Dilemma: Leave the lambing ewe alone or interfere?
“Leave the lambing ewe alone” seems like the more appropriate answer. But many producers choose to interfere with their lambing ewes.
Lambing is the term used for a female sheep giving birth. A mother sheep is called a ewe (pronounced “you”). The baby sheep is a lamb.
So, interfere or leave her alone? Each situation is very different and a responsible sheep breeder should first know the signs of the lambing ewe.
Signs of the Lambing Ewe
- Tight and full udder
- Pawing the ground – She’s making a nest and preparing her a comfy spot for labor.
- Stream – It really looks like snot after you sneeze. Yucky, but a sure sign that labor is on its way.
After the signs are present, the ewe should be watched closely…from a distance. Do not approach her if she is in a good spot. Find a comfy spot for yourself to watch the show.
Once the ewe begins actively pushing, set the timer. Actively pushing can produce a lamb in under an hour. If it’s been an hour and there’s still no lamb, interference is necessary.
More often than not, the ewe will have the lamb on her own. This is the most important time mother and baby will share, so definitely no interference here.
Behavior after lambing
- Maternal instincts will kick in – Mother will hum and baa to her baby, communicating with it.
- Mother will lick the baby dry – The lamb is wet. The mother’s tongue acts as a drying mechanism. This is also a time to bond.
- Mother will encourage baby to stand – If you see mother pawing at the baby, let it be. Standing is important in the first hour and mother knows it. This is her way of communicating to baby that it’s time to try to use those legs.
- Baby will respond to mom’s actions and search for milk –
Bonding and nerves
Understand that the sheep producer is not the only nervous one in this situation. The ewe is nervous, too. Her body is the one doing the work and something just doesn’t feel right.
A new mother and baby relationship must be formed through bonding and alone time. This takes some time but is completely necessary.
Through the bonding process, the baby will search for it’s mother’s teat. Somehow the lambs know there’s something special and tasty in there just for them.
You’ll need to watch to make sure the baby actually latches onto the teat and drinking the colostrum. It can be deceiving sometimes and a costly mistake if not monitored correctly. A new udder could just be plugged at first and need to be stripped.
But, most times, everything is fine. It’s just important to be proactive with each new family.
When to interfere
There are a few situations where interference during lambing or bonding may be necessary.
- Weather – If it’s extremely cold out, the baby will need to be warmed up quicker than maybe mom can work. Moving them into a warmer area may be necessary. If the lamb is weak, it will need to be warmed up quickly.
- Mother and baby not bonding – If mother is mean to baby and butting it around, she may not want it. This family can be moved to a small pen to bond for several days. You will need to help the baby nurse by holding the ewe for several hours. If the two have not bonded in a few days, it may be best to just pull the lamb from the situation and bottlefeed it yourself.
- Baby can’t find teat – It the lamb isn’t finding the teat in a timely manner (within 12 hours), it may need some assistance. You can tie up the ewe or have someone hold her while you guide the lamb to the teat. Mother ewe may not like this, but it is extremely necessary that the baby learns to nurse mother.
Interference may be necessary and may not be. More often than not, interference is not necessary. It’s important to recognize the signs before you interfere.
Recognize the signs before you step in.
Know a good situation from a bad one. Ewes are interesting creatures and what may look like a scary situation for the lamb could be just fine.
It’s important to realize that mother and baby need that special bonding time to grow their relationship together. So, it’s best to leave them alone for a while.
Watching from the sidelines may be difficult for a nervous sheep producer to do.
But the sidelines is just where the producer should be. Sitting and watching closely.
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