How successful was your 2018 lambing?

By Dr. Eileen McCloskey, Sheep Technologist at CAFRE, Greenmount

For the majority of farmers lambing is over, and for those who lamb earlier, it may seem like a distant memory.

However, now is the most appropriate time to assess the performance of lambing and to highlight areas that may need to be addressed.

It’s all too easy to forget about lamb losses and ewes which didn’t perform to the best of their ability.

There are a number of factors to consider which will have impacted the success of lambing and the current numbers of lambs being reared by ewes in your flock.

Lamb crop

The benefits of scanning are well-known. It aids management of the pregnant ewe; it also highlights barren issues and ewe prolificacy.

Essentially, it’s a starting point.

Knowing the potential lamb crop is important; but, recording can’t stop here as the number of lambs sold, or retained for breeding, directly affects profits.

We need to understand where losses between scanning and weaning occur and use this information to make informed management decisions for the next breeding season.

Improving live lamb numbers

This will be the first stage of improving flock performance; as converting scanning numbers to live lambs on the ground is vital.

Knowing the number of lambs born alive, or dead, or which may die very soon after birth, is critical.

Almost half of lamb losses happen within the first 48 hours – this may be due to difficult births, disease, abortion, weak ewes or lambs, lack of colostrum, mismothering or weather.

The table below highlights the main data which should be recorded which will help make informed management decisions for the following breeding season.

I would encourage everyone to complete and discuss the information with their vet. or if they are part of a business development group discuss with the group’s members, and their advisor.

Table 1: Key performance indicators pre, during and post-lambing.

The key figures to look at are the differences between scanning and lambing, lambing and weaning, and also barren rate. This clearly highlights where the majority of losses occur and will guide management decisions.

Health plan

High barren rates and high loses between scanning and lambing could indicate fertility issues, metabolic disorders, nutrition, disease or abortion issues.

If you believe any of these may be an issue, discuss it with your vet and develop a plan – such as a vaccination programme.

This needs to be considered well before the breeding season begins as many treatments – such as a vaccination for enzootic abortion, toxoplasmosis or Schmallenberg – need to be administered pre-breeding.

Many of the vaccinations also need to be ordered in advance; at times supply can be uncertain.


High losses due to difficult births, or lack of colostrum, can be affected by breed, management, nutrition and rams.

The ram buying season is fast approaching and we cannot underestimate the importance of selecting the most suitable ram based on genetic ability and physical correctness.

Make enquiries early about performance recorded rams; investigate breeding values for rams; and understand what is important for your flock.

Seek advice on breeding values if you’re unsure about what’s suitable and how to interpret figures.


  • Information is key to the success of your business; so, take the time now to reflect on this year’s lambing and highlight the main issues which may have negatively impacted performance;
  • Consult with your farm vet if there are any concerns relating to fertility, metabolic disorders or disease. Discuss preventative measures and a treatment plan. If a vaccination is required ensure the product is secured in advance and administered at the most appropriate time;
  • Think about ram requirements well in advance and look for performance recorded rams with good flock health status. Select rams with the potential to enhance your flock;
  • Only make one or two changes to a system within a season; otherwise, it may be difficult to identify which factors have had a positive impact.