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After Birth

What should I do after the lamb is born?

If you have prepared a lambing jug (an area where you can separate the ewe and her lamb(s) from the rest of the flock to allow them to bond and to keep them under observation for a couple of days), wait until the lambs have nursed before you move them and their mom into the jug. To move the lambs, hold them in front of you so that the ewe can see them. Back slowly into the lambing jug, making sure that she follows you. If she won't follow you, put the lambs down and give her more time. First-time moms may be overwhelmed by all that is happening and may not readily follow the lambs. If  you stress her too much, she might abandon the lambs.

It is very important that all lambs suckle immediately after birth to ensure that it receives colostrum (see below). If the lamb is weak, or rejected by the ewe, help it to suckle; or milk out the ewe and get the lamb to drink colostrum from a bottle.

Let the ewe care for her lambs and try not to interfere. It is tempting to want to help and to make a fuss over the new lambs, but it is most important that the ewe bond with her lambs, and this is best done without your help.

The next day or so, record the weight of lamb, and any other relevant information for accurate record keeping.

What is colostrum and why is it important?

Colostrum is the milk produced by the ewe during the first 36 to 48 hours after lambing and is required for several reasons:

  • Colostrum contains nutrients that fuel heat production and help prevent hypothermia (chilling).
  • Eliminates foetal residues
  • Builds up resistance to infection
  • Maintains high performance of the lamb
  • Reduces mortality
Colostrum can be stored for at least one year in a freezer without damage to the immunoglobulins. Once colostrum is thawed for use it should be used within 48 hours if kept refrigerated. It is best to thaw the colostrum in a warm sink of water, not hot water. The use of a microwave creates hot spots when thawing and can cause damage to the colostrum. Every producer should have a supply of frozen colostrum on hand prior to the start of lambing. Goat colostrum is a good substitute, but cow colostrum has 20% to 40% less nutrients than ewe colostrum and should be avoided.

The amount of colostrum a lamb needs depends mainly on how much fuel it requires for heat production. During bad weather (cold, wind, or rain,) the lamb must produce more heat to avoid hypothermia, and colostrum requirements increase.  Lambs born in weather range 32-50 degrees F (with wind and rain) need about 95 cc of colostrum per pound of body weight during the first 18 hours.  Lambs born in housed conditions 32-50 degrees F (still, dry air) require about 80 cc of colostrum per pound of body weight. Therefore, during the first 18 hours of its life, a 5-lb blackbelly lamb needs 475 cc (15 oz) of colostrum in cold weather and 400 cc (13.5 oz) in mild weather.

Note: When feeding lambs with a stomach tube, a rule of thumb is to feed no more than 20 cc per pound of body weight.  This is roughly 3.5 oz per feeding for a 5 lb lamb.

Do I need to dock my sheep tails?

Blackbelly tails don't have wool under them so they don't collect feces and get nasty. Therefore, there is no reason to dock. The sheep use their tails to swat flies much as horses do. Most importantly, blackbelly sheep HAVE TAILS and to register your sheep they must not be docked. Longer tails seem to be favored by breeders, too.