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Sheep Update -- Prepare Now for Lambing Season

Livestock Update, November 1998

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

Preparing now for the winter lambing season will be beneficial to producers in the form of timely management. The care of the ewe and her newborn lamb at and shortly after lambing time are crucial. The profitability of the sheep enterprise is determined largely by the pounds of lamb marketed relative to input costs. Pounds of lamb marketed is significantly related to the number of lambs marketed per ewe exposed. Research has shown that dystocia (lambing difficulty) and starvation/hypothermia are two major causes of lamb mortality. Avoiding lamb losses from these problems requires close observation and immediate access to management aids. Having the necessary tools, facilities, and medications available when these problems arise will result in more live lambs due to timely management and treatment. The following list contains items that should be on-hand when ewes begin to lamb:

Feeding tube
Plastic sleeves and lubricant for pulling lambs
Frozen colostrum
Milk replacer
Warming box for chilled lambs
Rectal thermometer
Syringes and needles
Iodine solution
Injectable Vit. E/Selenium
Vaccines (enterotoxemia, tetanus)
Ear tags (or other identification supplies)
Docking and castration instruments

In addition, facility enhancements or repairs may be needed. The lambing barn environment is important to newborn lamb health and buildings should be kept draft-free and dry. Lambing jugs are also important, both as a management tool for the shepherd and as a facilitator of bonding between the ewe and her newborn lamb. Lambing jugs need to be a minimum of 4 ft. x 4ft., and may be as large as 6 ft. x 6 ft. for large breeds or flocks with large numbers of multiple births. Approximately 1 lambing jug is needed for every 10 pregnant ewes. However, more may be needed during heavy lambing periods or with flocks having a large number of multiple births that require more time in the jugs.

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