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Lambing Management Tips
Livestock Update, February 1997
Steve Umberger, Animal & Poultry Sciences
- Check heavy ewes at least four times daily (early morning, noon, late afternoon, and before bed). Do not check ewes in the middle of the night. Late night activity may cause ewes to begin lambing after producers have returned to the house.
- Lambing cubicles placed around the walls in the lambing area of the barn measuring 4 ft x 6 ft have been used successfully as a place for ewes to lamb away from the other ewes in the barn. The cubicles have a 2 ft wide opening with a 10 inch board as a threshold to keep lambs inside.
- After lambs are born, move the ewe and her lambs to a lambing pen with minimum dimensions of 5 ft by 5 ft. Check the ewe's udder to see that she has milk, strip each teat to removed the waxy plug that may be present at the end of the teat, and make sure lambs nurse within 30 minutes.
- Colostrum is critical for baby lamb survival. For ewes without milk or for lambs that fail to nurse, lambs must be given colostrum by stomach tube. If sheeps' colostrum is not available, cows' or goats' colostrum can be used. A supply of frozen colostrum should be available at all times using pre-measured amounts stored in resealable freezer bags. Colostrum should be thawed using indirect heat. Thawing by direct heat destroys the antibodies that are present. Lambs should receive 20 ml (cc) of colostrum per pound of body weight. It works best if feedings can be split four hours apart.
- Only use heat lamps when lambs are weak or chilled. Avoid danger of fire by hanging heat lamps 3 ft above the bedding and in the corner of the lambing pen. Block off the corner so that the ewe cannot get under the lamp.
- Check on the health of the ewe and her lambs at least three times daily. Lambs that are lying down should be made to get up. Those that fail to stretch after getting up may have a problem that requires further examination of the lamb and ewe. The biggest cause of baby lamb mortality is starvation.
- Virginia is a selenium deficient state. If selenium deficiency is a problem, lambs should be given an injection of .25 mg selenium per 10 lb of body weight immediately after birth. A good quality mineral supplement fortified with selenium and provided to the ewe flock on a year-round basis has been shown to be the best way to prevent selenium deficiency in baby lambs.
- A general rule of thumb is for the ewe and her lambs to remain in the lambing pen one day for each lamb on the ewe. Weak or small lambs may require a longer stay.
- Ewes should receive fresh water and high quality hay the day of lambing. Don't feed grain until the second day. One pound of grain plus 5 lbs of good quality hay will take care of the ewe's needs until moving her and her lambs to a mixing pen.
- If ewes were not treated for internal parasites within three weeks of lambing, they should be treated before removal from the lambing pen.
- Keep records on all ewes, noting those that had problems. Individually identify lambs so that they can be tracked after they leave the lambing pen.
- Move ewes and their lambs from lambing pens to mixing pens. Make sure lambs are matched up well with their mothers before moving to larger groups. Ewes with twins should be receiving 2 lbs of a 15% crude protein grain mix and 5 lbs of good quality hay. Ewes with singles should be receiving 1 lb of a 15% crude protein grain mix and 5 lbs of good quality hay daily.
- All lambs should be docked and castrated by the time they are two weeks old.
- Lambs on a winter-lambing program should have access to a high quality creep feed by the time they are seven days old. Creep feeds should contain 18 to 20% crude protein and be low in fiber. Make sure the source of protein in commercially prepared lamb creep pellets is all natural protein and does not contain urea. Maintain at least a 2:1 calcium to phosphorous ratio in the feed by adding 1% feed grade limestone. Calcium to phosphorous ratios of less than 2:1 may lead to urinary calculi in male lambs. When constructing a creep area, keep the following points in mind: 1) place the creep in a convenient location close to an area where the ewe flock congregates; 2) have openings on at least two sides of the creep and several openings per side; 3) keep the creep area clean and well-bedded; 4) place a light over the creep to help attract lambs. Sunlight shining into the creep area works well; 5) provide fresh water in the creep area or as close to it as possible; and 6) construct the creep feeder so that lambs cannot stand and play in it. Allow 2 inches of trough space per lamb.
Virginia Cooperative Extension