Getting Pregnant Ewes Ready For Lambing Season

One shepherd tells us how she's getting her pregnant does ready for lambing season with vaccinations, preparations and anticipation.

by Jana Wilson
PHOTO: Jana Wilson

This weekend was an event on my calendar: Vaccinate pregnant ewes with CD&T.

What that means is that there is about one month until my ewes begin to have lambs. The recommendation is that you vaccinate your pregnant ewes about four to six weeks before they lamb. This provides some protection for the newborns.

My lambs aren’t due until mid-April, which may seem late to some.  In the past, many farmers chose to have their lambs born during winter months. This was, lambing didn’t interfere with their farming schedule.

They were left with more time to devote to ensuring everyone got off to a good start.

Time to Lamb

I’m not a farmer, though. So I decided I wanted to have my lambing season when the weather was a little warmer.

This is also my first year of lambing–on purpose, anyway! In early 2020 we purchased three Shetland ewes that–unbeknownst to the previous owner–had been bred.  The appearance of three healthy Shetland lambs born on pasture was both a surprise and a delight during the dark, early days of the coronavirus pandemic last March.

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This year, however, we planned and purchased a North Country Cheviot ram to breed with our NC Cheviot ewes. In early November, we put the ram in with nine ewes. I’ve counted 150 days forward … which means our lambs should be born mid-April.

Read more: Put together a first-aid kit to keep your sheep in tip-top shape.

The Shear Truth

In addition to CD&T vaccines, we also sheared the back end of the pregnant ewes.We cut away any wool around the nipples and bag area so that newborn lambs don’t try to suck on wool by mistake.

I would have preferred to have the whole ewe shorn before birth. However, because we shear our own sheep, we knew it would take us too long and cause too much stress on the pregnant ewe. (A professional sheep shearer would shear our ewes in a far faster time and cause less stress.)

We will plan on shearing our mama ewes a little later in the spring when things have settled down. Next up will be for us to trim the ewes’ hooves. We will do this in the next week or so, before they give birth.

Feed & Shelter

It’s really important in the last few months of the ewes’ pregnancy to ensure they have top-notch grain and hay. Ewes just don’t have a whole lot of room inside, and they need every bite to count.

I offer a substantial amount of high-quality feed and hay mixed with alfalfa to ensure their protein and calcium needs are met. Of course, you don’t want to forget to always have a steady supply of fresh, clean water as well!

I also began to do a deep clean of our small barn, shoveling out several inches of dirt and manure under the bedding. I laid down clean pine shavings over the floor and will plan on keeping that clean. Then I will add a layer of clean straw for the new babies.

You can use other material, such as newspaper or old towels, as a place for your new lambs as well.

We divide our barn with wood dividers to have a place where the moms and new lambs can bond for 48 to 72 hours after birth. After that, we let them out in a small paddock with shelter, water and a creep feeder for the lambs to get into when they are ready to start eating some grain.

Read more: Vaccinate your sheep for an ounce of prevention.

Preparation Days

Following recommendations from some of my sheep mentors, I’ve put together a bucket with lamb feeding tubes, a nipple and clean empty soda bottle. I have powdered colostrum and milk replacer in case we need to supplement or totally bottle feed any of the lambs.

I also have a rectal thermometer and several clean towels as well. Finally, I put in some betadine, exam gloves, a flashlight and the emergency number of our vet!

I’ll report back on how everything goes next month. I’m hoping for a healthy group of new lambs and moms, so wish me luck! And of course, there will be pictures!

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