It isn’t always easy to find real-world information on the nitty-gritty of raising club lambs. So often the literature on flock management is based on commercial or hobby farm flock operations. In this 5 part series on Championdrive.com, we’re bringing you candid observations on raising club lambs from gestation to sale from some of the country’s top producers. We’d like to thank these breeders for their time, honesty and expertise about the way they manage their flocks through lambing. You’ll see quite a variation in management style, environment and flock size but one constant is the care and time these producers put into producing a high quality lamb crop that will be successful for their customers. This ain’t your daddy’s sheep production! These views and practices are not endorsed by championdrive.com and are the opinions of these individual breeders. Consult with your veterinarian before implementing any health program in your flock and regarding the laws on feed additives and antibiotics in your state.
For many of us who raise club lambs this is the most exciting time of the year, where 12 months of planning and hard work pay off. Unfortunately, lambing can also be frustrating and disappointing. There are so many things that can go wrong, especially for those just getting started in the business. We’ve asked the experts for some of their best tips that make lambing a smooth affair and allow them to maximize the profit potential of their lamb crop.
A major factor in a successful lambing is catching those ewes as they go into labor so you can be there if they need assistance. A great way to do this is with barn cameras. Barn camera technology has come a long way and with a little research, chances are you can find one that works for you. Some of the most exciting developments are web cams that allow you to check for lambs from remote locations or even on your cell phone. While cameras are great, Mike Stitzlein is quick to point out, sound is one of the most valuable tools he uses to determine when ewes are in labor. Listening for signs of lambing is a sure fire way you won’t miss that ewe who is in a blind spot in the pen. Not everyone has a camera. Jerry Hensler relies on old-fashioned barn checks to keep an eye on his ewes and enjoys a vigorous walk to the barn in the crisp Nebraska evenings! Checking the barn on a regular schedule is a must whether you use cameras or not, especially once those babies are on the ground.
A question many people struggle with is “to pull or not to pull”. All of our experts are quick to pull a lamb that isn’t presenting normally (feet facing down with nose right side up), but when the lamb appears to be coming the way it should our experts split their opinions. For those who work off the farm it makes sense to get those babies out, dried off and nursing as quickly as possible, said Hensler. Heath Williams and Deb Ott both believe that getting lambs out as quickly as possible helps avoid potential problems and gives them more time to devote to making sure the lamb gets a good start. Mike Stitzlein has a more holistic approach and allows ewes to labor for a longer period of time; as long as the ewe is still actively pushing. In particular, Mike believes in making ewe lambs work hard their first lambing as it makes them better mothers down the road. He also believes that lambing ewe lambs is important because in his experience they are better milkers and better mothers in future years when they’ve been challenged as young mothers. One important point that Stitzlein stressed was using a lamb puller to assist in a hard pull. This is a snare that wraps around the head and helps get it through the cervix which is normally the most difficult part of pulling.
Once those babies are finally on the ground, it’s time for mother and babies to go into a lambing pen (jug). Size of lambing jugs varies for our experts, between 4x6’ solid sided jugs to cut down on drafts for Hensler, to a much larger pen for Tony Pagliaro of California at 5x7’. Keeping lambs warm is number one priority at birth. Deb Ott utilizes microwaveable bed warmers filled with corn or wheat to gently warm up baby lambs as well as a large supply of baby blankets to wrap them in. Heath Williams insulated barn stays warm enough to make the use of heat lamps necessary for only the most severely chilled cases. He also uses a hair dryer in emergencies. Stitzlein uses plastic barrels cut in half with a heat lamp in the top to warm chilled lambs. This keeps the heat lamp away from the ewe, minimizing potential for problems. All were in agreement that warming lambs before feeding is important. Products like Nutri-drench are popular with our panel once a chilled lamb is warmed back up to give it a quick boost of energy, but Williams is quick to point out that the lamb must be warm or a sudden energy boost could send it into shock.
Once the lambs are warmed up, getting the little guys full is the next order of business. There is a lot of difference of opinion on this point. Brian Maye and Jerry Hensler are quick to get a lamb tubed as soon as possible, while Ott and Stitzlein prefer to make the lamb work a little harder for their first meal, by assisting them to nurse directly from the ewe. Williams has been on both sides of the fence and now prefers to allow lambs to nurse naturally at first but will tube them if there is ANY question as to whether they are getting enough to eat. It is very important, however you get it into them, making sure a lamb has adequate colostrum in the first 24 hours has serious consequences on their health as time goes on.
No matter how you manage your lambs in the first few hours of life there are three tenets of lambing: get them out, get them warm and get them fed! The first few hours of life are the most critical in determining the health and survivability of lambs. Every lamb lost is potentially thousands of dollars down the drain and putting the extra time in the lambing barn most certainly pays off in the end.
Special Thanks to our contributors:
Deb Ott, Ott Club Lambs: Runs 250 ewes in Fairview, OK
Tony Pagliaro, Pagliaro-Bohan Club Lambs: Runs 50 ewes in Petaluma, CA
Mike Stitzlein, Stitzlein Club Lambs: Runs 250 ewes in Ashland, OH
Heath Williams, Williams Show Lambs: Runs 300 ewes in Mabel, MN
Jerry Hensler, High Hill Farms: Runs 120 ewes in Arlington, NE
Brian Maye, Maye Club Lambs: Runs 50 ewes in Hatfield, AR