2016 Lambing Clinics

NHSWGA Lambing Clinics Draw Record Crowds

Although some of us awoke to snow on Saturday, February 20th, approximately seventy-five participants attended the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Growers Association Lambing Clinic hosted this year by David Kennard and his crew at Wellscroft Farm in Harrisville, New Hampshire.


The morning session was held in the nearby Wells Memorial School. Following coffee and introductions, attendees were treated to three comprehensive sessions covering the major aspects of the lambing process.

Carl Majewski, Field Specialist for Food and Agriculture of Chesire County, spoke first, detailing the nutritional needs of the pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and post-natal period for both ewes and lambs alike. The ewe begins at the basic maintenance level prior to pregnancy. For the first fifteen weeks of gestation, there is not a lot of change in her nutritional intake. However, at about one hundred days, there is a marked increase in her nutritional needs as the lamb is now growing rapidly. As the ewe’s nutrition also provides for the needs of the growing fetus, the last third of gestation is a critical time both quantitatively and qualitatively. She will be consuming about 50-75 percent more than during the maintenance period.

After birth, the lamb’s nutritional needs are provided by the ewe’s milk for the first month or so, (may vary with farm practices), and therefore her nutritional needs will remain high throughout this period. The highest quality hay should be provided, with grain being started for the ewe within twelve to twenty-four hours of lambing. Ample fresh water is essential. Multiple feedings are advised both in that last critical third of pregnancy and during lactation. Dr. Majewski also stressed the need get colostrum into those lambs at the get-go, as this first milk is high in antibodies passed on only during a limited window of time, and full of the protein and fat needed by the newborn lambs as well. As the weaning process begins, the ewe’s nutritional needs will decrease correspondingly, until they eventually return to the maintenance level.

In addition to the above, Dr. Majewski discussed creep feeding, Plan B for colostrum, weaning, the use of the Pearson square to determine percentage of hay/grain, and more. His presentation was highly interesting and informative.

David Kennard of Wellscroft Farm spoke next, using a slide show of his animals in the birthing process on his farm as a vehicle for his presentation. David began by explaining that Wellscroft lambs in the winter. Among other reasons for following this practice, winter lambing allows them to best take advantage of the ethnic and freezer market for their lambs. Wellscroft Farm also utilizes pregnancy testing with sonar, although David made it abundantly clear that feeling the udder works just as well, especially if you are a smaller scale operation.

Next the presentation moved to the actual delivery of lambs. It was stressed that the ewes should be neither too fat, as this frequently leads to problems with dystocia, nor too thin, as this can result in ketosis.   David introduced the term hogget, which he referred to as a sheep having her first lamb at the age of a year. It is important to keep an eye on these first-timers.

A number of signs can signal the onset of labor including the ewe moving off by herself, calling for her unborn lamb, the dropping of her pins, pushing with nothing to show for it, and the licking of her lips. David shared amusing anecdotes of ewes who decide they are going to own another ewe’s lamb, rather than go through the lambing process itself.

Once the ewe’s water has broken, it is usually about a half hour to an hour later that the lamb emerges. . Normal birth position is with the head and front feet first. If the hooves show a tear-drop formation as the lamb is emerging, this signals a normal position for birth. But it they are the other way around, it is a breech. With a breech it is critical that you get that lamb out as fast as possible as the umbilical cord can be pinched.

The lamb will come out in an arc-like position. Once out, one can help a little in pulling the membrane away from the lamb’s nose and mouth. Then place the lamb down right next to the ewe, who will generally start cleaning it off. If necessary, a straw can be gently inserted up the lamb’s nose to get it coughing and spitting. This will readily clear out any remaining membrane and mucous. Should the lamb have aspirated any mucous, a suction device may be used, or alternatively, the lamb can be held upside down to allow the fluids to drain out with the aid of gravity. If it is a multiple birth, switch the lambs to be cleaned off, as at times the mom will just ignore the second or third.

David also covered the clip, dip, strip and flip protocol. When cutting (clip) the umbilical cord, he advised using scissors having one serrated edge as this makes it a more precise and easier snip. Dip refers to dipping the inch or so of the umbilical cord remaining in 7% iodine to prevent infection. The ewe’s teats should be stripped of the waxy plug so that the lamb can readily begin nursing. The flip part consists of checking the lamb’s eyes for entropion, which can ultimately cause blindness. The placenta should be removed from the birthing site. (David composts his.) The ewe can easily be led to the jug by holding its lamb upside down under your arm. It was pointed out that once that lamb is on the teat and you see the tail wagging, the lamb and ewe are all set. But be sure to make notes on the birth while it is all still fresh in your mind! Additionally, David detailed tubing the lamb for feeding, should this be necessary. Twenty-four to forty-eight hours is the time recommended for remaining in the jug. In this way, the ewe and lamb can be checked periodically to check for any nursing problems that may have arisen.

Other topics included in this overview of lambing included how to deal with ewes who are not owning their lambs, warming cold lambs, procedures for correcting eyes with entropion, ear tagging, tail docking, creep feeding, and more.   Of particular usefulness were the many pointers David has accrued from years of experience, including the fact that if you see young lambs stretch, you know they are not cold. Another helpful tip included putting duct tape on a lamb’s overly-preferred teat to prevent the development of mastitis in the other.

The final presentation of the morning was delivered by Andy Rice of Hogget Hill Farm, well-known and respected for both his expertise in shearing and his knowledge of sheep management. Andy’s portion of the morning was entitled, When Does the Sheep Need Help, and When Do You Need Help?

One point made frequently by Andy throughout his talk was the fact that there is more than one way to do it! We all have our own ways, as Andy says. Another hallmark of Andy’s talk was the generous amount of time allotted for questions and clarifications.

Among other topics Andy touched on was the use of a special corner box for the warming of the lamb in the jug containing a flood lamp, as opposed to a heat lamp, and protected by a triangular-shaped cover, allowing access for only the lamb.

As for the birthing process itself, it was pointed out that generally the ewe can manage independently. However, in difficult birthing situations, a bit of string can be invaluable. A noose can be created in one end with which to draw out a foot that has not emerged. Or alternatively it can be slipped over the jaw or other body part as needed.

Another useful tip provided by Andy was the suggestion of the use of an emery board to file down the lamb’s sharp baby teeth, should the ewe have sore, red nipples.

Additionally Andy covered the use of BoSe in lambs exhibiting stiff lamb disease, which is caused by a selenium deficiency. He also indicated that you can lift up on the lamb’s belly using your hands to feel for adequate plumpness. Other medical/nutritional problems touched upon by Andy included toxemia and polioencephalomalacia.

Following the morning sessions, we were off to Wellscroft Farm where attendees were treated to a wonderful series of hands-on sessions in the barn. Just to visit David’s farm is a treat and learning experience in itself. Add to it these informative stations, and it was indeed a beneficial and fun experience for all.

At Station 1, Tiger Batchelder expertly demonstrated treating entropion of the eye, vaccinations, ear tagging, ear docking, and record keeping. Many questions were asked and answered, with Tiger exhibiting the same gentle, patient manner with the sheep and visitors alike.

At Station 2, Andy Rice discussed the set up and design of the jugs and pens, the lambing procedure itself and what to do when things go awry, the clip-dip-strip-flip procedure for the newborn lamb, as well as going through all the items to have on hand in your lambing kit. It was a wonderful chance to get a look at a comprehensive lambing kit, as well as to have any questions re the birth process itself expertly handled by Andy.

At Station 3 David Kennard actively demonstrated how to tube a lamb, various procedures for dealing with dystocia, what to do in case of prolapse, condition-scoring, nutrition, and more. His hands-on demonstrations were invaluable, and there was ample time to have questions answered. With his forty plus years of experience, David is a powerhouse of practical knowledge, tips, and experienced advice.

If you were unable to attend this year’s Lambing Clinic, we look forward to seeing you next February. Whether a neophyte or an experienced sheep farmer, there is something for everyone at the NHSWGA Lambing Clinic!