Lambing preparation: Former veterinarian explains precautions producers should take before and during lambing season
Lambing season is underway, and those producers lambing in coming weeks should start taking precautions to prevent issues during the season.
“Producers should start taking precautions and making preparations for lambing season,” shares Dr. Cindy Wolf, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Minnesota during an American Sheep Industry Association podcast hosted by Jake Thorn. “Producers who make preparations before lambing season allow themselves time to enjoy lambing.”
Every operation is run differently, and make various preparations to get ready for lambs.
“Preparations really start before breeding season,” Wolf states. “I like to try to get my ewes as fertile as possible because I want as many twins as I can get.”
To accomplish this, she goes over body condition score (BCS) prior to breeding season.
“I take time before breeding season to see what BCS my ewes are in. If ewes are thin, I usually try to get them fatter before breeding them,” Wolf shares. “I have found first-time lambers that aren’t in good body condition usually have a harder time during the second lambing season.”
After determining BCS, Wolf’s goal is to maintain ewes’ body condition through lambing season. Another precaution she shares and highly recommends is sorting ewes into groups based on the number of lambs being carried. Wolf separates ewes carrying triplets and quadruplets in a group, which allows her to keep a closer eye on them.
There are risks associated with anything on ranching operations, however, risk during lambing season may have severe repercussions on producers and their operations.
“Many risks can be prevented with careful management, but with a watchful eye, sheep producers can easily treat issues known to plague a flock during lambing season,” shares Wolf. “Milk fever, ketosis and grass tetany are a few of the more common issues producers may run into on a sheep operation.”
Wolf explains milk fever is a metabolic disease which commonly occurs during the last three weeks of gestation. During this time, calcium demand is high. Abrupt decreases in feed intake result in slow mobilization of calcium in the bones, leading to a decrease in blood calcium levels.
“Milk fever often occurs in outbreaks, affecting multiple ewes,” Wolf says. “Producers should watch for signs, such as a drowsy appearance, depression and stiff gaits.”
She continues, “Ensuring the diets of the ewes contain sufficient amounts of calcium may be beneficial in preventing milk fever in a flock. When I encounter milk fever in my flock, I give calcium under the skin so ewes can slowly absorb it.”
Wolf shares ketosis, also commonly referred to as pregnancy toxemia, goes hand-in-hand with milk fever, although ketosis occurs when ewes don’t receive enough carbohydrates. During pregnancy, ewes may receive an insufficient amount of carbohydrates, resulting in the breakdown of body fat releasing ketones. If a ewe’s body breaks down fat and releases ketones too quickly, the ewe can’t detoxify the ketones fast enough.
“As spring starts to arrive, issues with grass tetany may arise,” Wolf adds. “Grass tetany occurs when livestock don’t get enough magnesium while grazing lush, fast growing forage.”
“Adding magnesium to ewes diets before turning them out to graze will help prevent incidents with grass tetany,” she says.
Management is critical for success in any operation, although everyone has different goals and management methods.
“Everyone manages differently,” Wolf states. “However, sheep operations, or any operation, can be over- and under-managed. Producers have so many decisions to make regarding their operations.”
She continues, “For example, the decision to shear or not to shear is major for producers. I personally think shearing is a great decision because ewes can get stuck on their backs during labor if they aren’t shorn.”
Additionally, Wolf shares the importance of management on sheep operations to prevent ewes from becoming obese, stating, “Obese sheep come with their own set of issues. For example, obese ewes are more prone to vaginal prolapse.”
“Management also plays a role in mothering instinct amongst ewes,” she continues. “I always ask producers if they have issues with thin ewes, and thin ewes are often the ones who have trouble mothering lambs.”
Wolf adds, “Overmanagement can raise concerns with ewes who don’t need help. Producers may step in too early and end up helping a ewe that didn’t actually need help. Producers may also overmanage and miss signs pointing to ewes which may need culled.”
When it comes time to lamb, Wolf prefers to be prepared to care for new lives.
She says, “I carry a 50/50 mixture of iodine and methanol alcohol with me for nasal drips and dipping umbilical cords. A colleague once told me the methanol alcohol dries better than the commonly used isopropyl alcohol.”
Wolf always try to keep a close eye on lambing ewes, sharing she especially likes to know if lambs get enough colostrum. If she has to pull a lamb off a ewe, she may start vaccinating to prevent illnesses. Wolf vaccinates bum lambs on a schedule if they didn’t receive enough colostrum.
In addition to preparing for lambing, making sound management decisions and keeping an eye on lambing ewes, Wolf recommends if producers run into any problems, such as recurrent diseases or abortion thoughout the flock, they should reach out to a local veterinarian for professional help and prevention measures.
Madi Slaymaker is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.