Important considerations during the birth and initial week of life of lambs

Eand ewe normally give birth around day 145 of gestation. Knowing exactly when each ewe has been mated is already an important element in order not to be surprised. For this purpose, the rams wear a breeding block during the breeding season, which changes color every 2 weeks. However, there are ewes that give birth on day 138 and some that give birth on day 152. It is therefore advisable to store the ewes in good time and keep them within sight from one week before the date of farrowing.

The moment of birth

As described earlier, the wool around the tail and sheath is preferably shaved away shortly before birth. If one then observes the ewes twice a day and follows the evolution of the swelling and reddening of the vulva (the labia) and the swelling/filling of the udder, one can, with some experience, fairly accurately see the moment of birth coming. But beware: in young ewes, the birth can sometimes start quite unexpectedly. Ewes with a loner sometimes also prepare less well.

A ewe about to give birth stands up, while all other animals rest lying down. Shortly before birth she becomes restless, scratches with her front legs, and frequently lies down and gets up again. This is the dilation phase, the birth canals are opened and then the water bladder appears. If this phase lasts longer than 3 hours, it is advisable to feel the position of the lamb(s). After the water bladder comes the slime bladder and the lambs come one after one. If there is little evolution one hour after the water bladder, it is best to feel what is going on.

It is important for the inexperienced sheep farmer to realize that the birthing process for a sheep cannot or should not take half or a whole day. If there is no evolution after 2 or 3 hours, seeking help (= calling your vet) is the best decision. Otherwise there is a risk that both ewe and lamb(s) will not survive.

One can react too slowly, but one can also want to be too fast. The ewe needs time to open the birth canal (the bladders help with this). If you intervene too early, you can force it and cause internal bleeding or tears.

Birth aid

In a normal birth position, the lamb enters the birth canal with its head resting on its front legs. A blockage can occur if the front legs are not straight or if the head is very heavy in relation to the pelvic opening. Abnormal positions are here that in the pelvis the head appears with one front leg, the head without front legs or the front legs without a head. To correct this, experience is needed, otherwise it is best to call the vet for help.

In triplets or quadruplets, it often happens that one of the lambs lies transversely in front of the pelvis. Of course, experience is also needed here to solve this.

Read more:  New doctors in 2022 and others in 2023, at the Moulins - Yzeure hospital center

There is also a rear view on a regular basis. In concrete terms, this means that the lamb enters the pelvic opening with its hind legs. In this position, the birth should not take too long, because when breathing starts, the lamb gets amniotic fluid in the lungs. In the case of a posterior presentation, there may be a breech presentation, in which the hind legs do not enter the pelvis, but only the tail can be felt. Furthermore, in heavy lambs in posterior presentation, the chest can get stuck against the pelvic rim and when pulling force is applied, this can result in broken ribs. In short, a rear representation entails a lot more risks than a front representation. Experience or expert help is certainly required here.


It is important for both ewe and lamb to work hygienically during the birth process.

For interventions at/in the ewe, a clean bucket with (lukewarm) water containing a non-irritating disinfectant is a first requirement. The area around the vagina is best disinfected and hands and arms are best (repeatedly) cleaned and disinfected during the intervention to prevent uterine infections later on. During the birth interventions you should use a good lubricant and not soap.

Birth care

With every birth, the following aspects are important. First of all, it is crucial that the farrowing ewe is placed in a small lambing pen with a thick layer of fresh straw and that care is taken to ensure that the bedding remains dry and clean during the days after birth. Always and also after smooth births (insofar as the afterbirth has not yet been expelled) it is advisable to feel whether there are still lambs in the womb.

One must also always pull through the 2 nipples. Sometimes there is a plug in the teat opening or in the teat canal, so that a lamb is unable to effectively get milk from the udder when suckling. For example, lambs can starve, even though the udder is full of nutritious colostrum. It is certainly also advisable to disinfect the navel of the lambs with tincture of iodine to prevent infections. In addition, in cold (freezing) weather, and certainly with small lambs, a heating lamp must be hung and attached 50 cm above the straw bed, so that no fire starts. The newborn lambs can then be placed underneath.

It is highly desirable that the lambs have already suckled sufficient colostrum (100 cc) from the mother within a few hours after birth. Small or weaker lambs can be helped with this. If necessary, you can defrost colostrum (from the freezer, see previous article) in a bain-marie and give each lamb 100 cc of it. However, be careful not to spoil the lambs, so that they prefer to drink from the bottle than from the nipple.

A ewe that has given birth usually quickly drinks several liters of water. In pens where drinking buckets are used, it is best to place the bucket a little higher, so that the still shaky lambs do not drown in it.

Read more:  Agnelli: I'm ashamed and angry that Allegri will still be Juventus coach - yqqlm

It is highly desirable that the lambs have already suckled sufficient colostrum (100 cc) from the mother within a few hours after birth. – Photo: AC

The first days of life

If you enter the farrowing pen in the days after farrowing and you hear small lambs bleating, then this is a signal that they are hungry, or there is not enough milk and you have to support them with colostrum and/or milk replacer for a few days until the milk yield is reached. the mother is in full swing. Sometimes the lambs also have a hard time grasping the (too thick) nipples and it is best to milk by hand to remove most of the pressure from the udder. It may also be that the nipples are difficult for the lamb to reach, which often happens with large lambs and with a mother with a low udder. Sometimes it happens that only one nipple is sucked and the second remains untouched. In each of these cases, it is best to intervene until the situation is normalized.

A phenomenon that is hereditary is an inwardly curled eyelid in lambs. Sometimes it is one eye, sometimes both eyes. The eyes are irritated by the curled-in eyelashes and inflamed. The tears are seen running down the lamb’s cheeks, and this is an indication that action must be taken. The lambs can lose their eyes due to this inflammation. This defect can be remedied by pushing hard on the eyelid, both above and below, with the nail of your finger or thumb. This causes swelling, so that the condition normalizes. Usually one has to repeat this several days in a row. In severe cases, the vet can also place a clip on the eyelid to remove the irritation.

The first manure, the meconium, is very sticky. Sometimes a ball of manure gets stuck between the anus and the tail and manual intervention is required to prevent a possible blockage of the manure excretion.

It may happen that after a few days the lamb is lame on one or more legs. This usually indicates an inflammation of the joints, caused by bacteria that have entered through the navel that has not yet closed, or through the navel that has not been sufficiently disinfected. Calling in veterinary assistance is recommended here.

Get used to it

Sometimes a ewe has too many lambs in function of the available milk, but sometimes a ewe does not want to accept (one of) her lambs and refuses to let it suckle. In the latter case, systems exist to restrain the ewe in order to force her to suckle her lambs.

As an alternative to rearing with artificial milk, one can also try to get used to these lambs in such situations. This means raising them by another ewe, for example by a ewe that has only one lamb, or by a ewe whose lambs are dead at birth.

Getting used to it takes experience and is not always successful. It must be done at the moment when the future foster mother gives birth. If 2 ewes give birth at the same time and the lambs are still wet and not licked, transferring from one mother to the other goes smoothly and is usually successful. If you want to place a lamb of a few days old with a farrowing ewe, this requires the necessary knowledge and experience. A ewe recognizes and accepts her own lambs primarily on the basis of smell, but also visually and on the basis of sound (bleating). The odor binding occurs immediately after birth when licking.

Read more:  Heart cancer, what are the symptoms? Rajavithi Hospital, Department of Medical Services recommends observing the warning signs in detail here! Mekha News (Mekha News): A news website that will present news to maintain your rights.

To transfer a lamb, the farrowing ewe must not have sniffed or licked her own lamb yet. The transfer therefore only succeeds if one is present at the birth. At birth, the own lamb is immediately taken away. The lamb to be accustomed is completely washed with lukewarm water and soap to remove the smell. Then it is rubbed with the mucus and blood of the amniotic membranes and of the born lamb. The 4 legs of the lamb are tied together and placed with the foster mother.

To stimulate licking, you can also sprinkle a small amount of table salt on the lamb. Let this ewe lick the lamb for about ten minutes, then loosen the legs and usually the lamb will try to suckle. If the mother allows this, a big step has already been taken; only afterwards (after another ten minutes) will they teach their own lamb, so that the ewe can also lick this off.

If this procedure is followed, most ewes will accept and rear both lambs. However, some ewes will still make a distinction after a few days and will no longer allow the ‘strange’ lamb to suckle. The character and care of the mother is important here.

There are also fragrances (including vanilla scent) to make both lambs smell the same as much as possible and to allow acceptance to continue in this way. Success is not always guaranteed, but getting used to it can save a lot of costs and work for artificial rearing.

After getting used to

A point of attention the first days after the transition is that there must be enough milk for both lambs. A ewe expecting only one lamb has a less well prepared udder than one ewe expecting multiple births. After a few days, the milk yield has also been stimulated here and is usually sufficient for both lambs to continue growing smoothly.


The birth period is an intense period on a sheep farm, but it is also the period where we have to reap what has been sown. Experience to intervene properly and appropriately is important. Training courses are regularly given in connection with birth aid. Following such a course is not a superfluous luxury, not for the novice sheep farmer, but also not for someone who already has obstetric experience.

Andre Calus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent News

Editor's Pick