Spring is lambing season here on the farm. If you’re thinking of exchanging your mower for sheep this year – read Raising Katahdin Hair Sheep - then you need to learn about lambing season.
Katahdins lamb easily and rarely need human interference. Our babies typically come in the early morning hours and are nursing happily by the time we get out to the barn in the morning. These sweet lambs were curled up with their mama and sleeping contently when we found them. That’s how the vast majority of our lambs are born. Quickly, with no fuss, and with the mamas knowing just what to do during and after the birth.
However, it’s helpful to be prepared for emergencies. Keep a kit handy with long latex gloves, Vaseline, old towels, a halter, Nutri-drench, and vanilla extract (more on that later). We have had to help pull an overly large lamb out of a first-time ewe’s birth canal so its brother could be born. One sheep had triplets which frightened her so badly that she tried to reject the runt. A still born lamb had to be removed so that its sister could come out. One of our mamas was so terrified by her lambs that she almost trampled them trying to escape. It is important to be nearby during lambing season and to check on the ewes frequently.
The gloves and Vaseline are for when you need to “go in” and straighten out a lamb in the birth canal. The towels are for when you have to pull on a large lamb’s legs with the mama’s contractions to help it eject. The halter, Nutri-drench, and vanilla are for those times that the ewe rejects a lamb, or just can’t figure out how to nurse. We give the lamb an oral shot of Nutri-drench for sustenance, hold the ewe in place with the halter, and teach the lamb how to latch on. Vanilla is one of those odd yet fortuitous accidents that we discovered with the little triplet that was rejected. Nothing in the sheep books seemed to work for getting Mama to accept her baby. Since sheep can tell their lambs by smell, we decided to work by scent. Rubbing vanilla on the ewe’s nose and on the lamb’s bottom convinced the mama that this was indeed her baby – he smelled just like her! The same thing worked like a charm for the new mama who was scared of both her babies. Our vet denies that this can work, but we’re leaving the vanilla in our birthing kit.
In the fall months you decide how many lambs you want and when you want the lambing season to begin. Sheep gestate for 145 days (just shy of 5 months) so count backwards to determine when to put your ram in with the ewes. Since Katahdin sheep are prone to multiple births (twins are usual, and triplets aren’t unknown), a small flock of ewes produces a large crop of lambs. Check out Lambing 101: Animal Husbandry for Newborns for more details on sheep husbandry.
Lambing season is our favorite time of year! Watching the little ones gamboling across the meadow exploring their new environment is a time of intense joy. Seeing the ewes respond so tenderly to their new lambs is so endearing. It is amazing how perfectly God created these sweet animals to know what to do when they become mamas.