If you’re having a hard time trying to decide if you should lamb indoors or outdoors, there is much to consider. There are pros and cons to both methods. However, the final decision is determined by the type of farm system you use. Find out which suits yours best.
Why is it important?
Naturally, the British weather can play havoc with farming. At lambing time, you want a calm, clean and comfortable environment for your ewes. But if weather conditions are poor, sheep may suffer outdoors in the wind and rain. This can have a real impact on the number of lamb losses.
But consider too that there’s a lot more space outdoors. This more easily accommodates the stress-free environment a ewe needs in pregnancy and potentially reduces infectious disease spread.
One of the main downsides to lambing outside is that it’s harder to check their health status. It is vital farmers record the number of lamb losses but also the reason why. As an aside, don’t forget that pasture needs time to recover too. It can grow back thicker and fuller when sheep are inside.
In some cases, farms celebrate a successful lambing time only to find their lamb mortality rate is high in the first few months. This is often due to inadequate control of infectious diseases or worms. Note that in the outdoors, away from close proximity of other sheep in pens, that the risk of infection is greatly reduced.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Lambing
The very first thing to consider is the composition of your own flock. For example, a flock that needs little help to lamb will thrive outdoors. You can assess this by using a scoring system. Rate ewes on their ease of lambing, mothering ability and lamb vigour.
Score -1 for ewes that need help with lambing, 0 for minor help and +1 for no assistance.
Score -1 for a ewe that leaves lambs, 0 if she stands well back and +1 if she follows them.
Score -1 if lambs need help to suck, 0 if they are slow and +1 if they’re up and sucking quickly.
Any ewes with a low score and, thus, undesirable traits, should be culled and replaced. You want to maintain a group of ewes that continues to score well every lambing season.
Indoor rearing is more expensive but if your flock requires close supervision, this is far easier when sheep are penned up inside. Plus, if the weather is bad, your workers and yourself are protected too. Lambing is stressful enough without having the rain beating down on your back.
You’ll need one experienced lamber for every 250 ewes indoors. Outdoor rearing, in comparison, requires only one lamber per every 600-1000 ewes. However, if fostering is required, it’s far easier to manage this indoors. Plus, by keeping ewes in pens, farmers are able to collect key data on progress. This can be used to enhance overall performance next year.
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.