Lambing: at the ready
Make for a hassle-free lambing by doing the preparation
February marks the beginning of spring and over the next month or so the majority of the Irish national ewe flock will start lambing. The lambing season is the critical time for sheep farms as it is the time when the seeds for the harvest are sown. Lambs that don't make it through this period will never be available for sale and are seen as lost potential as far as the sheep farmer is concerned.
Because spring time is generally the busiest time on farms, it is essential that you are well prepared to cater for the new arrivals well before the lambing season kicks off. Your aim should be to have systems in place that will allow you to spend the least possible time feeding, bedding, etc, thereby allowing the maximum amount of time to be directed towards lambing supervision and trying to keep lambs alive.
Where lambing takes place indoors, it is essential that the set-up is up to scratch. The ewes' needs change rapidly in the run up to lambing. And, as lambing approaches, the ewes are getting bigger and less mobile and require more nutrition. It is often said that where sheep are fed concentrates in groups, about 20pc of the sheep will eat more than their share, 60pc will eat their allocated allowance and the remaining 20pc are left short. Often this last 20pc are shy feeders, lame ewes and ewes which are very heavily pregnant and find it more difficult to move around.
While it is not possible to completely rectify the situation so that all sheep get the correct amount, having adequate trough space is one way to ensure that even the shy feeders get fed. Large ewes (90kg) need two feet, or 60cm, trough space per head. Medium-sized ewes (70kg) need about four inches, 50cm, less. This may seem like a lot and you will find that the sheep will, in actual fact, be able to squeeze into a much narrower space, but it is the 20pc that don't get enough that you are trying to accommodate here. These are the sheep that are most at risk from going down with twin-lamb disease if they are continually left short of feed.
After lambing, the ewe and her lamb(s) should go through a mothering-up period where the ewe is confined to a single pen (1.5m x 1.5m) for 24 hours before being mixed with other ewes and lambs. This has two benefits: it allows a strong bond to develop between the ewe and her lamb(s) and it allows the shepherd time to observe that everything is in order and that the lambs are sucking properly.
Because newborn lambs are very susceptible to disease, it is important to have the environment as clean as possible. Adequate ventilation will allow the gases and water vapour to escape and help prevent the build-up of infection indoors. In addition to that, steps should be taken to ensure that the sheep are kept clean in the run-up to lambing. In straw-bedded sheds this will require frequent bedding and, ideally, the use of cubicle lime to disinfect the old bedding before new bedding is spread. The same principles apply in the lambing pens. Copious quantities of lime, followed by straw, will greatly assist in providing a clean environment for the lambs.