The dangers associated with outdoor lambing this spring

For the majority of sheep farmers, lambing takes place indoors every spring. However, for some, lambing outdoors is also the preferred option.

If the weather is good and the fields are small with adequate shelter, then, outdoor lambing is a viable option.

However, over the last few years, the weather during springtime has been nothing short of woeful and extremely wet.

It is also worth noting that, according to An Garda Síochána, more than 3,000 sheep are killed or injured each year by dogs, with the majority of these attacks occurring in spring.

This startling statistic is just another reminder of the dangers associated with leaving heavy in-lamb ewes out on pasture this time of the year.

However, getting back to the management side of things, lambing ewes outdoors can bring on a lot of problems for both the farmer and the animals.

In terms of the farmer, having ewes out on pasture can make it difficult to identify ewes that are close to lambing as going out constantly checking on them is time-consuming and may not be a viable option.

Instead, having ewes in a shed, nearby, can allow farmers to check on their ewes with ease. The option of installing a lambing camera is also available, if a farmer is off-farm due to other work commitments.

Also, mismothering becomes a problem when ewes are lambed outdoors. If a twin-bearing or triplet-bearing ewe lambs down in the field, the chances of that ewe not taking to her lamb increases, with a good chance of another ewe claiming that lamb as her own.

In the lambing shed, this problem can be avoided with the help of a fostering crate. Also, if ewes are in the shed, the option of fostering a lamb from a triplet-bearing ewe onto a single-bearing ewe can be achieved.

Moreover, lambing ewes outdoors will result in more feed having to be offered in order to maintain their body condition. In fact, ewes that are out on pasture will use up more energy trying to keep warm, then if they were housed in a shed.

Therefore, the energy the ewe uses up to keep warm is not diverted to the growing foetus, which may cause reduced lamb birth weight and milk production.

Moreover, if a ewe lambs outdoors in this kind of wet weather – that we are getting now – the chances of her lambs becoming cold and hypothermic are increased.

So, in summary, lambing outdoors can be a viable option if: the weather is good; the ewes are carrying only one lamb; and paddocks are small and have adequate shelter.

Listed (below) are the advantages and disadvantages of lambing outdoors.

Advantages:

  • Low-cost system compared to housing ewes – reduced feed and bedding costs;
  • Reduced risk of lameness spreading throughout the flock – if ground conditions are dry – compared to if they were in the shed;
  • Lower labour requirement.

Disadvantages:

  • Risk of ewes being attacked by dogs is increased;
  • Problems such as mismothering are enhanced;
  • Lamb mortality rates may be higher – especially if the weather is bad;
  • Requires good shelter around the field if weather conditions are wet;
  • If grass supplies are low, good-quality silage and extra concentrates may be required;
  • Increased risk of ewes losing condition outdoors if the weather is bad – especially if their feed intake levels remain the same.

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