Nearly 75% of ewe deaths occur around lambing time. This sombre figure represents an emotional and financial loss for farmers at a time that should be full of promise. To help reduce losses, read our tips on effective preparation for lambing and how to cope with complications.
Before anything else, it’s important to remember at lambing time that you are dealing with live animals. Being gentle and patient can help the ewe and her young with a positive experience.
What’s more, all farm staff must be committed to controlling disease and infection. This is vital, since preventable infection results in lamb losses. Therefore, in addition to medical vaccinations, hygiene is very important throughout the lambing process to have healthy ewes and lambs:
– Keep equipment clean
– Wash your hands but also use disposable gloves
– Keep beds and lambing pens clean
– Disinfect pens between ewes
Comfort is important too. If a ewe needs assistance, restrain and position her well in preparation for the birth. Don’t forget that lambing time is stressful for her too.
Your ewe is about a week away from birth when her udder swells and becomes firm. The abdomen will drop and the vulva will soften, redden and appear swollen.
When you begin to see these signs, the ewe is around thirty minutes away from active labour:
– She isolates herself
– Stops eating
– Starts to strain
– Gets restless
– Makes a nest
You might see the water bag or dribbles of fluid that signal labour. Once it’s begun, a ewe should lamb within four hours and most sheep have no problem with the delivery.
The ewe may be struggling if:
– There has been thirty minutes of non-productive straining
– The water bag has burst but nothing else has happened
– Labour has continued for more than four hours
If the first lamb arrived safely but a second lamb is not born after half an hour of straining, this is also a sign of distress. In all of these situations, you should carefully step in to help the ewe.
When the lamb presents itself, you should expect to see a nose and two feet. If you don’t, the lamb is coming out the wrong way. You’ll need to try and manipulate the birth, your vet can give you further help and advice:
One leg and head
1. If the other leg can be pulled forward do so and ease the shoulder out
2. If not, then gently push the head back in
3. Pull the leg forward
4. Gently pull the head and two legs through
5. Always work with the contractions and not against
Legs but no head - DON’T PULL!
1. Push the legs back
2. Straighten the neck to bring the head forward
3. Gently pull the head and two legs through
4. Always work with the contractions and not against
Head but no legs - DON’T PULL!
1. Small Lamb: Slide your hand past to correct and gently pull the head and two legs through
2. Big Lamb: push the head back to correct and gently pull the head and two legs through
Other potential problems
Mixed up twins and triplets: Sometimes referred to as ‘tangled twins.’ Match a head and legs to one lamb then push one back and pull another close. Small hands help considerably.
Dead lambs: Deliver as normal but use plenty of lubricant as they will tend to be lacking the natural birth fluids.
Deformed lambs: Also, known as ‘monster lambs.’ Take these to the vet.
If you make no progress after fifteen minutes of trying to help a ewe, call for veterinary help. It’s always better for the ewe and you to have a live lamb
For further information contact your veterinary surgeon, advisor or Zoetis UK Limited, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Tadworth, Surrey KT20 7NS. www.zoetis.co.uk. Customer Support: 0845 300 8034. Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible). Date of preparation: December 2016.