By Martha McGrath, Article courtesy of

* LAST TWO MONTHS of gestation- “condition score” ewes, feed well.

You should have a general idea of when your ewes will lamb. There are

In the last newsletter, I told you about our experiences feeding a Reduced Hay Ration. We continue with that in late gestation (the last two months), making sure the ewes get enough energy and protein for their growing lambs and future lactation. The trace minerals are important, too, especially the calcium/phosphorus ratio, and selenium in areas where the soil is low. (see my “milk fever” article for more info.)

* LAST MONTH- vaccinate, deworm, shear.

I like to vaccinate with CD&T and deworm the flock about 3 weeks before the first ewes are due to lamb. I use Levamisole (Tramisole) wormer because it is safe in late gestation, and effective on dormant larval stages (hypobiosis). I deworm the ewes again at lambing, when tagging and docking the lambs. I also like to shear the ewes at this time. I have shorn as late as the actual due dates (once had to put one ewe out of the holding pen while she lambed) without it seeming to affect the ewes, but I would rather not wait that late! Pre-lambing shearing makes things easier on me. I like to be able to see udders and vulvas as the ewes are at the feed trough. It also keeps fleeces cleaner, and allows newborns to find the udder. Some say that shorn ewes will seek shelter with their babies in bad weather, while ewes in full fleece may not. If you can’t shear, it is a good idea to crutch, or shear the wool under the tail and close to the udder so that the newborn can find the teats easily. Our Coops are pretty wooly, so I usually have to shear the inside of the hind leg then, too.

* LAMBING- leave ewe alone if she is making progress.

I check the ewes about 4 times a day at lambing time;
at feeding (morning and about sundown),
mid day,
and just before bed .
Many knowledgeable people recommend that you not bother the ewes in the middle of the night, because this can cause them to go in to labor after you go back to bed!

Ewes that are close to lambing will usually have a large milk bag the last week or so, then a swollen, pinkish vulva in the last few days. A clear mucus discharge means she is dilating, and close to lambing. She will probably want to be alone, and will start pawing and getting up and down. Keep an eye on her (binoculars are great!) but don’t bother her. If all is well, a balloon-like water bag will soon appear, followed by the lamb’s 2 front hooves and nose. Don’t worry if she gets up and down, and everything slides back inside her. If the ewe has been pushing for an hour, and you can’t see anything, there may be a problem. You will have to call your vet, or scrub up and “go in”.

Do you want to pasture lamb or barn lamb?
We do sort of a combination. I let the ewes lamb on pasture, then pick up the lambs and the ewe USUALLY follows me to the barn, where I put them in a “jug”, (a 5 X 5 foot pen).
Ewes with singles stay for one day, twins for two, trips for 3.
I like to “strip, clip, and dip” in the jug.
I strip the teat to make sure the plug is gone and she has colostrum,
clip the umbilical cord to about one inch if it is too long,
then dip the cord in iodine.

The ewes do not need grain while in the jug, only hay and fresh water. Woody Lane, who writes a column for Shepherd Magazine, recommends that you feed alfalfa pellets to the ewes in the jugs, as it is easier to manage. He says that it will not cause digestive problems, since it is made from pelleted alfalfa hay.

I like to bring the ewes and lambs into the barn in the jugs because it is easier for me to spot any problems, worm the ewes again, and weigh, dock and tag the lambs. I dock and castrate with rubber bands a few hours before the lambs are due to go out of the jugs, because I’ve read that the pain of docking too soon after birth can interfere with the lamb drinking that first, important colostrum. The newborn lamb’s stomach has a special ability to absorb antibodies from the colostrum, and the newborn fat reserves only last about 12 hours.
I no longer castrate most of the ram lambs. The Muslim market prefers intact rams.

If all goes well, after a few days the ewe and newborn lambs are put in another pasture with other new moms. While in the jugs and on pasture, walk through a few times a day. Make any sleeping lambs get up- a healthy lamb will stretch, then find mom! A sick or starving lamb will either not get up, or stand hunched up.

When I have lambed on pasture in May, I carried a diaper bag to the pasture to hold ear tags, docking pliers and bands, and my record book. I took care of tagging and docking there in the field, and then left the moms and babies alone.

The BASIC RECORDS that I keep are-

Lamb ID#, Dam ID, Sire ID, Date of Birth, Birth Weight, Birth Type (Single, Twin, Trip.), Color, Sex, Concieved (#1 means born in first 21 days after ram turned in, #2- born after first 21 days), Live (birth- Y for yes, N for no), Raised (1 for sing., 2 for twin) Weight 1, Weight 2, Weight 3 (usually 30, 90, and 120 days) and Disposition (meaning sold for meat, sold for breeding, kept in flock).

I made an Excel Spread Sheet to record this info for each year. I usually do the weights at the same time as worming and vaccinating the lambs, so I note that on the sheet, too.

I also have an individual sheet for each breeding ewe that contains her pedigree and production info, where I list ID numbers for her lambs born, birth dates and weights, lamb sire ID, and ewe yearly fleece weights. This sheet goes with the animal if it is sold.

When giving the lambs an ID number, I like to incorporate the year they were born in the first 2 digits, so 9608 was the eighth lamb born in 1996, and 0403, the third lamb born in 2004. I ear tag ewes in the right ear, rams in the left.

(See LAMBING RECORDS FOR RAISING PERFORMANCE RECORDED SHEEP by Hope Yankey for more on record keeping)

The majority of lamb deaths occur in the first week, frequently from “SME” complex. That stands for Starvation, Mismothering and Exposure. Other causes can be starvation due to sharp teeth in lambs, or starvation because the newborn has not passed the meconium (first tarry feces) and is constipated. An enema works wonders in this case. I have had an occasional infected navel or tail dock, also, and these can be life threatening. Common causes of death in older lambs are parasites, pneumonia, and predators.

* LAMB CARE- Vaccinate with CD&T at 4, 6, and 8 weeks, deworm starting at 6 weeks.

I think that three enterotoxaemia shots are cheap insurance. Have fecal tests done to make sure that your worming program is effective. There are kits that you can buy to do your own fecal tests. Rotational grazing and renting clean pastures can reduce the need for worming. I have little experience with these, though.

Adapted from Care of Ewes and Lambs at Lambing Time
By: Helen A. Swartz, Ph.D., Missouri State Sheep, Goat & Small Livestock Specialist

7% Tincture of iodine -for disinfecting lamb navels.
Eartags -for lamb identification.
Lubricant (K-Y Jelly) -when assistance is needed by the ewe.
Elastrator bands -for docking and castrating.
Stomach tube and 60mm syringe-for lambs unable to nurse.
Balling gun -for boluses, capsules and pills.
Bottles and nipples -for orphan lambs.
Sulfa -for infections and treating Coccidosis.
Antibiotics -for infections.
Pepto-Bismol -for diarhea.
Mineral Oil or Enemas -for constipation block.
Drenching syringe -for deworming.
3cc, 10cc and 25cc syringes and 18 -20 ga. needles -for various treatments.
Nylon rope or equivalent -for pulling lambs.
Knife -for foot trimming.
Shearmaster -for crutching and shearing.
Rectal thermometer -for sick animals.
Heat lamps, paper towels and rope halters.
Scale and Lamb record notebook!

See my Sheep Links, Lambing and Lambing Problems, for more info.

Martha McGrath Deer Run Colored Coopworth Sheep in WV Your clicks fight hunger at The Hunger Site!