30 suggestions to save lambs

Save lambsEvery lamb is worth saving this spring - so it's worth putting a lot of effort into your lambing management. This year spare lambs are worth fostering or rearing artificially.
Here are some suggestions.

  • Get all your gear ready for lambing in good time. See website for list.
  • Dag all ewes well before lambing.
  • Drench adverts will tell you to drench for worms before lambing.  There should be no need to do this, but it tempted, use a Faecal Egg Count the basis to find out if this is needed. Check with your vet.
  • Give ewes a good pre-lamb crutch taking plenty of belly wool off in front of the udder if it's long, so newly-born lambs can easily find the udder and teats as they nuzzle along the ewe's body line.
  • Check regularly for cast ewes that get on their backs and cannot regain their feet and may develop a prolapse. The risk is higher if ewes have long wool and were not shorn pre-mating.
  • If any ewes get prolapses, get a veterinarian as a matter of urgency to treat them.  The aim is to avoid infections and get the lambs to survive.  Mark these ewes for culling as the chances are high they'll be repeat offenders next season.  Excess feed is usually blamed for prolapses, but there's a genetic component too.
  • Sort out a good lambing paddock with plenty of shelter at ewe and lamb level. High trees are no good.  Provide extra temporary shelter with bales or shade cloth.
  • Try not to disturb ewes near to lambing - they need peace and quiet to find and prepare a birth site and need space for this so set stocking is the best system.
  • It's often a good idea to get ewes used to dogs and children wandering among them before lambing, so they are not seen as predators when lambs are born.
  • In bad weather, lock a newly lambed ewe and lambs into the sheltered area or she'll want to go back to their birth site where the smell of her burst waters attract her.  Ewes often deem this to be more important than suckling her lambs, especially in hoggets and two tooths at their first lambing.
  • Make sure ewes are in good condition and well fed coming up to lambing.  If you have no grass or good supplements (silage) available, then buy some meal as the ewes need extra energy. If sheep have not seen meal before, they may be slow to eat it or totally refuse it.
  • When a ewe has lambed, catch her to clear the wax seal from her teats, and give them a good squirt to see all is well.
  • You may find at this inspection that ewes may have a very large teat or teats that the lamb won't initially be able to suck.  This teat will need to be milked out every other day until it returns to a more normal size and the lamb can suck it empty.
  • Milk some colostrum from any ewe that lambs with a large udder and plenty of spare milk. Freeze this in single feed portions in plastic bags for starved lambs.  Warm it to body temperature (39 degrees) and don't boil it.
  • Learn to use a feeding tube correctly so it doesn't go down into the lamb's lungs.
  • Go around the lambed ewes daily to make sure all lambs are actually getting milk, especially multiples. If in doubt, catch any lambs their front legs, check that their tummies are full.  A starved lamb is hollow behind the ribs.
  • Check for lambs with stuck-down tails which can kill them.  This is caused by thick colostrum and is a problem when lambs are about a week old in dry windy weather which dries out their faeces.
  • Be alert to a triplet that has no chance of getting a feed, and you'll have to feed it or foster it on to another ewe.
  • Triplets can starve in the first few days but also about day 10-13 if the teats have been claimed by fast-growing twins, that won't let the third lamb suckle.
  • With quads, foster the fourth one. Some commercial farmers leave quads to suckle, but it greatly increases mortality.
  • Put covers on lambs at birth unless it's brilliant weather.  You can buy plastic or wool ones now, or use old bread and supermarket bags.
  • Use plenty of iodine on navels, especially at the end of lambing when the lambing paddocks get muddy.
  • Don't leave dead lambs lying around the paddock.
  • Any ewes that abort, collect the foetus and bury it.
  • Skinny ewes are prone to metabolic diseases so have calcium (for milk fever) and magnesium (for staggers) and glucose (for sleepy sickness) all ready.
  • Very fat ewes carrying multiples can also be prone to sleepy sickness so be on the lookout for them.  They need urgent glucose supplementation as they can die quickly.
  • An old trick to find the ewes carrying multiples is drive the flock slowly along, where the ones at the rear with big bellies will be carrying the extra lambs.
  • Code-mark multiple lambs at birth to record siblings. This makes it easier to check they are correctly mothered up, particularly on your last round of the lambing paddock at dusk.
  • We used to dunk a severely chilled lamb in warm water, but leaving it in an old electric blanket is far more effective.
  • Watch out for ewes that have not lambed bu go around and steal lambs from newly-lambed ewes. Separate them into another paddock until they have lambed as they cause a lot of mismothering.
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