Watch for lamb mix-ups at birth

If you’re keeping breeding records of your sheep flock, making sure you get the correct mother at birth is critical. Because sheep have litters, and as they often all tend to go away to the same quiet corner to lamb, you can go out in the morning and have a real puzzle to sort out. You find ewes licking everybody’s lambs and so on.

We know from behaviour studies where lambing ewes were watched all night, the difference between what actually happened, and what the shepherd found when he arrived at first light – was an error of 11-13%. The shepherd swore he had things right, but little did he know of all the changes that had happened.

The implications of this are important. For example if you buy a top ram say, there could be an 11% chance that it did not come out of his recorded mother. So the predictions of his genetic merit that you’re paying big money for could be suspect. You can only be sure with DNA testing which at present is a bit too expensive for regular use in sheep.

Correct pedigreeing is especially important if you are breeding special coloured sheep – if there are errors at birth, your programme will take much longer, as what you expect should happen won’t.

So what can you do to reduce errors?
  • Give your ewes plenty of space to go and find a quiet birth site.
  • If this is difficult, put up artificial shelter or use bales of old hay to make quiet spots for lambing sites.
  • If ewes have just lambed - go in quickly and mark twin pairs or triplets with small spots in different places and then leave them alone for the rest of the day.
  • Don’t cover them in raddle – keep the marks as small as possible.
  • Keep the dog well out of the way – unless it is under total command.
  • If there's a popular spot in a paddock where numbers of ewes insist on giving birth, fence it off to make them spread their lambing sites.
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