Lambing 101: Animal Husbandry for Newborns

Shepherd usually doesn’t have to worry during lambing season; ewes take care of lambs without much difficulty.

| 2013 Guide to Sheep and Lambs

For the new shepherd, lambing season can be full of surprises. Waiting and watching for those first few babies can be nerve racking, but rest assured, nine times out of 10, the birthing process will proceed normally, and you’ll soon be watching newborns frolicking in the pasture.

During the last six weeks of gestation, it’s important that your ewes get good nutrition, plenty of protein and calories, and adequate exercise to prevent pregnancy toxemia, a highly fatal condition that can occur in the last week or so of pregnancy.

This level of nutrition can be achieved, based on your management strategy, with hay, grain, protein supplements — or blocks — and access to pasture. Spreading hay out in a paddock or corral will provide a modicum of exercise for confined ewes.

During this time, plan ahead for adequate shelter for ewes and lambs, particularly if lambing will occur in spring when weather is highly unpredictable. Stick close to home when lambing is imminent, around five months, and stick close to the barnyard when lambing has begun; however, it’s generally best to stand back, out of sight if possible, than to get the ewes stirred up by hanging too close.

When it’s time, the ewe will appear swaybacked, as the lamb(s) has dropped. She will be restless and have a sunken appearance in front of the hip bones. She’ll separate herself from the rest of the flock, sometimes very subtly, and secure a spot to lamb, fussing and scratching the ground as she goes down.

Her vulva will relax and appear quite pink; it should not be red or protruding, which is an early sign of prolapse. A mucus discharge — clear or slightly bloody — will be apparent, sometimes up to two days before lambing, and up to a week after giving birth.

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