Lambing and Breeding
Breeding season preparation:
A month before breeding season, take a fecal sample to the vet and deworm with the
necessary and correct dewormer. Take care not to use a dewormer that will interfere with
fertility. Administer 6cc Cod Liver Oil, 10cc Garlic Barrier, check and trim feet at this time
as well. Use a ram that is in good condition (not thin), and meets the qualifications for
your breeding program, including but not limited to: excellent fleece, correct horn set,
meat conformation, straight and sturdy legs, and favorable personality. Also important is
not to breed rams that gave their mothers a hard time during birth.
6 weeks to a month prior to breeding, take a fecal sample to the vet and deworm with the
necessary and correct dewormer. Take care not to use a dewormer that cautions against
administering to gestating ewes, as this can cause infertility or birth defects. Also,
administer 4cc Cod Liver Oil, 10cc Garlic Barrier, and 20cc Nutri Drench. Check and trim
their feet at this time. It is important to do all necessary maintenance prior to breeding
season in order to avoid handling pregnant ewes. Breed only ewes that are full-grown,
meet at least 100lbs, and are in good condition (not thin). Remember that your breeding
choices can greatly impact the quality and health of your flock. Take care when making
the decision who to breed, and who not to breed.
Your barn or pasture arrangement:
Ewes will start estrus in the fall. Rams will begin rut around the same time. Rams' noses
will begin to swell, and they'll begin to smell....fantastic. The ewes are in estrus for
approximately 2 days, and will repeat the cycle in about 17 days if unbred. Watch for your
ewes to show signs of estrus by rubbing themselves on the trees or fence, especially if
they share a fence line with the rams. Ewes typically release more eggs during their
second heat of the year, so waiting past the first heat is advised.
It's up to you how you want to put your rams and ewes together. I'll share what we do on
our farm. You may find other methods that work well for you.
We do not breed all of our ewes. We have younger and older ewes that are not on our
breeding schedule at this time. So, we choose the ewes we want to breed, and watch for
them to begin estrus. We also decide when we want the lambs to be born, and count back
on the calendar 148 days for our target breeding dates. When we see the ewes come
into estrus during our target breeding time, we bring the ewes and ram into a pen in the
barn for some alone time. This will only last a couple of days. Then the ewes are
released back to their flock. The ram is moved to a new pen, and joined by the other
rams in his ram flock.
Re-introduction of the bred ram can be difficult, or dangerous. The other rams will
certainly know what he has been up to. The best way we've found to re-introduce rams is
to put them all in a very small pen. Only small enough for them to stand or lay down
together. This causes them to rub against each other and soon they'll all smell the same.
Watch them for fights. The following day you can expand the pen to twice the size, and
again the third day. By the fourth day they should all be able to return to their pasture
together, the best of friends.
For additional preparation tips, I recommend the following:
Raising Sheep the Modern Way, by Paula Simmons (available on Amazon)
Are you ready for Lambing?
How do you prepare your barn for lambing season?
Ideally, find a section of the barn that is easy for you to access, and easy to
bring sheep in from their pasture. It should be free from drafts, but have good
ventilation. It should have electricity and light available.
About a month before lambing, we remove sheep from this section of the barn, and clean
it like crazy. Then we let it sit. Clean, dry. About a week before we expect lambs, we
purchase two bails of straw, and set up jugs. Jugs are small pens meant to give privacy to
moms and their new lambs. They should be safe (remember, lambs are curious and
energetic). We build our jugs out of sheep panels, available at most feed stores
(sometimes called hog panels). They are easy to assemble, and disassemble. We make
sure we have clean water buckets and feed buckets available for each jug. When lambs
are born, pad each jug with a couple of inches of straw, so that it’s comfortable and dry.
Make sure you hang water buckets out of reach of lambs. You don’t want them to fall in
and drown. Set up a heat lamp, ready for use at any moment.
What should you have on hand for lambing season?
Fill a clean bucket with the following:
• Your choice of de-wormer. (We use Garlic Barrier)
• Sheep Nutri-Drench and small oral syringe
• Bedadine or iodine solution (we have some in a bottle, and some in a squirt bottle)
• Clean farm towels
We call this our lambing bucket. There are other supplies you should have on hand, but
this bucket covers the basics. We keep this bucket by the back door, and grab it every
time we go out to check on the flock during lambing season.
What do you do with these supplies? Here’s our routine for a normal birth…. When
we discover the ewe with her healthy lambs, just born, we bring the lambs into a jug and
mom follows (try not to touch their faces or their bottoms when you move them. Hold them
in front of mom as you walk, slowly, toward the barn). We make sure mom is interested in
the lambs (cleaning them, talking to them, and nudging them toward her teats) and that
the lambs are awake and standing and looking for milk. I let them get acquainted, and
then I coat the umbilical cords with bedadine and give them about 2ccs of Sheep Nutri-
Drench. Mom gets some too. I also make sure that mom’s teats are unplugged and
available for the lambs to start nursing. I watch for a while to make sure the lambs are
getting milk. I make sure they’re comfortable in their jug with clean straw and fresh
water, with a small amount of molasses in it. Then I take photos to show everyone I know.
Now, that’s the way I’d like it to go all the time, but that’s not always how it goes.
Supplies you should have on hand for emergencies:
J-Lube (lubricant for pulling lambs)
Lamb milk replacer
Lamb bottles and nipples
A “warming” box (see instructions below)
Lamb tube and large oral syringe
Injectable vitamin E and A/D
New needles and syringes
Thermometer (I prefer digital)
Laura Lawson’s books: “Managing Your Ewe” and “Lamb Problems”
The extent of your supplies is up to you. There are many lists available that include much
more fancy lambing supplies. We have never needed anything more than what I have
listed here. I do recommend cultivating a relationship with a local vet that specializes in
farm animals. This is a valuable tool.
Lamb Problems and Solutions
During birth, how do you know when you need to help?
The rule of thumb is, if you have not observed any progress (no matter how small) in 25-
30 minutes, you may need to go in and assess the situation. It is best to rely on your vet
or one of Laura Lawson's lambing books to help you with difficult deliveries.
Lamb not moving at birth
Normally, when a lamb is born it starts to shake its head and kick. Sometimes the lamb
comes out and gives up. The lamb doesn't move or shake it's head. I quickly clear its
mouth and nose of mucus, but leave the rest for mom to clean off. I try to touch the lamb
as little as possible, so that I don't transfer my scent onto the lamb. I take a piece of straw
and (gently) tickle the lamb's nostril with the end of the straw. Usually the sneeze-reflex
will wake the lamb up and he'll start to shake his head.
If the straw in the nostril doesn't wake the lamb up, there could be fluid in the lungs of the
lamb that is preventing him from breathing. Pick up the lamb by the hind legs, and
support the body. Swing the lamb in an arc (with his head facing away from you), as if you
would swing a child for fun. Just once around should be enough to get any fluid out of the
lungs. Put the lamb down next to mom and try to tickle the nose again if needed.
Still not breathing? Place your mouth over the lamb's nose and mouth, give a very gentle
and small breath of air. The lungs are small, you don't want to over-expand them and
Still no success? Hold the lamb under the arms and dunk him up to his armpits in a water
bucket (not warm). This sensation may wake him up. Please note that you will need to
dry him off after dunking him, or you risk hypothermia.
Another "trick" if the lamb is STILL not breathing: rub the rib cage of the lamb to stimulate
the heart and lungs. Repeat any of the above mentioned tactics.
Hypothermia (Chilled Lamb)
How can you tell if the lamb is cold? Put you (clean) finger into the lamb’s mouth. If it is
not warm, the lamb is chilled and needs some help. The lamb needs to be warmed from
the inside and the outside.
Place the lamb in a warming box. What is a warming box? Use a cardboard box about the
size of a microwave. Cut a circular hole in one of the shorter sides, large enough to insert
the end of a hair dryer. Put a clean farm towel in the bottom of the box. Place the chilled
lamb in the box and turn the hair dryer on LOW. Do not cook your lamb! You may close
the lid to the box, but leave it open enough for the warm air to circulate. Periodically
check the lamb’s mouth to see when it gets warm.
With warmth, the lamb should also have a suckling reflex (he wants to suck your finger
when you put it in his mouth. Sometimes if you wiggle your finger he will start to suck). If
he has a suckling reflex, give him some of mom's warm milk, or a milk replacer. If the lamb
is less than 24 hours old, he needs as much colostrum as he can get, so mom's milk is
definitely the best. If mom is unavailable, store-bought colostrum will also help save his
life. A belly full of warm milk will help warm the lamb from the inside.
When sufficiently warm, and with a belly full of mom’s milk, the lamb can be returned to its
mom and hopefully maintain its normal temp.
If you think the barn is too cold for the lamb, place the heat lamp above the jug, high
enough that mom won’t catch her fleece on fire. Make sure the heat lamp is not next to
anything flammable (like hay).
No Suckling reflex (need to tube the lamb)
What if the lamb doesn't have a suckling reflex? A lamb with no suckling reflex will need to
be tubed. It is best to learn this technique from someone in person (hard to describe). Sit
on a chair (or bail of straw, as the case may be) with your knees out in front of you. Place
the lamb between your legs and hold him up with your knees squeezing together (gently).
The lamb will look as if he is sitting up with his legs out in front of him. His shoulders
between your knees. Tip his head up and gently feed the lamb tube down his throat. The
seemingly lifeless and sleepy lamb will suddenly protest and might cry out. If the lamb can
cry out, then you do not have the tube in his lungs (that's good, you don't want it in the
lungs). You want the tube to go to his stomach. Go slow, the lamb will want to swallow it,
not breathe it. When the tube is in the stomach, attach an empty syringe to the end of the
tube and (gently) try to draw air into the syringe through the tube. If you can't get
anything....if you can't even move the syringe, then you're in the stomach. If you can get
air, then you're in the lungs (pull out slowly and start over). Don't have a syringe? Put
your mouth on the end of the tube and try to suck air out.
Once you are in the stomach, attach a syringe WITHOUT the plunger onto the end of the
tube (you're going to use it as a funnel). Slowly pour the warm milk into the syringe. It will
go down the tube and directly into the stomach. Once finished, to remove the syringe
from the tube: place your finger over the hole at the end of the tube, and remove the tube
from the lamb. Your finger over the hole will prevent milk from leaking into the lungs as
you remove the tube.
Hunched Lamb (hungry lamb)
What if you find the lamb in the jug with mom and the lamb is standing with a hunched
back, head down? This lamb hasn't eaten recently. Check mom's teats to make sure milk
is readily available. (Her Colostrum may be so thick that the lamb can't suck out the waxy
plug. You may need to get the teat started by milking a bit into a cup and bottle feeding it
to the lamb.)
Try to put the lamb on the teat and see if he gets the idea. If he is so hungry and weak
that he can't co-operate, milk mom and try to give it to the lamb in a bottle (you may have
better success since you have more control). If the lamb doesn't have a suckling reflex,
see the instructions above for tube feeding a lamb. Once fed, the lamb will want to take a
nap. He should awake with a renewed interest in finding the teat. Once again, make sure
mom has milk and that she hasn't rejected the lamb.
When the lamb tries to nurse, the ewe pushes the lamb away, and may even try to but the
lamb or push it into the ground. Witnessing this behavior is disturbing, and can make the
shepherd frustrated and angry. Just remember, there are solutions. Sometimes a mother
who rejects her lamb can be taught to accept it. You may have to hold the ewe or tie her
and make her stand to let the lamb nurse. After some time of this routine, the ewe may
come to accept that she has to let the little guy drink. If this does not seem to be an
option, you can try grafting. "Grafting" a lamb onto another mother is most effective with
lambs that are born around the same time. Take a rejected lamb and cover the head and
rear with some of the lambing "goo" from the mother whom you wish to adopt the lamb.
This works best with a mother who had twins and maybe lost one. The mother will smell
her scent on the lamb and clean it off and accept it as her own. I believe that every effort
should be made to let the lambs be raised by other sheep.
More info on breeding, gestation and lambing coming soon!