Nearly 20 percent of newborn sheep lambs die before weaning. Eighty percent of those losses occur during the first 10 days. Good baby lamb care can significantly increase the number of lambs raised by ewes in the flock. A realistic goal would be to limit lamb mortality to 4 to 5 percent.
Lambing jugs After the ewe has completed delivery, she and her lamb(s) should be moved to a lambing jug (individual pen). Lambing jugs help with bonding and prevent mismothering. Soon after delivery, the ewe’s udder should be checked for milk supply and potential problems, such as mastitis.Each teat should be stripped to remove the wax plug. Lambs should be monitored closely to make sure they nurse. Lambs that have nursed will have a full stomach upon palpation. Lambs that have not nursed should be assisted. Small, weak, and mismothered lambs may require assistance.
Lambing jugs should be at least 5 x 5 ft. wide. Larger jugs may be required for bigger sheep and mulitple births. Smaller jugs increase the probability that a ewe will lay on her lamb(s). Lambing jugs should be clean, dry, and well-bedded. If feasible, jugs should be cleaned between ewes. Having one lambing jug per 7 to 10 ewes in the flock is usually adequate. More may be needed is lambing is closely spaced.
Feed troughs and water buckets should be suspended out of reach of lambs. Heat lamps should be used with extreme caution. They should be used sparingly, hung in the corner of the pen at least 3 feet above the bedding.
Lambing cubicles (4 x 6 ft.) placed around the walls of the lambing area have been used successfully as a place for ewes to lamb. They were originally tried to prevent mismothering. New research is looking at cubicles as a way to reduce labor needs during lambing.
The navel of a newborn lamb is a possible route for infectious agents. Navel cords more than 2 inches long should be clipped closer to the body. To avoid infections, navel stumps should be disinfected soon after birth. Spray or dip the navel area with an antiseptic solution such as Gentle Iodine (1% iodine), Betadine®, or Chlorhexidine (Nolvasan®).
ColostrumColostrum is the “first milk” that a ewe produces after lambing. Colostrum contains a high level of several nutrients that are important for lamb health and performance. Colostrum also contains a high level of antibodies against a variety of infectious agents. At birth, the lamb does not carry any antibodies because antibodies in the ewe’s bloodstream do not cross the placenta.
It is critical that lambs receive colostrum during the first 24 hours of life in order to ensure adequate absorption of colostral antibodies. Antibodies are large protein molecules that can cross the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream of the lamb only during the first 24 to 36 hours of life. Absorption of these antibodies is most efficient during the first few hours after birth.
It is recommended that lambs receive 10 percent of the body weight in colostrum by 24 hours after birth. This means that a 10 lb. lamb should consume 1 lb. (16 ounces) of colostrum by 24 hours of age. Ideally, the should consume half of this within 4 to 8 hours of birth. A 60 cc syringe holds 2 ounces of colostrum.
All lambs need colostrum. While it is possible for lambs to survive without colostrum in a relatively disease-free environment, the likelihood of disease and death is higher in lambs that do not receive colostrum. The ideal colostrum source for supplemental feeding of lambs is from healthy ewes in one’s own flock.Ewes vary in the quantity and quality of colostrum they produce. Young ewes generally produce less colostrum because they also produce less milk. At lambing, ewes should be checked (stripping the teats) for the quality and quantity of colostrum.
Older ewes have had greater exposure to infectious agents and usually have a higher concentration of antibodies in their colostrum. Colostrum from dairy cows or goats may be used if ewe’s colostrum is not available. The colostrum from the colored breeds (e.g. Jersey) is more desirable. Only milk from Johne’s-free herds should be used.
Producers who are attempting to develop an Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP)-free flock need to be concerned about the source of colostrum, since OPP can be transmitted from infected ewes to lambs via the colostrum. Cross transmission between goats (CAE) and sheep (OPP) is also possible.