Lambing season! It’s no secret that it’s definitely my most favorite time of the year, and my fourth lambing season is right around the bend.
Lambing can admittedly be overwhelming at moments, and I always get a bit nervous in the lead up to it. But each time around I solidify our routine and game plan a little bit more and hone in on what really works for us. It’s been a journey!
Below, you’ll find what I consider my must-haves, in no particular order. These are the products and practices that have served us and our flock best, and what I rely on each lambing season. But let me say this first: I’m still learning a lot (always!) and am by no means an expert. Remember, this is what works for us and our small heritage flock, but may not be necessary/a fit for everyone.
Having our ewes ultrasounded by a vet is a hugely important step in preparing for lambing season! We haven't always done it but in recent years I appreciate the information it brings. It gives us a general idea of how many lambs to expect so we don’t go into it completely blind. Quick aside: Icelandic sheep are considered a “primitive” breed as compared to commercial varieties, which means that they generally have smaller numbers of lambs. Our personal lambing rate is around 150-170%, meaning most ewes have twins but a fair number have singles. Commercial breeds are closer to 200% or even higher.
Each vet does ultrasounding a bit differently; last year the vet we used was able to show us more data, such as how many lambs each ewe was having, but the results ended up being very inaccurate so this year we knew we needed to go back to the drawing board. This year we used a different vet and with their equipment, we were only able to see if a ewe was “open” (as in, not pregnant) or “bred.” But with all that being said, we were excited to discover that almost all of the ewes will be lambing this year! In future years we may explore getting our own ultrasound machine and learning the skill ourselves, but we'll see.
Cameras aren’t absolutely necessary, and in fact this will be our first lambing season using them as they were simply out of the budget before now. But I’ve come to realize that try as I might, I can’t be everywhere at once and cameras are going to help with filling in the gaps. Most of the time, ewes can lamb on their own without us needing to intervene at all, and it’s how I would prefer it, but there are some occasions where we will need to step in.
With 55 ewes set to lamb this year, live cameras will allow me to have some peace of mind knowing that they are safe and sound while allowing me to check on them (and also Floofie, our Livestock Guardian Dog, who’s been a bit naughty lately) from afar and jump in if I need to. They will help me get more sleep as I'll be able to check cameras at night rather then climbing out of bed and getting dressed for night checks.
Our Lambing Kit
Bear with me here as I lay out a rough (but not exhaustive) list of what I like to keep in our lambing kit, which I replace/replenish every lambing season:
- Iodine: I use this for a navel dip to prevent infection and potential disease. It also helps to dry up the area around the umbilical cord.
- Plastic bracelets: We don’t immediately tag the lambs, so these bracelets with the ewe's ID and the lamb's ID number help us to keep track of everyone. Once the lambs get bigger, we replace them with a permanent ear tag.
- Antibiotics and vitamins: Important to keep on hand, just in case.
- Lidocaine: A local anesthetic, just in case.
- Nutridrench: This stuff packs a powerful punch with energy and essential nutrients. I don’t always use it, but it’s great to have around for stressed lambs/ewes.
- Lamb puller: For assisting with difficult births, for example if the lamb is breech. I only use this when absolutely necessary.
- Towels: Lambing can get pretty messy! You can never really have enough towels.
- Heat lamp: It gets cold here in Montana during the spring, and heat lamps help keep lambs warm after birth.
- Bottles: For filling with milk replacer and colostrum.
- Milk replacer: I’ll put this in the bottles and feed it to lambs who have been rejected by their ewes. Icelandic sheep generally have a strong maternal instinct, but lamb rejection can happen with the first time moms and yearling ewes. They’ll sometimes deliver a lamb and just walk away, especially if labor is long or challenging.
- Colostrum: This is the first milk that lambs first ingest after birth. The ewes produce it for a short time and it serves as a temporary immune system for the lambs, until they build their own. Colostrum is vitally important for all mammals after birth. In the cases where a ewe only delivers a single lamb and has plenty of milk, I milk extra colostrum to put in the freezer and keep on hand in case of emergencies. Note: you can't microwave colostrum as it kills the good bacteria. Gently warm it up on the stove before feeding it.
- Record book: Where I write down ewe and lamb info.
- Plastic tool box: What I store everything in our lambing kit in.
- Misc. supplies: Hoof trimmers, sheep shears, drenching gun for medicine, my Kiwi crook (in the top picture), paper towels, syringes and needles, marking crayons.
In the lead up to lambing season, the ewes get a little bit spoiled. But it’s for a good reason!
They’ll get free choice hay, as much as they would like, in order for them to keep up with the higher nutritional demands that come with gestation. Sheep gestate for around 145 days, or a bit less than five months, and their nutritional demands increase toward lambing and once they start producing milk. So, we load them up with calories to make sure they stay in good body condition after lambing. To offset a greater amount of feed, we make sure that they stay active by spreading their mineral and salt around the pasture instead of keeping them within easy reach. Active ewes have fewer lambing difficulties.
Clean, dry bedding is the key here. Right before lambing, we’ll load up the pens in the sheep shelter with a ton of straw (not hay!) to give the lambs and ewes a soft place to land, and we make sure to refresh and replace the straw often to prevent bacteria from forming and spreading.
I hope you found this post helpful! Lambing is a magical time of year and writing this has made me that much more excited for the spring.
Feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments below!