Friday, January 11, 2008

Lambing 101

Lambing season is upon us. The ewes can lamb at any time. I am particularly excited about this year's crop as we had a new ram service the ewes (female sheep). Is there ever a hint of when the happy event is about to occur? The answer is yes and no. Some sheep do what is called, "bagging up". That is, a bag that is filling with milk, is starting to form above their udders. The photo at left shows two sheep with obvious bags. This bag may be get bigger as her time approaches. But some sheep don't bag up at all until the happy day. So how do we know when to be ready? Well, we don't. All we know is that they will lamb beginning in either January or February. Occasionally we will have an unexpected lamb in May! This would be because the ram missed a few breeding cycles for whatever reason. Lambing this late is logistically inconvenient as we have put away all our lambing paraphernalia. It also makes weaning time a royal pain in the rear.

The first year we had pregnant sheep I used to wake up and check on them at 2am. Doing that in the freezing cold of winter was not fun. As we got comfortable with our abilities as shepherds we quit doing that. Now all we do is have towels and an infra red light at the ready. Tom checks on them on his way to work. If a lamb, twins or triplets are born, he comes back up to the house and says "It's a miracle", after which I drag my butt out of bed and go down and take care of things. If the lamb is all dried off and suckling, I am content and go back to the house. If the lambs is still down I observe both the lamb and mama and if it's still wet I dry it off. This isn't necessary but its the mama in me coming out. I will make sure it looks reasonably alert and maybe hang around awhile, to make sure she doesn't have any more lambs coming. If no other lambs are on the way then I go back up to the house. In general if I hear lambs incessantly baaaaing at a high pitch, it means they are not suckling. Then I have to investigate. Are the teats blocked? There is a waxy plug that sometimes does not get removed by the lamb's vigorous sucking. Then I have to do it. No I don't suck it!! I milk it out, rather like milking a cow. If that's not the problem, does the lamb have a cleft palate or other defect. Is the lamb just too weak in which case I will flip the mama and get that little lamb mouth around the teat to get it started. That first few ounces of colostrum is very important and usually enough to get a weak lamb started. Mother's make a special nickering sound to their young for only a few days. After that you won't hear that special knicker again.

Related Books: Practical Lambing and Lamb Care