Lambing preparation considerations discussed
Spring marks the busiest and most important season of the year for many sheep producers – lambing season. Success or failure during this time is the single largest factor affecting the profitability of a flock.
As producers prepare for lambs to hit the ground, there are a few things they should consider to ensure they have a successful lambing season.
Ewe health and nutrition is key
Proper ewe nutrition is perhaps the single most influential factor for lambing success. Correct feeding optimizes ewe health, which results in a higher number of lambs born, heavier weights of lambs born and improved colostrum quality and yield, which in turn influences lamb growth and performance.
According to an April 20 article, written by Allison Blackmon and published by Redd Summit Advisors, 70 percent of fetal growth occurs during the last six weeks of gestation, meaning this time period is one of the most energetically demanding for a pregnant ewe.
Blackmon notes the best way to ensure ewes’ nutritional requirements are being met is to pay close attention to body condition scores (BCS).
Ewes which are too fat or thin have an increased risk of experiencing dystocia and/or pregnancy toxemia, so a BCS of three to 3.5 is ideal.
A Feb. 4, 2020 article published by Scarsdale Vets, one of the largest providers of veterinary care across the East Midlands region of England, notes nutrient demands vary by weight, age and the amount of lambs a ewe is carrying.
In fact, according to the article, ewes carrying twins experience a 50 percent increase in energy demand on top of their already high nutrient requirements. Therefore, producers may want to consider supplementing ewes with a high-quality concentrate, containing up to 18 to 20 percent crude protein.
University of Wyoming Extension Sheep Specialist Dr. Whit Stewart agrees.
In a March 11, 2022 article previously published in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Stewart explains approximately 60 to 70 percent of all glucose produced by a ewe is used for the growing lamb in late pregnancy.
“And, when the glucose account overdrafts, pregnancy toxemia results,” he says. “Whether a producer is hanging on to ewes longer, recently purchased aged ewes or are seeing an increase in their twin or triplet percentage, then supplementing an additional pound to a pound and a half of grain will go a long way in preventing clinical problems.”
Additionally, mineral requirements of a ewe increase during gestation.
Stewart suggests producers provide mineral supplementation prior to lambing so storage pools can be mobilized as stages of pregnancy advance.
“Significant proportions of the flock, more than 25 percent will under consume, over consume or not consume the free-choice mineral at all,” he says. “Monitoring consumption and calculating estimated mineral intake across the flock takes some math, but it can tell us if a group of ewes are over-consuming or under-consuming.”
To do this, Stewart says to divide the total amount of mineral fed by the number of days it took for the amount to be consumed, then divide by the number of ewes consuming the mineral.
“If intake is far above or below manufacturer recommended levels, consider palatability issues due to weathering or location of the mineral feeder. We can’t manage what we don’t measure, but we can enjoy peace of mind from good nutritional management,” he states.
Facilities should be
clean and prepped
Blackmon notes a second step to preparing for lambing season is to ensure lambing facilities are cleaned and prepped for the arrival of newborn lambs.
For producers lambing in a barn, she suggests identifying and eliminating any drafts while also ensuring good ventilation.
A space of 12 to 14 square feet per lamb should be planned in order to avoid overcrowding, and if producers are using jugs, they should enclose a four foot by four foot space, with fencing at least three feet high.
Dry, clean bedding should be provided, and lightbulbs and heat lamps should be double checked to ensure they are working properly.
For operations with pasture-lambing flocks, Blackmon suggests moving ewes to clean pasture with access to shelter.
“In this case, it’s still a good idea to set up jugs for problem births, and if possible, plan to rotate pastures after a period of time to keep new lambs separated from older lambs to prevent infection,” she says.
Stock up equipment
Prior to lambing season, producers should take inventory of their lambing supplies and stock up on things they may be running low on.
Blackmon notes it is important to have disinfectant, iodine, castration rings, feeding tubes and bottles, marker sprays or chalk, sterilization equipment and medicine, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatory injections, propylene glycol and calcium injections.
According to Scarsdale Vets, one of the most important supplies to have on hand is milk and colostrum replacer. They recommend producers keep colostrum from ewes with a single lamb to use later in the season when problems arise.
“Colostrum can be stored in a clean container in the fridge for up to seven days or frozen in Ziplock bags to be easily defrosted,” they explain. “However, it is worth checking the quality first, as there is no point in storing poor-quality colostrum.”
“When defrosting colostrum use hot water – not boiling water – rather than a microwave so there is no damage to the immunoglobulin proteins which are sensitive to high temperatures,” they continue. “Consider buying a BRIX refractometer with a zero to 32 percent scale to make more informed decisions about whether to feed, store or discard colostrum.”
Additionally, Scarsdale Vets encourages producers to have lambing ropes, disposable gloves and lubricant on hand.
Producers should also consider making or purchasing a warming box for hypothermic lambs.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.