It is important to plan ahead for a successful lambing season. Good preparation for the lambing season will help you to maximise on the number of healthy new-born lambs. Here are some tips for preparing for the lambing season:
Make sure your pregnant ewes get the right nutrition
The final six weeks of pregnancy are some of the most nutritionally challenging times for the ewe, as energy and protein demands increase nearly two-fold, in line with the 75% of foetal growth that happens during this short period. Meeting this increased requirement for both energy and protein forms the basis of a successful lambing, including the success of the physical lambing event through to influencing the yield and quality of colostrum produced, and ability to produce vigorous lambs with a good birth weight. It is essential that ewes are fed according to their needs – both underfed and overfed ewes present problems around lambing with potential detrimental outcomes for both. Underfed ewes produce small lambs that are weaker at birth and slow to stand and suck, whilst the ewe herself may also produce poor quality colostrum. Lack of energy can also result in slow lambings, that are more stressful on both the ewe and lamb and increases risks of mismothering. Overfed ewes have more probabilities of suffering from vaginal prolapses and tend to produce larger lambs. The lambing process is also more complicated by fat being laid down in the pelvic area, making the birth canal narrower and lambing difficulties even more common.
As always, plenty of fresh water is vital for ewes, as limiting water (either by lack of water trough space or it not being fresh) can suppress appetite. This should continue after lambing where, due to lactation, water demands increase again.
Prepare your sheep housing
Sheds and pens should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before ewes are brought inside (at least two weeks before lambing). Use plenty of clean, dry bedding to reduce the risk of spreading lameness and other infections such as watery mouth, joint ill and coccidiosis. Good lighting is important too because it makes it so much easier to check your flock without disturbing them too much. Avoid overcrowding otherwise stress and disease issues can spiral out of control: a typical 70kg ewe needs at least 1.2m2 of floor space and 45cm of trough space.
Check your flock health plan
Make sure you are aware of essential disease management interventions pre and post lambing. For example, make sure any lame sheep are separated and treated well before housing, and that vaccinations are given to ewes approximately 6 weeks prior to lambing to provide some protection to the lambs. Also, check the protocols for dealing with any abortion problems, scours or joint ill.
Stock up with equipment & supplies
Lambing is always a busy time of the year so, be prepared and order materials such as disinfectant for pens, iodine for navels, castration rings, feeding tubes, marker sprays, sterilisation equipment, milk replacer, colostrum replacer and any other lambing essentials well in advance.
Set targets for reducing lamb losses
Good records are essential to benchmark performance and to help you identify any potential problem areas. Your recording system doesn’t have to be sophisticated or complicated – the most important thing is to do it accurately. You should be aiming for less than 15% lamb losses, but top performing flocks are achieving closer to 10%.
If you need any help or advice with your flock, please call and ask to speak to one of our farm vets.