This simple guide will help you understand your part in what to do when sheep give birth.
It is officially lambing season here on our homestead! Our first ewe (Aretha) gave birth last week to a set of triplets. This was our first-time having triplets on our small farm. The third lamb came as quite a shock since we thought she was all done giving birth.
Earlier that morning I noticed Aretha separating herself from the herd, so I kept checking on her throughout the day. It was our oldest son that came running inside yelling: “Aretha is giving birth!” I put my youngest daughter in the stroller and headed out to see her progress. When I arrived, Grey was already in the stall with her and waiting for the birth to happen.
After successfully delivering the first two, Grey went back to work elsewhere on our homestead, when I noticed a THIRD lamb being born. I called him back over in time to help clear the nasal passage. There is definitely some risk in having triplets born, but so far ours are doing great. The kid’s named them Uno, Dos, and Tracy; since we had two ram lambs then a little ewe! This was only the beginning of lambing season here on our homestead, and hence the beginning of the spring season!
Preparing for lambs on the homestead can look different from farmer to farmer, but we take specific steps to ensure a safe delivery of the lambs here on our little farm.
Here is our process for what to do when sheep give birth on our homestead.
How to know when your sheep in labor
Typically weeks leading up to the ewe lambing, she will show signs that birth is near. Of course, if you’ve kept track of when she was bred you might have an idea, but here are some other signs that she is ready to give birth:
- A RELAXED VULVA-depending on how much wool your ewe has, this may be hard to see. Changes in the vulva area are her way of getting ready for the birth.
- UDDER DEVELOPMENT-In the weeks leading up to birth, your ewe will have an udder that seems to be more prominent as the days passes.
- EWE IS LAYING DOWN BUT NOT CHEWING CUD-This could be a small hint that birth is a few days away.
- SHE SEPERATES HERSELF FROM THE FLOCK-Typically this happens when birth is imminent. Sheep thrive on being with friends. When an ewe separates herself, it usually means she is ready to lamb.
How to prep a birthing space
This can vary from farmer to farmer, but there are some things to keep in mind that make an excellent nursery for incoming lambs.
- SHELTER-We have a block corral that is perfect to shelter or new lambs from the elements. Any shelter will do though. As long as it can shield the lambs from wind, snow, and rain. Lambs can be born anytime from about January to June, so in the colder months, this is especially important.
- FENCING-We have a special place on our property that has extra secure fencing to keep dogs, and coyotes out. The other ewes are with the ram and have a fighting chance against predators. The new lambs though are high risk. Especially if they are born at night. Another option is to get a good guardian watch dog.
- CLEAN BEDDING-We like to freshen the bedding in the stall as soon as we move our ewes to the nursery area. This makes an inviting place for her to birth, and a sightly scene for visitors who want to see the new lambs.
- WATER-Needless, to say water is essential for any livestock, but also for an expecting ewe.
What to do when sheep give birth
Most sheep are designed to have lambs unassisted. She should give birth just fine without much interference. It doesn’t hurt, especially in a small homestead setting, to keep a close eye on her during her labor and delivery. The most important thing to do, is to move the newly birthed lamb up to her face right after delivery. This will lower the risk of her unintentionally kicking the lamb. It is common for sheep to have multiples, so she can go about cleaning the first baby while delivering the subsequent lambs.
What to expect after the birth
The sheep should start cleaning her lambs almost instantly. If there is still fluid blocking any of the lamb nose or mouth you can gently remove it with a piece of straw, or nose bulb. Avoid interfering as much as possible. If the sheep has had multiples be sure that she claims each of her lambs. The new arrivals should be up and attempting to nurse within a half an hour after birth.
Make sure that the ewe passes the afterbirth (she will probably eat it, which helps restore some essential vitamins and minerals). If she does not pass the afterbirth or has excessive bleeding be sure to contact the veterinarian right away. In the following weeks after a birth, continue to monitor the new lambs. Make sure the sheep have plenty of feed and supplementation to support milk production.
What to do during a difficult birth
Most sheep will lamb all on their own, but there are times when things go wrong on the homestead. The most common difficulties are due to:
- Disproportionate size of the ewe and lamb-When the lamb is too big to easily pass through the birth canal. You can gently stretch the vulva over the lamb’s body to aid in the delivery.
- Simultaneous birth- Where multiples are intertangled
- Still Birth
- Mal-presentation of the fetus
*In instances of a birth difficulty the best option is to call your veterinarian right away.
For more information on difficulties in lambing check out Sheep 101: The Lambing Process
If you liked what to do when sheep give birth, you may also like:
Fed up with the fast paced modern world, Grey & Brianna made drastic changes to live slowly and intentionally. Read more about their unlikely story back to calm. If you want to send Grey & Brianna a quick message, then visit their contact page.