Lambing and Kidding Emergencies

Haley Zynda, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Wayne County

Dystocia, weak lambs and kids, hypothermia (if you have the pleasure of lambing in January and February like we do in the Midwest), and agalactia all classify as lambing and kidding emergencies in my book and probably yours, too. With lambing season perhaps already started for some and right around the corner for others, it’s time to prepare for the “lamb-pede” soon to hit your barns.

Dystocia is the issue producers are most likely concerned about. If unattended, dystocia can result in dead lambs, and in the worst cases, dead ewes. Dystocia can present in a variety of ways, especially if the mother is carrying twins like we so hope she does! My counterpart in Delaware County, Jacci Smith, has a great video of demonstrations on how to handle different dystocia presentations, and can be found on YouTube titled “Lambing and Kidding Simulators” on the OSU Extension Delaware County page. Jacci created a simulator using a plastic tote that mimics the ewe/doe and a lamb with bones and vertebrae sewn in to get the real feel of the birthing process.

The first example she walks through is ringwomb, a condition where the cervix has not fully dilated but the water bag has broken, and the mucus plug has been expelled. She recommended to glove up and begin to manually massage the cervix to stretch it for the lamb to pass through. She says that using a breeding sleeve and lube is important to prevent uterine infection and to keep the ewe/doe comfortable.

Another lambing issue Jacci brings up is malpresentation. Lambs may present normally, in the “diving” position that easily allows them to pass through the birth canal, but occasionally are in the incorrect birthing position. They may be breach or full breach, upside down, the head coming without front legs, the front legs coming without the head, and when twins are involved, a tangle of limbs.

The first thing to check for, she says, is to make sure the legs you see are connected with the head you see, otherwise two lambs may be trying to come at once through a very small space. If two lambs or kids are coming at the same time, one must be pushed back into the uterus so the first lamb/kid can be rearranged with the correct parts presented as normally as possible to ease the birthing process. Then, you may need to go back in and rearrange the second lamb or kid to ensure it will come as normally as possible, too.

Breach babies are not impossible to deliver but do require a bit of finesse. Some may have the back feet leading, whereas a full breach baby will come rump and tail first. If the lamb or kid is full breach and pushing it back in to bring the back legs first is an option, do so. The pelvic opening is only so big in diameter. Once the back legs are out, swiftly pull the lamb/kid out and towards the ewe or doe’s hocks to protect the baby’s spine. Quick is key because the umbilical cord will snap, but the baby’s head will still be in the birth canal as it tries to take its first breath.

If you need to pull lambs, chains are too harsh for the fragile limbs and baling twine may cut into the skin. The University of Kentucky Extension mentioned that using a lanyard, like something you may have received at a conference or use for your keys, works like a charm because of its width. It won’t cut into the skin, and its long enough to keep tabs on a leg you may have to push back in to rearrange the lamb or kid.

As mentioned earlier, dystocia can lead to weak or dead lambs/kids if not caught early in the parturition process. Keeping an eye on the flock and herd can help you identify ewes that may need some extra help. Morning and night checks are great, but if you have a job off the farm like so many of us do, barn cameras can be our eyes when we’re not there. We have 3 cameras in our barn connected to wi-fi, which allows us to keep tabs on the girls when we’re at the office, or even when we’re working on another part of the farm. They are worth the investment.

Lambing and kidding season will be here before you know it and ensuring both dams and babies are healthy will only mean more cushion in your pockets when it comes time for market.