5 steps to improve lambing success on your farm

Lambing is underway on many mid-season production systems across the country.

As we’ve heard many times before ‘success occurs when opportunity meets preparation’ and this is definitely the case at lambing.

Feedback from scanning technicians and advisors throughout the country indicates an increase in scanning percentages in the mid-season lambing flock.

However, the focus must now be on lambing, in order to reap the rewards by reducing losses of ewes and lambs pre and post-lambing.

It’s a critically important time of the year, as most deaths of adult ewes and new-born lambs occur at lambing or in the first week post-lambing.

According to Teagasc research, management at lambing time will influence lamb weaning weights and weaning rates and, ultimately, the performance of the flock for the production year ahead.

1. Facilities

As this is the busiest part of the season for many sheep farmers, preparation of lambing facilities is essential.

At least one individual lambing pen should be provided for every eight-to-10 lambing ewes.

In the case of a synchronised flock this would need to be increased.

Ensure that hay racks, water sources and meal containers are provided in each individual pen. Pens should be located in areas convenient for cleaning, as hygiene is essential.

lambs just born

2. Management

To prevent mismothering move lambed ewes and their lambs to individual pens soon after lambing.

Many healthy, vigorous lambs will latch on and suckle themselves but, in the case of weak lambs or triplets, they may need help.


Proper supervision at this time will ensure that the ewe licks her lamb(s) dry, the lambs suckle and that weak, unmothered lambs are dried, warmed and fed.

Infrared heaters or a lamb-warming box may be required to keep lambs warm, until they become mobile and can fend for themselves.

If lambs are too weak to suckle, a stomach tube can be used but caution needs to be taken.

Equipment should be cleaned before and after use, warm water should be used to soften the tube before inserting it into stomach via the oesophagus.

Care should be taken so that the lamb swallows the tube as you feed it down gradually, as opposed to forcing it.

3. Colostrum

Colostrum for new-born lambs is extremely important during the first few hours of life for nutrients and antibodies, as well as clearing out the digestive tract.

New-born lambs rely on the intake of colostrum to build passive immunity from their mother, as at birth they have practically no immunity to disease and infection.

If, for any reason, the new-born lamb doesn’t get sufficient colostrum during the first few hours after birth, then this will reduce the rate of lamb survival and possibly impact on future lamb performance.

As a guideline, on average within the first 24 hours new-born lambs require 160ml of colostrum per 1kg birth weight. Therefore, an average-size twin lamb at 4.5kg requires 720ml of colostrum within the first 24 hours after birth.

4. Mortality at lambing time

Ovine abortion tends to have gotten more common in recent years.

The two most common forms of ovine abortions are toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion.

Vaccinations to both abortions can only be given to non-pregnant sheep four weeks pre-mating. However, lambing time offers an ideal opportunity to establish the cause of losses.

In general, if more than 2% of sheep abort one should investigate the situation, in conjunction with their veterinary practitioner.

5. Identification

Branding ewes and their corresponding lambs as they depart the lambing pen is a very simple task but often tends to be very supportive on many farms.

If health issues or mismothering arises when at grass, the ewe and corresponding lamb(s) can be withdrawn from the flock with ease of identification.

spring lamb

Lambing time often exposes unwanted sheep that should be culled before the following breeding season.

These unwanted ewes include ewes with persistent health problems such as prolapses, lameness, mastitis, difficult lambing, etc.

These ewes should be ear notched, tagged or recorded, as spray markers are not reliable due to wool removal and fading.

By Sean Mannion, Teagasc Adviser/Education Officer, Galway/Clare Regional Unit