I have been busy the past week getting ready for lambing. The time of lambing is exciting for me as I get to see the results of breeding the rams to ewes. Being honest, I love watching new life come into the world and watching lambs play. Lambing is also important as how well I take care of the ewes and lambs will determine how much I am paid for my work and effort.
I have a lambing time or lambing season every eight months. I have developed and continue to perfect my system of managing my sheep farm. Ewes are pregnant for approximately 152 days, some ewes will lamb a little early and some late, but most will lamb at 152 days from conceiving. Ewes cycle every 17 or twice in 34 days. I keep my rams with the ewes for 35 days to ensure every ewe has the opportunity to be bred. After breeding the feed is adjusted as the lamb grows. The last six weeks are crucial as the lamb grows 70% of the birth weight and starts making hair or wool follicles. The nutritional needs of the ewes change to accommodate this increase in demand on the ewe. Also the ewe is unable to hold as much feed at one time in the digestive tract as the lamb or lambs is taking up more space. Six weeks before lambing I am adjusting feed supplements and adding hay for the ewes to eat at night. I do not want my ewes to loose body condition nor do I want the ewes to get overweight.
I vaccinate and deworm 5-6 weeks before lambing as per my veterinarian’s instructions. I deworm with a dewormer that is safe for pregnant ewes. Vaccinating 5-6 weeks before the ewe lambs insures the antibodies are in the colostrum for the lamb when it is born. The colostrum provides the antibodies for the lamb until it is old enough to vaccinate.
If I raised wool sheep, the ewes would need to be sheared or at least “crotched” shearing the back end and around the udder so the new lamb can easily locate the udder after being born. Since I raise hair sheep, I do not have to schedule shearing for the ewes.
Prepping for lambing is getting all the supplies together I will need during lambing. I make sure I have powder colostrum and bottle with lamb nipples ready for the lambs. I make sure I have some lamb replacer milk as I know I will have one or maybe two lambs to supplement feed due to a ewe I own with only one working tit. I also place a measuring cup with these supplies to make sure I have the correct amount of water for mixing. I give some colostrum to lambs I am not sure they got a belly full from their mother and for lambs that are twins and triplets. I want my lambs to have the best chance of survival, I want to make sure the lambs get the important colostrum with the antibodies to help them stay healthy.
In a small tool box I place OB gloves, surgical gloves and lubricant to use if I have to assist a ewe with lambing. Along with the gloves I place a small bottle of iodine tincture for prevention of joint ill. I use little condiment cups for this, but any small cup will do. I dip the navel as that is what the veterinarian instructed me when I raised horses and my current veterinarian instructs me to do with my sheep.
I check to make sure I have enough ear tags to tag the lambs in my tool box and the tagging tool. The ear tag number is my identification of the individual sheep for health, vaccination, deworming, hoof trimming and how well they reproduce as well as to know who the dam is. I will track each lamb as it grows until it is sold or if I keep for a replacement ewe. I track how well the lambs do from each ewe and will only keep ewes whose lambs have the best growth rate.
Where the ewes are going to lamb is prepared for the big event. The barn is cleaned, fresh straw or shavings is brought in and the lambing jug panels are laid out. I make sure I have enough water buckets and hay feeders. Depending on the time of year I will make sure the heat lamps work. We get cold wet weather in January and February with high humidity, and heat lamps help keep the lambs from freezing. In September, I still make sure the heat lamps work, but will probably not use them. I also make sure the lamb scale is working as I record birth weights. I also bring out of storage the lamb basket. The lamb basket is a laundry basket with ropes attached to move the lambs. I learned of this home made basket from Sandy Brock on one of her videos. It work really well for me and is much easier on my back as before I was holding lambs in front of the ewe walking backwards to the jug.
Once lambing has started, when the first lambs are a week old I will set up the creep feed area. But before lambing I make sure all the panels and feeder are available and ready. I purchase the lamb creep feed when lambing starts as I want the creep to be fresh and not get moldy. We have high humidity and feed molds quickly here.
I work at improving the conformation and characteristics of my Dorper flock. I hope with each breeding I am working on the improvement. Lambing shows me if I made the right choices in selecting rams and ewes.
The lambs that are produced will eventually make my paycheck and provide the funds to feed the ewes and continue being a sheep farmer.