2015 Lambing Clinic

Lambing ClinicOn the twenty-first of February, 2015, approximately thirty hearty folks braved the chilly morning temperatures to attend the NHSWGA annual lambing clinic. This year’s clinic began with the morning “classroom” session, presented by Dr. Julie Hurley, at the Jeremiah Smith Grange, in Lee, New Hampshire, and was followed in the afternoon by a visit to the Woolmark Farm, owned by Sally and Dwight Barney.

With the wood stove well-stoked, and coffee and goodies (provided by the Woolmark Shepherds 4-H club of Strafford), all settled in for Julie’s fascinating presentation. Dr. Julie Hurley, of New England Ovis, LLC, is a sheep producer and veterinarian with a wealth of knowledge to share. New England Ovis supplies pathogen-free sheep to the biomedical and agricultural research community. Their Finn, Polypay, and Finn X Polypay ewes are bred year round, providing a constant supply of age- appropriate sheep for the research community.

Dr. Hurley’s presentation covered more information than could possibly be conveyed within the space of this article. But in brief, she began with care needed prior to lambing, (vaccinations - CDT, increased feed, split-feed), provided recommendations for problems which might arise in the pre-lambing stage, (including prolapse, twin-lamb disease, and more), and signs of impending lambing, (enlarged udder, “dropped pins,” nesting and restlessness, cessation of cud-chewing, and being off by herself, to name a few). Additionally, she dealt with normal lambing, (stressing noticeable progress every fifteen minutes), as well as when to assist a ewe. The use of a stuffed lamb, created by Sally Barney back when her girls were in 4-H, provided an outstanding visual for the many lambing and early feeding techniques demonstrated.

In addition, Dr. Hurley covered when to call for help. Having attempted the assists detailed in the handout, she recommended that it is time to call for a veterinarian’s help if: 1) Nothing has changed for twenty minutes and you are not comfortable checking the ewe yourself, 2) You have checked the ewe and are not able to correct the problem within twenty minutes, 3) Lack of cervical dilation, 4) Hypocalcemia (milk fever), or 5) Uterine prolapse. Under hypocalcemia, Dr. Hurley detailed that the cervix may be wide open, but the lamb is not in the birth canal, or progressing in the birth canal; or the cervix is wide open, but the ewe is not straining. If there is a rupture of the perineum-intestines onto the ground, with the ewe straining or not, this is life-threatening for the lambs and fatal to the ewe. With the vet unable to arrive on time, one should conduct an emergency c-section. It is important to note that while these are worse-case scenarios, generally mother-nature does a pretty good job of managing things herself. New shepherds need not be scared off by the “what ifs.” That said, it is important to be informed of and prepared for possible complications.

Following the birth itself, Dr. Hurley covered newborn lamb care quite comprehensively. She stressed that when the lamb is just born or not yet standing, the goal is to support breathing and maintain body temperature. Once the lamb is stable and standing, the goal is to establish the mother-lamb bond and allow the ewe to finish lambing. Additionally, for all lambs at birth, the goal is to identify the lamb, prevent naval infections prevent white muscle disease, and confirm colostrum intake. Many details were provided in the handouts and in her presentation regarding the accomplishment of these objectives. For the clipping of navels, she emphasized dipping the scissors in disinfectant, trimming the cord to one inch, and then dipping the naval, (completely submerging it, including the wool-naval interface), in a small cup (2 oz.) of Triodine-7 (available from Premiere).

At seven to ten days of age, lambs should have their tails docked (if they are a breed for which this is recommended), rams should be castrated, and shepherds should check for entropion, where the eyelid is rolled in. This needs to be corrected to prevent eye damage. At the ages of eight weeks, four months, and then annually the lambs should be vaccinated for CDT.

NHSWGA was fortunate to have such an excellent and engaging speaker presenting her lambing expertise. Highlights of the session included the many demonstrations with the stuffed lamb which included both a demonstration of the gravity swing, to clear the lamb’s airway, and chest compression for artificial respiration.   Moreover, Dr. Hurley provided additional handouts including one specifying care of weak lambs and inadequate milk intake, another detailing how to most effectively warm cold lambs, and a third outlining the nutritional requirements of newborns.

But the fun and learning did not end there! After lunch, the group of attendees reassembled in the barn of Dwight and Sally Barney, nationally known breeders of Border Leicester and Tunis sheep. Dwight is a retired Assistant Professor of Animal Science from UNH, and he and Sally both have a history of extensive involvement in 4-H animal science program.

Down in the barn, visitors were treated to quite an assortment of Tunis and Border Leicester lambs. Best of all, we were able to observe both Dwight and Dr. Hurley demonstrating and explaining a sampling of the many topics discussed in the morning, (with the cooperation of the lambs and ewes), including locating the para lumbar fossa, demonstrating the Flying W harness for a prolapsed uterus, docking tails, creep feeding, discussion of how to castrate, and the fielding of questions ranging from feeding to vaccinations. One theme which emerged across this discussion was the fact that different sheep breeders each have their own way of doing things; there isn’t necessarily one right way. There is always something a bit magical in a barn at lambing time, a special energy that comes with new life.   The visit to the barn was a fitting culmination to a highly successful lambing clinic.

A special thank you to the presenter, Dr. Julie Hurley, our barn hosts, Dwight and Sally Barney, and the Woolmark Shepherds 4-H Club for the coffee and snacks. NHSWGA’s Lambing Clinic is always a great learning opportunity for the newbie and the experienced shepherd alike! Hope to see you next year!