Intensive shepherding for small flocks

intensive shepherdingIt's worth providing all the help you can in a small flock.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Get all the lambing gear sorted a month before the first lambs are due.  Pay special attention to medications for metabolic diseases like pregnancy toxaemia (low glucose), grass staggers (low magnesium) and milk fever (low calcium).  You can get all three preventatives in the one bottle or sachet complete with needle.  Talk to your vet.
  2. Make sure you know how to use the gear, especially how to put a feeding tube down a lamb's gullet without filling it's lungs with milk and drowning it.
  3. Treat the ewes quietly before lambing, but some gently exercise is good for them.  Do this by shifting them between paddocks.
  4. Sort out some shelter for ewes with triplets to hold them as soon as they've lambed, and certainly for their first night after birth.  This is best done by making a simple 'lambing pen' in the paddock.  Hay bales or small gates are ideal with a cover over half the top.
  5. It's always better to leave newly-lambed ewes on their birth site till they are fully bonded, but with triplets, weak twins or a ewe that's not mothering all her lambs, it's more important to get them under cover for their first night.
  6. Realise it's not easy and very time consuming driving a ewe and new-born lambs to shelter.  Learn a few tricks to get the ewe to follow one lamb while you keep moving towards the pen, carrying the others.
  7. By getting the group into a pen, it's easier to check the ewe's udder and milk supply and it saves the trauma of catching her in the paddock).
  8. AND by squirting some colostrum from the teat down each lamb's throat immediately after birth, you know all three have had that first vital feed.  This will also clears the wax seal in the end of the teat, which a weak lamb takes too long to suck out.
  9. It's no good just standing, watching triplets teat-seeking in the paddock with the mother fussing around them, especially if she hasn't seen lambs before - and assuming they'll all get a feed. On a wet night, the shock from 29C inside the ewe to 5-6C in driving rain will kill them in less than half a hour.
  10. In a mothering/teat seeking maul, nobody gets a decent drink in the first couple of hours, which can be fatal for one or more of them. The biggest lamb will find the teat and the weaker ones will not.
  11. Triplets are not always the same birth weight which is critical in survival.  Also there may be a delay between the first and third arriving, so the first lamb if  big and strong has got on to its feet, found the teat and emptied it.  The mother may give it all the attention so the late born triplet has little chance.
  12. At birth, use different raddle marks on each triplet set, so if you see lost lambs in the paddock blaring for their mums, then you know where they belong.
  13. Watch out for 'burglar ewes' that will bond with newly-born lambs from other ewes, before they have lambed themselves.  They can cause great havoc among twins and triplets.
  14. Keep a close eye on the most popular lambing spots in a paddock, as you'll find it hard to sort out which are a ewe's own lambs when they have lambed together.  It's a good reason to spread ewes out before lambing.
  15. Popular lambing spots can get very dirty too, so it's often wise to fence them off half way through lambing.  Applying iodine to fresh navels is very important.
  16. Learn to recognise when a lamb is full.  Press upwards on its tummy in front of its back legs and it should feel like a wee drum.  If it's not inflated, then the lamb has not fed and you need to 'tube it' with some good quality lamb colostrum replacer.
  17. As the ewe's milk supply starts to build up, watch out for lambs getting blocked up with yellow faeces. This happens often in windy drying weather.

Decisions - to remove or leave triplets on the ewe

There's no doubt that today's high performance ewes have enough milk to feed triplets, but there are other points and decisions to be made.  Here they are:

  1. When do you want to market your lambs?  Triplets will rarely have reached a market weight by Christmas in New Zealand's North Island.   So they'll end up as store lambs, and they'll be on the farm right through the dry summer period needing money spent on them, worms, lice, blowfly treatment and maybe more.  You may not get rid of them till autumn or early winter.
  2. So if you want to have the bulk of work over by Christmas, you'll need to remove a triplet.
  3. Then you have to decide what to do with the it.  You can:
    1. Euthanase it if it's very small and weak.
    2. Mother it on to a ewe with a single - accepting the work involved.
    3. Rear it yourself on milk powder (for which profit is very doubtful)
    4. Give it away as a pet lamb to have it returned when the kids are sick of it.
  4. If you leave triplets on their dams, best practice is to run them with twins as a stray has a greater chance of sneaking a feed from a confused ewe than if they are mixed with singles - where ewes know their lambs and defend them at all costs.
  5. You also need to be alert to lambs appearing to have lost their mothers in the paddock, at about day10-13 after birth.
  6. Farmers who have noticed this say that it seems that by this time, two lambs have established a strong sucking order each with their own sides, and will not let the third lamb in.  After the two have sucked the ewe moves on to prevent further sucking, and the third lamb misses out - again.  Eventually the ewe seems to decide that two lambs are enough, and stops worrying about her third one, being happy to leave it behind.
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