Saving lambs this spring is all about being well prepared, having the right gear and knowing when to offer or seek help. Knowing what not to do is as important as being over keen to interfere.
Don’t hassle or stress ewes near to lambing and if you suspect they may be carrying multiples, then a little meal each day will be of benefit to keep up their energy levels. It will also make them easy to move and catch if need be. It’s normal for the ewe’s appetite to drop in the last weeks of pregnancy.
Have a clean lambing paddock ready with plenty of shelter from cold, wind and rain. The combination of cold and rain is a big killer of newly born lambs. Recognise that a ewe needs a quiet spot to prepare a birth site, so don’t stock the lambing paddock too highly. If there is no shelter, lay out some hay bales for small lambs to hide behind.
Make sure you have all the equipment needed well ahead of time. Here’s a suggested list for lambing:
- Lambing lubricant.
- Plastic buckets.
- Rubber gloves.
- Stomach tube for weak lambs that can’t suck.
- Covers for lambs in wet cold weather - purchased or home made.
- Heat lamp and box to warm chilled lambs.
- Treatment for ewes with sleepy sickness.
- Pessary for ewes that may risk metritis (infection of the uterus).
- Bearing retainers.
- Antibiotics for ewes with mastitis.
- Iodine for navels.
- An offal hole protected by a safe cover for dead lambs and afterbirths.
It’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian about using pessaries, bearing retainers and antibiotics before you buy them.
If a ewe has started to lamb (getting up and lying down and pressing) and nothing is happening in about 15-20 minutes, then it’s time to investigate. You need to see if the lamb or lambs are coming correctly with head and front feet first like a diver.
If you are concerned, then get some experienced help or ring the vet. If you leave things, the birth fluids will dry up and you may have made things worse. If you see legs sticking out, make sure they belong to the same lamb before pulling. And remember a back leg has a hock and a front one a knee. Most problems are with single lambs that are too big. A big single may have got the head out and no front legs, and the head often swells.
With multiple births, the main problem will be more than one lamb in the birth canal, hence the mix-up with legs. If you ever push a leg back in, put a string on it so you know how to find it again. But the key is to seek help - lambs are too valuable to be used to practice obstetrics.
If you investigate a potential problem, get someone to hold the ewe’s back legs up so the weight of the uterus drops back and you can get your hand in with less risk of damage to the uterus.
The key is to make sure lambs get on their feet early and get a good feed of colostrum. If they are having trouble finding the teat, feed them with a stomach tube with colostrum from their mother or from another newly lambed ewe. Keep some colostrum in the freezer for emergencies.
If it’s a cold wet spell or a dirty night, get new lambs into shelter or inside a shed promptly. Treat all navels with iodine. If you forgot to vaccinate the ewes before lambing, then talk to your vet immediately to see what you can do to avoid problems with clostridial diseases. Make sure you don’t forget next season.