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Just when you thought you had seen it all – a sheep farmer’s perspective

Donal discusses his lambing 2021 experience so far and provides top tips for lambing. 

I moved several ewes indoors for lambing with my 7-year-old, Dara, last Saturday.

For a while, we watched them getting acquainted with their lambing quarters.

As we leaned on their pen gate, I got to wondering what might be in store for this bunch before they go to graze again with their young families in a few weeks’ time.

Lambing time shows up three distinct sets of issues each year.

Things that:
  • Happen every year,
  • Make you shake your head and say: “I thought I’d seen it all.”
  • You would rather forget.

I was diligent in my watching of the pregnant ladies for the next few days for signs of any stress-induced conditions.

I was not to be disappointed. On the third day after housing, while watching on the lambing camera, I spotted a ewe showing the signs of either twin-lamb disease or milk fever.

She was lying down often and getting up a little awkwardly.  Luckily, I managed to get her to my vet, Gary, within half an hour.  As we watched the calcium go into her jugular vein, it was clear that she was going to come around quickly.

I enquired of Gary how the spring was going, and he said, “A different year but with the same problems and the odd surprise.”

I have a habit of thanking the vet by saying:  “Thank you very much, and I hope not to see you again for a very long time.”

It does help to make a note of why you needed a vet in the first instance if you wish not to be meeting them too regularly.

So, this is my list of top tips for lambing that should save us all time and most likely money during the busy lambing period.

Sheep farmer, sheep farming,

Top 10 tips at lambing
  • Firstly, make sure to feed all twin bearing ewes properly. This prevents twin-lamb disease. When grazing outdoors and feeding on meals, some ewes won’t take in enough concentrates.  Keep an eye out for shy feeders.
  • There is always one ewe who is scanned with a single lamb but manages to slip in with the group of twin-bearing ewes. Do not be tempted to leave her. Put her on a lower plane of nutrition, or you will have a difficult lambing on your hands.
  • Thirdly, have a stock of cow colostrum in the freezer. Store it in a 2-litre milk carton.  It can be defrosted in a bucket of lukewarm water.
  • Having a bottle of warm colostrum handy to fill all newborns is a great idea, but keep a kettle on the boil to sterilise the nipple. Stomach bugs can very quickly floor a lively midnight lamb.  Draw each ewe’s paps at lambing to check for mastitis.
  • Colostrum left lying around in a bottle at room temperature goes off quickly. Only use fresh or recently defrosted colostrum.
  • Furthermore, vaccinate ewes on time. Ewes should be given their Clostridial and pneumonia vaccine at least two weeks before lambing.  This ensures immunity will pass to the lambs and prevents sudden deaths in the first few weeks after birth.
  • Check your ewe lambs. It might seem careless to allow ewe lambs not intended for breeding to go in lamb but, it does happen. A ram lamb in late autumn can very easily evade your notice.  It pays to check your ewe lambs for signs of pregnancy in spring.  Pregnant ewe lambs might need extra feed and will require careful monitoring at lambing.  The ideal, of course, is to have them scanned.
  • Keep an eye out for shaky ewes smothering lambs. Ewes can develop milk fever and lie or fall on their lambs very quickly. This often happens to ewes with twins or triplets in a tight pen or if a ewe is inexperienced.
  • Lambs should be at 38.5 degrees C. Make sure to have a thermometer handy.  It might sound obvious, but there is a big difference between thinking a lamb is warm enough and knowing it as a fact.
  • Lastly, use a cup to immerse a lamb’s navel in iodine fully. You get better coverage and a better seal against bacteria than you do with spraying.

Those are the tips that should save shepherd’s torment and money every year.

But inevitably, when dealing with sheep, something will happen that will leave you shaking your head in disbelief.

sheep, sheep farmer, sheep farming, top tips for lambing, lambing season, lambing ewes

“I thought I’d seen it all….”

Here’s my shortlist for:  “I thought I’d seen it all – until..”

  • Lamb-proof housing:

Remove baling twine from all feeders and gates.  Likewise ropes, chains and anything which could be dangerous to a small lamb…..because they will find it.

  • Fill in all holes from removed gateposts in sheep paddocks. A missing lamb in early March baffled me for weeks one year.   The local fox had taken the blame until the fatal error was uncovered in mid Summer.
  • If you are tempted to graze a pet lamb or two in the garden, make sure there are no daffodils around. The daffodil is poisonous to sheep.  Having an abundance of grass around doesn’t make harmful plants any less appetising.  And forget about putting up warning signs…Sheep rarely read these!!
Vegetable soup

For the story I prefer to forget, I am minded of a morning many years ago when I was given a 2-litre bottle of colostrum from a kindly neighbour’s freezer as one of my ewes prepared to give birth to triplets.

Heating it gently as the lambing proceeded, I couldn’t quite figure the familiar smell wafting over the pens.

Lambs delivered safely; I set about filling bottles of the beestings only to discover I had been preparing the lambs a feed of my neighbour’s vegetable soup all along.

Isn’t that the great magic about springtime and lambing?  You will always see or experience something that will leave you shaking your head and chuckling to yourself.

Enjoy the lambing. With longer days, high prices and better weather, the long winter is fast fading in the rearview mirror.

And yes, I did have the soup for my lunch the next day. As the fox said to the farmer at the open door of the chicken coup… “It would have been a crime not to.”

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