Saturday, January 28, 2023

Caring for ewes and lambs during lambing

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A strong lamb crop is highly dependent on meticulous management of the newborn lambs and their mothers. Quality care during the first 72 hours of a lamb’s life lays the foundation for survival and will reward the producer’s management efforts throughout the year.

Bom Louw, a well-known retired small-stock specialist, says most lamb losses occur during the lambing process or in the first 72 hours after the lambs have been born. If care is neglected during this period, it can undo all the success the producer achieved in his or her breeding and nutrition programmes.

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Care starts with the ewe

Good care begins before lambing. It starts with the producer ensuring that the condition score of the ewes that are carrying single lambs is not lower than two out of five, and that of that the ewes carrying twins not lower than 2,5. Ewes that score below 2,5 should be removed from the flock and managed separately. Special attention must be paid to ewes with a condition score of four or more and which are carrying single lambs, as they may experience difficulty when lambing.

The restriction that the unborn lamb places on the ewe’s ability to ingest enough roughage, is removed once the lamb is born. The feed the ewe receives post-birth must be of top quality to support herself, as well as to produce enough milk for optimal lamb growth.

Lactating single-lamb ewes should not lose more than 25 to 50g weight per day, and ewes with twins preferably not more than 60 to 100g. Lactating ewes should also receive quality nutrition for roughly two months after lambing. For the first four weeks after lambing, producers should continue to provide the supplements and complementary feed given during late gestation.

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Excellent care means that ewes’ ovulation will increase during the next breeding season, and they will produce more milk for heavier weaner lambs. Lamb survival and wool follicle development for increased lifetime wool production, will also be much improved, while ewes will also produce more wool during the particular season.

Bom warns that, during this period, ewes should not be fed too early in the morning, as those that lambed at sunrise may well abandon their lambs in order to feed.

Care during lambing

As most lamb deaths occur in the first 72 hours after birth, meticulous care and protection during lambing is non-negotiable. The shorter the flock’s lambing period, the easier it is to up the game in terms of management.

Lamb survival can be improved by sorting ewes, once they’ve lamb, into smaller flocks and keeping them in lambing pens, kraals or camps. Shelter, shade and clean water should be provided during lambing, while managing predators. Saved veld or cultivated pastures can be hugely advantageous, especially if ewes are lambing in the dry season.

Separate ewes with twins, and young ewes. Supervision must be stepped up and ewes must be inspected at least twice daily in order to spot ewes that are struggling to lamb, lambs that have been separated from their mothers, or lambs that are struggling to suckle.

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Predation management

Predators must be managed throughout the year. If control measures were neglected during late gestation, predation will often flare up come lambing time. When this happens, producers should not resort to poison as a management measure.

The call-and-shoot method is the most effective, but deterrents that make use of lights, noises and scents also work well, provided they are switched regularly to avoid predators from growing accustomed to it. Animals such as llamas, alpacas, donkeys and shepherd dogs can also be deployed in camps that are not too big and which are located in an area that allows for both predator and protected animal to be visible.

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Nutrition for lambs

Creep feed is an important tool for promoting lamb growth. Bom says it is cheaper to feed the lamb directly than to feed the lamb through the ewe, as lambs are excellent utilisers of feed.

It is vital that lambs receive enough colostrum after birth to properly activate their immune systems. For bottle-fed lambs, there are recipes for making artificial colostrum, although it does not contain the antibodies of natural colostrum. The colostrum of ewes that have lost their lambs can be milked and frozen for later use, or these ewes can raise the bottle-fed lambs. – Andries Gouws, Stockfarm

For more information, contact the National Wool Growers’ Association on 041 365 503 or

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