Ok. We lied. There is no such thing as a stress free lambing season. It’s a fraught and difficult time, as you stumble sleep deprived from your bed to aid a difficult birth, look after the orphans and generally keep the maternity ward going. But there are many things that you can do to make lambing a bit easier on us all.
Plan ahead: Excellent forward planning will go a long way to ensuring that this busy time of year will not take too great a toll on you or your flock. Make lists. Include everything on the list, from making a few extra stews for the freezer to getting your lambing gear, torch batteries and rain gear in order. Being ready for all possibilities will go a long way to making the lambing season go smoothly
Prepare a lambing kit: Put together your own handy lambing kit. Include spray markers for animal identification; stomach tube and syringes, and a supply of bottles and teats in case there is a need to supplement lambs. A method to sterilise these between feeds, rubber rings and ring applicator, a thermometer and a red lamp or heat source. At Agridirect, we have put together a perfect Lambing Essentials Kit containing everything you need for the lambing period in a handy, strong and easy to transport storage box. It contains a feeding bottle for feeding colostrum, 1ltr of vet lube for lambing, 200g superstart colostrum to give a weak lamb a boost, Iodine for disinfecting navels, Lambing aid to help with difficult lambings, Arm length gloves, tail rings for docking and/or castration plus a syringe and the storage box. https://www.agridirect.ie/product/lambing-essentials-kit
Get your sheep shed ready: Ensure your housing is clean, free of draughts and well-lit for those dark nights ahead. Be particularly scrupulous about disinfecting. Individual lambing pens are required at a rate of approximately one pen for every eight ewes, but you must do the best you can with what is available to you. It’s worth noting that pneumonia is much more common with housed sheep and lambs than those raised on pasture. Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics: penicillin, tetracyclines, and others. Fluid therapy can hasten recovery. An extra bit of cleanliness and shoring up draughts will help to avoid any illness.
Colostrum at the ready: Order in your supply of colostrum or colostrum supplements. https://www.agridirect.ie/product/superstart-calf-and-lamb-colostrum Ensuring that new born lambs have enough colostrum is essential in guarding against mortality and ensuring they get the best start in life. Colostrum performs three very important roles in the first day of life for new born calves and lambs. It provides an easily digestible source of essential energy and nutrients and acts as a mild laxative to clean out the digestive system of newly born lambs. Most importantly, it helps boost and build a healthy immune system in the lambs. To provide new born lambs with the best chance of survival, colostrum should be given within the first six hours after birth. Using a stomach tube is the most reliable way of getting colostrum into a lamb, but it is essential that the stomach tube is sterile prior to use and the colostrum is delivered slowly into the stomach.
Foxes Barred and Crows Banned: Make whatever provisions you can to deter predators. Foxes seem to be getting braver and craftier every year. Lambing indoors cuts down on the chances of lamb losses. Keeping weaker and smaller lambs inside for a day or two can help, although you don’t want them in for too long as they thrive better on the grass. https://www.agridirect.ie/product/fox-repellent-for-lambs . The Foxlight and fox repellent are useful tools in the fight against these determined beasts of prey. The Foxlight works by giving the illusion that someone is walking around with a torch at night. Foxlight uses a series of blue and white LEDs controlled by a computer chip to create a varying timed and totally random display that predators will not be able to predict or become accustomed to. If a Foxlight saved one lamb, it would have paid for itself. https://www.agridirect.ie/product/fox-light
Make plans for your course of action during lambing: When you are in the thick of the lambing season, and suffering sleep deprivation, it may not be easy to make snap on the spot judgements regarding the flock. Make decisions beforehand regarding foster lambs, pet lambs and at what point your will call the vet. Knowing when to intervene and when to stand back is important. Lambing is a natural process and the less hands-on intervention from you, the better.
“Lambing is a natural process and most ewes will do it quite successfully without our intervention. International studies would suggest that if intervention is greater than 10pc, there is some issue at play, whether this is overenthusiastic shepherding or inappropriate nutrition or some disease issue. Now, it is most likely that levels of intervention will be higher at higher litter size and where we are wet fostering. Lambing is a three-stage process. The first phase, which usually lasts around six hours, but can be longer, essentially is the ewe getting ready to lamb. This will involve all the characteristic signs of lambing onset such as increased restlessness and frequent standing and sitting, increased bleating, nest building or pawing the ground and increased frequency of straining. The end point of this is the appearance of the water bag. The second phase is the birth of the lamb. This can take up to an hour after appearance of the water bag and there can be 30 minutes or more between lambs. The final stage is expulsion of the placenta or ‘cleanings’. This usually occurs within two to three hours after the lambs are born. If we do have to intervene, it’s important to do so in such a manner as to minimise the risk of injury and infection. In my opinion, more damage is caused by early and overenthusiastic intervention than by taking your time.” Tommy Boland, Associate Professor, lecturer in Sheep Production at University College Dublin
It is important to be ready for this busy time of year but undoubtedly, each lambing season will throw up a surprise or two that you have not encountered before, just to keep it interesting. All you can do is be prepared and go with the flow. Wishing you healthy ewes and lambs and a very prosperous lambing season.