By: Mike Boersma, Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Murray & Pipestone Counties
Lambing season is quickly approaching for many sheep producers and this can be an exciting and challenging time of year. Adequate preparation is essential and will make lambing season more successful and less stressful. Here are a few points to keep in mind as lambing season approaches.
First, is the lambing barn ready? No two lambing barns will be identical and there is no "correct" set-up, since each operation will have slightly different needs and resources available. However, regardless of the type of facility, producers should make every effort to create a relatively warm environment free from cold air drafts on the animals. There is a fine line between creating a warm environment and creating a place with poor air exchange and high humidity. The lambing barn still needs to have a level of fresh air exchange-the key is to provide the fresh air without creating drafts directly on the animals.
Another consideration is to be sure the lambing pens are ready. Lambing pens should consist of a mostly enclosed area that provides about 25 square feet of space for the ewe and her lambs. These pens should be clean and free of manure and should have a heat lamp or other supplemental heat source in one corner for the newborn lambs. The ewes should be kept in these pens for 1-3 days, or until their lambs have nursed and are able to get up and going on their own.
Producers should also prepare themselves to deal with sick or weak lambs. Attentiveness is key here, as weak or chilled lambs can recover much sooner if caught early. The longer the lambs are cold and/or the longer they go without adequate colostrum (first milk) intake, the less likely they are to make a full recovery.
In an ideal situation, the lamb should nurse within the first hour after birth to receive the full benefits of the colostrum from the ewe. If the lamb is unable to nurse, it may be necessary to tube-feed the lamb, which can be done with a clean syringe and a small hose. However, tube-feeding should only be performed by skilled producers, since improperly inserting the tube could pose serious risks to the lamb. It is important that producers prepare ahead of time for weak lambs by having frozen colostrum and milk replacer on hand.
In addition to these simple practices, it is also important that sheep producers work with their veterinarian to develop a proper vaccination and lamb health program. Have the necessary vaccines and antibiotics on hand at lambing time, along with syringes and other equipment. If producers take the time to prepare these few things in advance, their foresight should be rewarded with a successful lambing season.
Mike Boersma is a County Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director with the University of Minnesota Extension in Murray and Pipestone Counties