamb to feed and keep an eye on it. The ewe may try to kick them away with their back legs until they get used to the lamb feeding. Keep the ewe restrained until she accepts the lamb feeding and becomes bonded with the lamb.

 

Record keeping 📝

FlockFinder - Recording lambing results

Notepads, whiteboards and award-winning apps 😉 are valuable tools to have at lambing time. Good record keeping helps ensure that everyone knows which animals have been treated and what follow up action (if any) needs to be taken. This is particularly important during shift changes.

 

It’s a good idea to record the number of lambs born, alive and dead (with the likely cause), to build up a picture of why losses are occurring. Try to also keep a record of the ewes that abort, or do not lamb.


Fortunately, you can record all this information in FlockFinder! Everyone in the farm can be granted access, at no additional cost, allowing them to record, view, update treatment and lambing records.


FlockFinder also helps you to quickly record lambing results, as well as (optionally) keep track of birth weights and lineage information to track performance across the flock and through the generations.




 

 

 

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