It's the quintessential picture of spring on the farm and every expectant novice shepherd's dream: a mini-flock of happy, healthy lambs gamboling around an emerald pasture as their mothers graze nearby. Turning this dream into reality, however, takes work, know-how and the right equipment. Here are some basic lamb-care necessities to have on hand for lambing day.
1. Clean, Protected, Private Pen
After lambing in the pasture or a spacious enclosed area, a mother ewe and her newborn(s) will benefit from being confined for several days in a smaller, draft-free lambing jug, or pen, separate from the flock. This practice helps promote ewe-lamb bonding, plus keeps a pasture-born lamb safe from inclement weather and predators when most vulnerable. The pen should be at least 5-by-5-feet and bedded with dry, clean straw. Ensure the ewe's feeder and water bucket are lamb-safe or out of lambs’ reach.
Lambs seem to relish arriving in the dead of night, so if your barn lacks lighting, you'll need a good flashlight or, better yet, a hands-free headlamp for baby checks.
Hypothermia is one of the top lamb killers, so you should have ready a means of warming a chilled lamb, such as a hair dryer, warming box or heat lamp. (Avoid prolonged use of the latter; it can contribute to pneumonia.) Use heat sources with caution to avoid fire.
4. Clean Towels/Paper Towels
Lambs often arrive during chilly weather and are born covered in amniotic goo. While it's important that the ewe clean her own lamb for proper bonding, she may require help drying her lamb so it doesn't get chilled.
5. Bulb Syringe
Used for sniffly human babies, this device also works to suck the aforementioned goo out of a newborn lamb's nostrils so it can breathe.
6. Iodine Solution
A newborn lamb's umbilical cord can serve as a pathogen pathway, so after a mother ewe cleans her baby, you'll need to trim the cord with sterilized scissors to about 1 or 2 inches (if needed), then dip it completely in a 7-percent iodine solution to disinfect it. Warning: Iodine stains, so store it—and dress—accordingly.
7. Digital Thermometer
Use this to monitor the lamb's rectal temperature if you suspect it’s chilled or sick. A lamb's normal temperature runs about 102 to 103 degrees F.
Having some KY Jelly or OB Lube available is handy for lubing up a thermometer, helping to unstick a lamb's head during birth, or (gulp!) greasing your gloved hand or a lamb-puller tool to ease insertion into the ewe if she requires lambing assistance.
It's imperative a newborn lamb receive the mother ewe's nutritious, antibody-rich first milk, called colostrum, within the first eight hours. After the lamb is born, strip the ewe's teats to remove the waxy plug, verify her milk's flowing and ensure that each lamb drinks its fill. Consider storing some frozen colostrum, either from your own flock or another shepherd's, for orphaned or weak lambs in emergencies.
10. Tube Feeding System
A flexible stomach-feeding tube, large syringe and tube feeding know-how can save the life of a lamb too cold or weak to suckle on its own.
11. Bottle-feeding Supplies
Because you never know when you might wind up raising a rejected or orphaned lamb, it's a good idea to stock bottle-feeding paraphernalia, including a plastic lamb bottle, teats and ewe's milk replacer.
12. Tail-docking Equipment
Unless you plan on letting your lambs keep their naturally long tails, you'll have to dock them within a few days of birth. One common docking method utilizes an Elastrator tool and rubber ring to cut off circulation to the tail, which then falls off in about a week. The same equipment can also be used to castrate male lambs.
Your lamb-care kit should include appropriate syringes, needles and any necessary—or potentially necessary—injectables/vaccines. Consult your veterinarian, livestock extension agent and/or an experienced sheep raiser for recommendations.
14. Good Sheep/Lamb Care Book
To get a healthy lamb, you need a healthy mother ewe that has received excellent prenatal care. Managing Your Ewe and her Newborn Lambs (LDF Publications, Revised 2013), by Laura Lawson, is a must-read. You can also glean valuable ewe/lamb care information by talking to other, more experienced shepherds and websites. For starters, check out the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s "Newborn Lamb Management” page or Sheep 201: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Sheep.
15. Emergency Contacts
First lambings are exciting—and nerve-wracking. Having a sheep-savvy veterinarian and one or two experienced shepherd mentors at your beck and call will help ease your anxieties. And don't forget to charge your cell phone!
Watch these HobbyFarms.com videos for more lambing help:
About the Author: Cherie Langlois is an HF contributing editor who runs a 5-acre hobby farm in Washington.