Dr. Gary E. Ricketts, University of Illinois, Department of Animal Sciences Emeritus Professor
(Previously published with University of Illinois Extension, Illinois Livestock Trail, Sheep and Goats: January 29, 1999)
Although this piece was originally published over 20 years ago, it still holds a lot of valuable information. As we enter the new year, lambs will be soon arriving and with the business of life it’s easy to forget some of the basics. No worries though, this piece will be sure to assist!
Having the barn ready before the first lambs arrive is one way to get the lambing season off to a good start. Not all ewes have a 150-day gestation period. There is considerable variation in gestation length and it may range from 143 days on the short side to 157 days on the long side. Gestation length is affected by many things such as breed, age, season of the year, and number of lambs, just to mention a few. A good rule of thumb is to have the barn ready by at least 140 days after the ram was turned in or the first ewe was marked. Consider the following in getting your barn ready:
- The barn should be cleaned prior to the lambing season. Then put down 4 to 6 inches of field-grade limestone (granular now powdered) and cover with fresh bedding. This will help to eliminate harmful bacteria, reduce ammonia odor, and help to keep the bedding dryer.
- Be sure there is adequate ventilation in the barn, particularly in the lambing areas. The air movement needs to be high and not at the bedding level where the lambs are. Many producers keep their barns too tight during the winter; consequently, they end up with high humidity and a lot of pneumonia problems. Many lambing areas are too warm and are developed for the comfort of the shepherd instead of the best environment for the lambs. Lambs can stand quite a bit of cold, but very little draft.Remember that your primary concern should be the comfort of the lambs.
- If you have a permanent lambing area in your barn, you may want to consider a break in your lambing season (7 to 10 days). This gives you an opportunity to clean up the area, restock your supplies, and catch up on some much needed sleep. Cleanliness and routine cleaning of the lambing pens is very important. Those who put a break in the middle of the lambing season usually end up with more live lambs at weaning than those who lamb straight through.
For some it may be more practical to start with the lambing pens at one end of the barn and then move the lambing pens instead of the ewes and lambs. This procedure has helped some producers make more efficient use of space, as well as reduce baby lamb mortality.
- Be sure you have an adequate supply of lambing pens and that they are big enough. The size of lambing pen needed is affected by size of the ewe, number of lambs, and whether or not the ewe is sheared. Approximately 1 lambing pen should be available for each 8-10 ewes, unless the lambing season will be very short. Then one for each 5-6 ewes may be most beneficial.
- The barn should be set up so it is easy to move sheep and work them.
- All necessary medical supplies and equipment should be on hand, including some milk replacer and a few grafting crates or stanchions.
- You will need an adequate supply of small feeding troughs to use in the lambing pens, as well as plenty of water buckets.
- The hinges and latches should be checked on all doors and gates and repaired if necessary.
- Be sure there is adequate lighting in the barn and that the electrical outlets are working and conveniently located. Heat lamps should only be used long enough to get lambs dry. A hair dryer works well to dry lambs and to warm, chilled lambs.
- Have an adequate supply of barn record forms on hand to use for your production records. You will need a scale for taking birth weights, as well as one for taking weaning weights.
- Decide where the creep is going to be located and have everything ready. Remember that the creep should be set up by the time the first lambs are 7 to 10 days old.
Be sure you have your barn ready for the upcoming lambing season.