For some farmers, lambing season is in full swing. For others, you are just getting prepared for the sleepless nights and the rest of us still have a few months to go, writes farmer Katie Anderson.
Whatever your situation may be, it’s never too early to get your lambing kit organised.
I have produced my list of lambing essentials, which hopefully help you feel a little more prepared for a very busy time of year for shepherds and shepherdesses across the nation.
The essentials for ALL births
1. Iodine & Surgical Spirit Mix – 75% iodine mixed with 25% surgical spirit in a spray bottle, to be applied to newborn lambs’ navels. The navel is a super-highway for infection into a newborn lamb’s body so this spray is extremely important for healthy, happy lambs.
2. Gloves – disposable gloves should always be used during lambing, more for the ewe’s hygiene than your own, to reduce the chance of uterine infection. Furthermore the birthing fluids are designed to naturally dry out the lambs and they will do exactly the same to your skin if you come into contact with them so chuck some gloves on before and save yourself from cracked hands.
3. Kick Start – an energy and nutritional boost, which is squirted into the mouth of newborn lambs within the first few moments of life. Not used by all farmers/smallholders but highly recommended to give lambs the best start. Other lamb stimulants are available, use whatever you prefer or can access easily.
4. Torch and Batteries – ewes unfortunately do not always lamb at the most sociable of hours therefore a good torch and spare batteries should always be in your lambing kit, particularly if you are lambing outdoors. Of course, head torches are probably the best, as your hands will be busy.
5. Notebook and Pen (or a phone) – you need to take notes of all births/deaths, ear tag numbers and medication used. Lambing is a busy and stressful time, so do not rely on your memory for record keeping, keep a notebook and pen handy or phone if you’d rather.
6. Bands and Applicator – these small rubber bands are used for tail docking and castrating, which must both be done when the lambs are over 24 hours old but before they reach 7 days of age. Some farmers/smallholders choose not to castrate but tail docking is a welfare issue so must be done in almost all flocks.
The standby essentials for problem births or special case ewes
1. Lubricant – any internal examinations or assistance with births will require your hands, the ewe’s vagina or the lamb to be lubricated. Don’t be scared to use it and lots of it at that, it’s cheap and can make the world of difference for a stuck lamb.
2. Lambing Ropes – these ropes have a loop on one end and are to be tied around a lamb’s feet to assist with a difficult birth. They are specially made so they do not fray and can be put on a boil wash or disinfected.
3. Twin Lamb Drench – Twin Lamb disease is most common in ewes that are in the late stages of pregnancy and have multiple lambs inside. Simply put, the disease happens when the ewe does not have enough energy or isn’t getting enough nutrition during her pregnancy. The ewe will be weak and appear to be ‘star gazing’. This drench is full of energy and usually a whole bottle will be administered to a sheep with Twin Lamb Disease to offer an instant and prolonged energy boost.
4. Oxytocin – if udders don’t start producing milk for the lamb, this hormone, once injected, will bring the milk in. It can also be used evacuate uterine debris. Usually, available from your vet to keep during lambing season.
5. Pen and Strep – an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory used after any intrusive assistance with the birth. Remember to check the withdrawal period after use of any medicine, this can be dependent on the drug used and applies to meat and milk intended for human consumption.
6. Alamycin/Terramycin – a long acting antibiotic that is injected into the muscle, available from your vet, should always be kept onsite for use on sick ewes and lambs (I would not recommend however to be routinely given/used as a preventative). There are even specialist intramammary (into the teat) syringes available to administer the drug for some mastitis cases. Remember to check the withdrawal period after use of any antibiotics for ewes/lambs intended for production of meat or milk for human consumption.
7. Prolapse Spoons – if a ewe starts to prolapse these tools will keep the vagina in place. The plastic spoons are inserted into the vagina and the string is tied onto the wool to keep them in place. Harnesses, trusses, mesh and retainers can also be used, it is just down to personal preference and accessibility which method you choose. In the severe case of a ewe prolapsing, when spoons are not enough, you’ll also need a disinfected duvet cover. In this instance, the entire prolapse would be washed with a very weak disinfectant solution then placed in the disinfected duvet cover until a vet could get to you to put the prolapse back inside the ewe. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend lambing again from a ewe who has prolapsed previously.
The standby essentials for weak lambs
1. Bucket of Cold Water – unresponsive lambs can struggle to clear their airways on their own shortly after birth. They are usually swung from their back legs to help them clear their lungs of mucus. However if the lamb still needs an additional shock for them to ‘spring into life’, a quick dip head first into a bucket of cold bucket should do the trick.
2. Colostrum – whenever you are lambing, man-made colostrum must be kept nearby because a lamb needs to ingest colostrum or it will not survive past its first few hours of life. It is mixed with water, according to the manufacturers instructions and can be fed by bottle, syringe or lamb reviver dependent on the reactivity of the lamb.
3. Lamb Reviver – weak lambs who won’t suck, may need to be fed colostrum or milk via stomach tube. The reviver usually consists of a tube, which may need to be softened in warm water before use to aid insertion, and a bottle/syringe that you fill with the product you want the lamb to receive. The tube has to be inserted carefully to ensure you are entering the stomach and not the lungs.
4. Lamb Bottles and Teats – specially made lamb bottles are available from most agricultural merchants. Get a bottle with measurements on the side to make your life easier.
5. Powdered Milk – if your ewes are not producing enough milk, a ewe dies or you have triplets/quads; you will need to bottle feed and to do that you need special lamb formula.
6. Lamb Macs – if lambs are being put outside or lambed outside in poor weather, these purpose made, disposable plastic coats slip over a lamb’s head to offer extra protection from the wet and wind.
Lambing can be an extremely hectic, stressful, sleep-deprived and uncertain time, therefore the earlier you can get your lambing kit ready, the better.
Remember it is also a very rewarding time and is the best time of year for most sheep farmers, so take some time to enjoy yourself and fingers crossed there are as few complications as possible.