Lambing Season is a-Comin’, Are you READY?

With lambing season just around the corner, one of the most exciting and yes, stressful, times of the shepherd is set to commence. Have you taken the proper steps to prepare your ewes and yourself for this hectic time?

Ewe management pre-lambing and lamb management at the time the lamb drops is crucial to success. For pre-lambing management, consider doing these things. First, if you have enough shelter to keep your ewes protected from the elements, it will pay dividends to shear your ewes a month before lambing begins. This does several things. First, it allows the lambing barn and jugs to stay drier and also it allows the lambs to find the udder and nurse quicker and easier. Another benefit is that it allows ewes to start mobilizing energy from fat reserves and this will actually help to prevent pregnancy toxemia. Shorn ewes also take up less bunk space and are easier to monitor as they get closer to dropping lambs. Be aware though that if you shear, shelter to keep the ewes dry needs to be available, and if temperatures dip below zero additional energy needs to be provided in the ewe’s diet.

Vaccinating your ewes at the same time, or if you choose not to shear at about 3 weeks before lambing begins with Clostridia perfringes type C & D with tetanus, will allow the ewes to develop antibodies that are passed to the lambs in the colostrums. This is the most effective means we have of protecting lambs against tetanus and “overeating disease”. It is too late in the gestation period to vaccinate against Chlamydia abortion, but feeding 250 mg. per head of tetracycline is a good preventative against Chlamydia. Also, ewes should be fed in bunks and not on the ground. All ewes should have free choice access to minerals and if crop residue (stalks) have been grazed, vitamins need to be fed in the diet to the ewes.

Once the ewe lambs, it is the first three weeks of that lamb’s life that is the most critical. Consider the lamb’s introduction to the world. Lambs leave a sterile environment that is thermoregulated at about 1010 Fahrenheit. They are quickly exposed to an environment that is usually much colder, they are wet, and bacteria abound not matter how clean we keep the drop area. So, first we need to have an environment that is dry and as clean as possible. If we consider though that the leading causes of lamb mortality are scours (46%), starvation (20%) and pneumonia (8%), then without a doubt, the most crucial thing that must occur is the ingestion of enough high quality colostrum in the first 24 hours of the lambs’ life. The quality of colostrum is influenced most by the ewe’s nutritional plane during late gestation and the vaccinations she has received. How much colostrum a lamb needs is a function of it’s’ size. A rule of thumb is a
lamb should get 90 cc or 3 oz. per pound of body weight in the first 24 hours. Most lambs are very thrifty and will nurse on their own rather quickly. Lambs that are cold and weak though,
may need to be tube fed colostrum that has been milked from the ewe. Tubing a lamb is something that you should ask your veterinarian to teach you how to do, as placing the tube in the lungs of the lamb can happen and placing colostrum there will quickly lead to death. But, tubing is not difficult and can save many a lamb. Other things to do at birth include dipping the lamb’s navel in iodine as soon as you find the lamb and stripping the waxy build-up out of ewe’s teats.

Some lambing hints. Once you see a ewe’s water bag, she should expel a lamb within a half hour to 45 minutes. If she does not proceed any further in that time, she should be examined by yourself or a veterinarian. Many times twin lambs get tangled and limbs must be “sorted out” so the birthing process can continue. My preference is for mother and lamb(s) to spend a couple of days bonding after birth in individual jugs before they are turned out into a larger group of ewes. Problems that occur after the first few days of a lambs’ life like scours and pneumonia need to be quickly addressed once noticed.

In conclusion, take a few minutes to make sure you have adequate supplies and that they are accessible to your lambing area. Do you have enough straw, jug pens, and iodine? Do you have a tube and syringe available to tube the lambs? If you can answer yes to these questions, you should have a very rewarding lambing season.

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