Managing ewes at the lambing time

Friday June 10 2016

Ewes should be well taken care of before, during and after their entire lambing period.

Sheep grazing in the highland regions of West Pokot County. Ewes should be well taken care of before, during and after their entire lambing period. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Many farmers believe sheep do not require much care. They, thus, leave them to graze on their own and return to the shed with some little shepherding.

But as any other livestock, sheep require utmost care, especially the ewes that are in-calf. Here is how to take care of them.

FOUR WEEKS BEFORE LAMBING
Shave the wool from around the head, udder and dock of in-calf ewes. If covered, shear the ewes completely.

Sheared ewes are more apt to lamb inside the barn, which would stay dry because less moisture is carried in by the animals.

More shaved ewes can also be kept inside, and it creates a cleaner environment for the lambs and the shepherd.

Vaccinate ewes for overeating disease and tetanus. These vaccines provide passive immunity to baby lambs through the ewes’ colostrum until they can be vaccinated at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

Check and separate all ewes that are developing udders or showing signs of lambing. Check and remove heavy ewes once a week during the lambing season.

Increase the grain on all ewes showing signs of lambing to 0.5kg daily, and feed all the good quality grass/legume hay they will clean up.

Observe ewes closely. Ewes that are sluggish or hang back at feeding may be showing early signs of pregnancy disease (eating disorders are linked to many pregnancy complications, including birth defects and premature birth).

If so, these ewes should be drenched with 57g of propylene glycol three to four times daily.

AT LAMBING TIME

Lambing time is probably the most critical period in a sheep’s life. The higher the percentage of lambs kept alive, the higher the profit. Observe ewes closely during the lambing period.

A good farmer will check the ewes frequently during the night as well as the day. Give the ewe assistance if she is unable to deliver naturally.

It is always best if the ewe is allowed to have her lamb naturally. Occasionally, pulling a lamb makes a ewe reluctant to claim it.

But in case the ewe has a difficulty lambing, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and apply some lubricant before examining it.

LAMBING DIFFICULTIES
These can result from the lambs being too large, the ewe having a small pelvic area, or both. Quite often, however, lambs may be in an abnormal position.

The normal position is with the head between and slightly above the front feet. If the lamb is coming forward with one or both legs turned back, or the head is turned back, first straighten the legs and neck.

It is preferable to have both legs straight, but many lambs can be delivered with the head and one leg forward.

If the back legs are presented first, the delivery should be made in this position as rapidly as possible.

Remove membranes and mucous from the lamb’s face and mouth immediately after delivery, and lift the lamb by its hind legs to clear mucous from the nose.

Applying gentle pressure to the rib cage can stimulate breathing. Blowing into the lamb’s mouth may also be effective.

As soon as the lamb is breathing properly, allow the ewe to lick it clean.

Then treat the navel with a 7 per cent iodine solution; strip each teat on the ewe to remove the plug and to be sure that the ewe has colostrum available.

If it is extremely cold, a heat lamp in the lambing pen will be beneficial. Only use heat lamps long enough to dry the lamb.

Please not prolonged use of heat lamps tends to increase a lamb’s susceptibility to pneumonia.

The first few hours of a lamb’s life are the most critical. If the lamb does not nurse shortly after birth, it will weaken rapidly. The lamb should only receive assistance to nurse if it is necessary.

Best results are obtained if the lamb is allowed to nurse naturally, without assistance. Occasionally, very weak lambs may need supplemental colostrum.

Colostrum must be available to provide energy, protein, minerals, vitamins, and essential antibodies that provide the lamb with vital resistance to disease.

Very weak lambs may be fed with a stomach tube. They may also be revived with a subcutaneous injection of 25 to 50ml of a 5 per cent dextrose solution.

COLOSTRUM

It is essential to know that the lamb consumes colostrum soon after birth. Starvation is the major cause of death in young lambs. Therefore, keep the ewe and lamb or lambs in a lambing pen until they are strong and healthy.

Often, an ewe with a single lamb can be removed from the lambing pen in 24 hours; ewes with twins usually can be removed after two days.

Overall flock production efficiency will also be enhanced if ewes with single lambs are separated from ewes with twin lambs, and fed accordingly.

Ewes nursing a single lamb should receive approximately 0.5 to 0.6kg of grain concentrate daily, while ewes nursing twin lambs should receive more grain concentrate daily.

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Compiled by Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University.