Proper preparation prevents poor performance in the lambing shed

Now is the time to reflect on last Spring, ask yourself had you a successful lambing season? Is there room for improvement and what changes can you make to maximise the number of healthy new-born lambs into your flock?

Lambing success will be influenced by a number of factors including management of the pregnant ewe, disease, surplus lamb rearing, labour availability and lambing management.

Pregnant Ewe Management

Scanning the ewes is a great advantage to know ahead of time what lamb numbers you are expecting and plan accordingly. Depending on whether it is a single, twins or triplets the ewe will need fed to her optimum energy and protein requirements. It is vital to get the nutrition correct right throughout the pregnancy, but especially important in late pregnancy as ¾ of the foetal growth takes place during the last six weeks. If the ewe is in the wrong condition at this time, it can cause detrimental effects to the survival of the new-born lambs. Research has highlighted that 60% of lamb losses at lambing time are related to incorrect nutrition in late pregnancy.

Overfeeding and underfeeding can both cause issues, so it is best to get it just right. It is difficult to guess whether your ewes are being under/ overfed in late pregnancy if you don’t know the quality of the forage being fed. Therefore, analysing your forage will pay dividends when calculating quantities of feed required.

By overfeeding in late pregnancy to compensate for insufficient feeding earlier on is not a good idea as it will supply more energy to the ewe than required at this time. This can result in fat accumulating around the pelvic area which increases the risk of dystocia, ewes are also more prone to prolapses when overfed in late pregnancy. An increased energy supply to the lamb may result in larger lambs being born which will increase the risk of dystocia at lambing and can reduce lamb survival.

Whereas, underfeeding can cause a shortage of energy supply to the lamb(s) and lambs may be born small, weak and will have less brown fat available for mobilisation during the first few hours of life. The quality and quantity of colostrum produced is likely to be insufficient if ewes have been underfed in late pregnancy and will often result in a poor chance of survival for the lambs.

Overfeeding and underfeeding can both cause issues, so it is best to get it just right.

Disease and contamination

Knowing your disease history of the flock is imperative to success of healthy stock. Having a flock health plan in place is necessary to achieve the most healthy and efficient animals which in turn increase performance and profitability.

Ideally a pre-lambing booster vaccination against clostridial disease should be administered at approx. 4-6 weeks prior to lambing. Other vaccines will be flock specific depending on flock disease history. Consult veterinarian for individual flock health plan. The ewe will then pass antibodies to her lambs via the colostrum giving the lambs protection for a short period in early life.

Ensuring lambs receive good quality colostrum is the number one important job once the lambs hit the ground. It is the lamb’s only source of immunity to disease after leaving the sterile womb. Read in detail about colostrum management of the new-born lamb here:

Lameness in sheep cannot be eradicated but should be prevented where possible. Foot rot in sheep has a negative effect on the overall animal performance for example, a lower lambing percentage, increased risk of pregnancy toxaemia, reduced lamb birth weights, and less milk production. Ewes should undergo regular foot bathing, routine trimming, have a clean environment, perhaps receive foot-rot vaccination and chronic cases should be culled out of the flock to avoid constant re-infection.

Certain diseases are common in new-born lambs, read in detail our article specific to this topic

Good overall hygiene is so important when it comes to preventing disease during the lambing season. Ensuring lambing sheds and rearing facilities have been washed and disinfected in between batches of lambs is vital to a good start in life.

Various disease pathogens can survive for long periods of time within walls and pens e.g., coccidiosis and cryptosporidium. Therefore, it is essential to remove these and let the pen rest before placing vulnerable immune-naïve lambs into them. A clean dry bed of straw also means a lot, it helps keep them warm and dry and a barrier to bugs.

Providing a hose and a foot dip at the entrance of lamb rearing facilities is a must to avoid contamination from other areas on the farm. In addition to this, limiting the number of unnecessary visitors into the shed will reduce disease further.

Surplus lamb management

Have you thought about how many triplets or quads are due, and what is your plan for them? Price always has an impact on these decisions, will it be viable to rear my pet lambs, and do I have the labour available to do so? There are several options when it comes to rearing surplus lambs, an in-depth article can be read here

Lambing management

Once decided on a rearing plan for the surplus lambs, it is important to have all the essential supplies at the ready, e.g., lambing aids, colostrum supplements, milk replacer, feeding equipment, bedding material, heat lamps, iodine, disinfectants, castration rings, medical supplies and the list goes on.

It is a good idea to get some extra help lined up ahead of time, it is going to be a busy time and those extra hands will come in very useful. Advertise what jobs are available and what the role will entail, will you provide training or what skill levels must the person have. It is important to provide a full list of SOPs for tasks at lambing time. It saves time in the long run and everyone knows exactly what needs done which makes it a much more efficient and productive system.

Strive to succeed at lambing time, proper planning will go a long way in producing more healthy lambs. See our list of top tips below to help you tick off your to do list before lambing begins!!

Top Tips Pre-Lambing

  • Scan ewes and group according to lamb numbers
  • Body condition score ewes regularly
  • Plan ewe nutrition according to BCS and lamb numbers expected
  • Vaccinate against clostridia and any other high-risk diseases in a timely manner before lambing
  • Clean, disinfect and rest lambing shed and rearing facilities well ahead of lambing
  • Place a foot dip at entrance of rearing house to minimise disease spread
  • Decide on plan for surplus lambs
  • Purchase all lambing essential supplies prior to any ewes lambing
  • Advertise early for extra help at lambing time
  • Make a list of standard operating procedures for each task
  • Ensure lambs receive adequate levels of colostrum ASAP post birth and have frozen colostrum or a supplement in stock incase ewe does not produce enough colostrum.

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