10 tips for an easier lambing season

With many mid-season lambing flocks in the process of scanning their ewes, it won’t be long before that first ewe drops and the start of a busy period begins.

To help get through the busy period, Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep Knowledge Transfer at Teagasc, offered some advice for farmers to help make the lambing season that bit easier.

Research has shown that a quarter of the annual workload occurs at lambing time. Some simple management tasks can greatly improve lamb survival and reduce your workload.

Listed (below) are his top 10 tips for the busy period that lies ahead for sheep farmers.

Prevent ewes getting thin: Monitor ewe body condition and adjust feeding levels for sheep that are losing or gaining too much body condition.

Minimise stress and prolapse: Provide adequate feeding space so that all ewes can eat concentrates at the same time.

For most farms, this will require 500-600mm per ewe to ensure that shy feeders get equal access to feed.

When calculating trough space, ensure that you only calculate available space – deduct 600mm at corners where the sheep are feeding at right angles.

Also Read: Housing: How much lying and feed space do my ewes need?

Reduce lambing difficulty: Adjust late-pregnancy feeding according to litter size and lambing date.

This will reduce the number of excessively small lambs (resulting in higher mortality) or excessively large lambs. Target birth weights are: singles (6kg); twins (5kg); and triplets (4kg).

Boost colostrum quantity and quality: Feed pregnant ewes 100g of soya per day per lamb carried for the last two weeks of gestation.

Reduce lameness: In non-slatted winter accommodation, use adequate bedding to keep the lying area clean and dry. Apply ground or hydrated lime where the sheep stand and feed twice weekly before applying fresh straw bedding.

Prepare for lambing: Have stocks of all the products you need at least a week before the ewes start lambing.

The list of stocks include:

  • Gloves;
  • Lubricant;
  • Iodine for navels and antibiotics (subject to vet advice);
  • Syringes and needles;
  • Glucose, colostrum and lamb milk;
  • Bottles, teats and stomach tubes;
  • Marking spray;
  • Calcium injection;
  • Thermometer;
  • Jugs, whisks, water/feed containers and disinfectant for lambing pens.

Have adequate lambing pens: Have at least one lambing pen available for every 10 ewes due to lamb.

This will allow ewes and newborn lambs to be held inside for longer periods, particularly during adverse weather.

Bedding and disinfecting pens: Use adequate bedding in lambing pens and clean and disinfect lambing pens after each occupancy to reduce the disease challenge to newborn lambs.

You will require approximately four 4X4 round bales of straw per 100 ewes for bedding.

Adequate colostrum: Ensure that all lambs receive adequate colostrum in the first six hours life.

Colostrum provides newborn lambs with nutrition but also has antibodies to fend off disease. Every lamb should receive 50ml/kg birth weight of colostrum or cows’ colostrum, always include some colostrum from ewes.

For example, if a ewe with triplets only has 300ml of colostrum, then each of her three lambs should receive 100ml of ewe colostrum and the substitute or cows’ colostrum where there is no alternative source of ewe colostrum available.

Establish a strong mother/offspring bond: When lambing indoors, it is essential that the ewe and her lambs are given time alone to bond.

Aim for a minimum residency period of 24 hours in the individual lambing pen for each ewe/lamb combination.

Ideally, this should be followed by a few days in a group pen, or a small sheltered paddock with some other ewes and their lambs.