Lambing is the most important period in a sheep’s year and to the shepherd too. It is the time when you get to usher in the new generation of sheep to add to your herd and wealth. While sheep can deliver without the help of a veterinarian or shepherd, it is important to always maintain close observation of the pregnant ewe at all times and also to observe the newborns to ensure they have the right start to a long, healthy life. Ewe condition during the days leading up to the lambing season is more important than the time after the ewe gives birth.
Getting ready for the lambing season
It is vital to be fully prepared for anything before the lambing season even begins. Preparations involve getting the lambing facilities ready, feeding and managing the sheep properly, and gathering all necessary supplies.
Management and feeding during the days leading up to the lambs’ birth can determine the success of your lambing season and the overall sheep enterprise. While you can expect some random problems to come up, most of them can be prevented and are usually as a result of poor feeding management, particularly during the final third of the pregnancy. This is because approximately 70% of total fetal growth occurs during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy.
Feeding the sheep is important, but you should also be careful not to overfeed the sheep. It also has bad consequences. Grain is recommended to meet the increased energy requirements and to provide a supplemental source of calcium and protein. Ewes need a lot of calcium especially during the last days of pregnancy. Lack of calcium in their diet will cause milk fever.
Daily exercise is also recommended for the ewes throughout their pregnancy. One of the best ways of boosting animal health is through regular physical exercise. Fit ewes will be less likely to encounter any problems during the lambing season. Exercise also helps relieve stress in the ewes during the last trimester. Groups should be stable and maintained as ewes are known to be herd animals.
All pregnant ewes should get vaccinated for clostridial diseases 6 weeks before parturition. Vaccination helps as the ewes are able to pass antibodies to the baby sheep which goes a long way in helping them fight diseases. Deworming the ewes with an effective anthelmintic also helps the ewe expel all worms to reduce the risk of the lambs being exposed to infective worm larvae.
It’s also a good idea to sheer the wooled ewes about 4 weeks before lambing. You may also choose to shave only the wool around the vulva and udder (crutching). The main advantage of sheering before lambing is that the ewes put less moisture in the air which results in a cleaner environment full of fresh air for the newborns.
The final thing to prepare is the lambing facilities. The area should be clean, well ventilated, and free of any disease threats. There should be adequate protection against the elements especially the cold at night. The shepherd also needs to but any supplies that are needed to maintain animal health during the lambing season and the ones that may be required in case the birth is difficult.
If you plan well and feed the ewe in the right way, you can expect to have a smooth lambing season and healthy lambs.
The lambing process
The entire lambing process is controlled by a series of complex hormonal changes. The baby sheep actually decides when it’s time to be born. If you observe the ewe carefully, you can tell when the birth is about to happen. The ewe may stop eating, her vulva will be dilated, the teats and udder will be distended and she’ll not be as full and wide over the rump.
Lambing normally happens in phases. In the 1st phase, the cervix dilates as the birth canal is prepared for delivery. After approximately 24 hours, a clear-whitish discharge appears signifying the commencement of the lambing season. After the lamb/lambs are expelled, the placenta follows to mark the end of the process. At this point, it is important for the shepherd to check on the animal health.
Sometimes, the ewe may have a difficult birth, also known as Dystocia. Dystocia is the leading cause of newborn lamb deaths and animal health issues in survivors. One of the most challenging moments of raising sheep is having to play midwife during the lambing season. If you cannot get a veterinary to assist, it is important to learn ahead of time so that you can be ready when the lambs come.
After a normal lambing season, the ewes can usually take care of their lambs without needing help. In some rare cases, it may be necessary to wipe off any mucus from the lamb’s nose so that they breathe better. Make sure all the lambs get colostrum, the first milk produced after the lambing season. It contains some nutrients vital to animal health.
The importance of the Lambing season
The following are the reasons why the lambing season is the most important time of the year to any shepherd:
1. A good lambing season leads to the growth of the flock in terms of numbers which means more revenue for the farmer. This means that even if you constantly sell the mature sheep, your sheep farm will always have animals as they keep getting born.
2. Lambing helps reduce mortality rates in newborn lambs. While the sheep can give birth and take care of their lambs without needing help, human intervention goes a long way especially when the birth is difficult. Proper preparation makes the whole process easier as the sheep and lambs have everything they need to survive the process unscathed.
3. Lambing helps boost animal health. Some lambs are born with a number of problems that, without the help of the shepherd, they wouldn’t be able to survive. Monitoring the whole process helps detect any problems in the early stages when it’s still early to correct them.
As a sheep farmer, you always need to ensure that you are fully ready for the lambing season so that your ewes are comfortable before, during, and after the lambing season. A happy, healthy ewe is more likely to give birth to healthy offspring, which should be the main aim of any serious sheep farmer. If you are interested in more lambing articles, subscribe to our website as we will be publishing more informative articles on lambing.