Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding uk
Relaxed Ltd: celebrating smallholding uk
Successful Breeding (Part Seven) - by Jack Smellie
Lambing and kidding
Celebrating Smallholding
A perfect outcome: a pair of beautiful, healthy twins (credit Dave and Debbi Church)

Last time we considered the pregnant mum-to-be, now we look at ensuring a successful arrival - or two!
Picking up from where we left off at the end of our last article, this article is about the excitement and anticipation of imminent lambing and kidding and how to ensure all goes as well as possible. The first time you get to see one of your own animals give birth can be quite an extraordinary experience. It can often induce tears, usually of relief as well as pride. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to bring new life into the world and for those of you about to experience it for the first time, we can assure you it is just as amazing the second time, and the third time, and the fourth…, in fact EVERY time!! To enjoy it you must be prepared, firstly because things can and will go wrong at some stage, if not this year, then the next; but also because your enjoyment will be enhanced if you know you are as ready as possible.
So, assuming you now have well fed, clean, healthy ewes and/or nannies bedded down in your barns and sheds, what else should be in place?

Lambing/kidding box
To start with there is that all-important lambing/kidding box. This needs to contain a variety of equipment, tools and medical supplies 'just' in case things don't progress as naturally as they should. Knowing what can go wrong is useful but to be honest, it is best NOT to scare yourself too much by 'over-reading'. Some of the more serious problems can only be sorted by a vet anyway and if you have looked after your expectant mums well, you will hopefully not have anything too serious to deal with. BUT, because you 'might', one of THE most important things you must have is your vet's number programmed into your mobile phone and to make sure your phone is always charged up (and with you).
Back to that box, in no particular order these are recommended items and why you should have them: (huge thanks to Wowie Dunnings (South Downs) and Andrew O'Shea (Lincolnshire) for allowing me to 'peek' inside theirs).

Get your lambing/kidding box together in good time, including checking any use-by dates on items not used since last year! (credit Wowie Dunnings)
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Lubricant, medical gloves and lambing rope:
IF you have been instructed how to do it (via a vet or on a course) or are super competent and confident, any internal help or examination of your ewe or nanny must be preceded by putting on a pair of medical gloves and liberally applying lubricant to your now gloved hands! There are various reasons why you might need to intervene in the lambing/kidding process and an entire article could be written on this subject alone, but essentially, when a lamb or kid is born, the 'correct' presentation is the 'diving position' whereby the two front feet come out first, closely followed by the nose. IF the newborn is in any position other than this OR they are correctly presented but a little large, you MIGHT need to help, hence the need for the gloves and lubricant. Sometimes an 'incorrect' presentation might be as simple as one leg bent back, in which case this is a relatively easy thing to sort out by pushing the lamb or kid slightly back into the mum, straightening the said leg and then allowing mum to push it out again! More complex mis-presentations (breech, backwards, twins coming together) may involve a lot more 'sorting out' internally and obviously it is vital that you are gloved and lubricated so that there is no chance of any infection being introduced and so that you are making the whole thing as comfortable for mum as possible (which realistically, isn't going to be 'very' comfortable at all!!). Lambing ropes are used to wrap around legs or shoulders of the lamb or kid when you have got it in the right position so that you can then gently help pull as mum has her contractions and so prevent the newborn from getting in the wrong position again. BUT, if in any doubt, get the vet or an experienced shepherd/ess to help!!

Colostrum and feeding tube:
A new-born lamb will receive colostrum via its mum's milk. Colostrum is the initial thick milky liquid that fills the udder immediately prior to lambing/kidding and not only is it super rich, but is also contains antibodies that will keep nasty bacteria away from your new-born until its own antibodies kick in and it is old enough to receive its own vaccinations. Lambs and kids that don't get any colostrum are likely to die. Ideally they need to take their first drink within half an hour to an hour, in order for it to warm up the body and get into the bloodstream. In an ideal world, and for maximum effect, a newborn lamb/kid should have 10% of its body weight in colostrum within its first six hours! After 48 hours, the stomach lining loses its ability to absorb any of the antibodies. IF a newborn is struggling to suckle or the ewe has very little initial milk you may need to give the lamb or kid colostrum via a syringe/bottle or even a stomach tube – using mum's colostrum is the ideal first choice or powdered colostrum can be mixed up accordingly. If you have any particularly milky ewes or nannies, you can even take some from them and then keep it frozen for later use.
Feeding tubes are used on lambs or kids that are unable to suckle or swallow for whatever reason and are a way of getting milk/colostrum straight into the stomach. You MUST be shown how to insert a stomach tube by a vet or someone more experienced. If you do it wrong, you can kill the animal.

The 'about-to-be-born' having a bit of a 'talking to' / A Boer nanny in labour with a water bag clearly showing, two front feet and a nose should follow…
(credit Dave and Debbi Church)
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Medications and Husbandry
  • Iodine or similar: used to spray onto the navel of the newborn lamb or kid to help dry up the remains of the umbilical cord and to protect the naval from any nasty bacteria getting into the body
  • Antibiotics, syringes and needles: NOT to be used unless absolutely necessary and then only if part of your health plan as agreed with your vet. Sometimes the stress of giving birth can leave a ewe or nanny with a lowered immune system and then an infection can take hold. It is useful to have a broad spectrum antibiotic available just in case!
  • Twin lamb drink (or similar) and a drench gun: if, in the weeks/days leading up to the birth, you suspect twin lamb disease (covered in last article), an appropriate twin lamb drink can literally be a lifesaver, these are readily available online and from feed stores
  • Heat lamps to help keep newborns warm as required
  • Dagging and foot trimming shears: hopefully you will have given your ewes their pre-lambing MOT some weeks before but having these in your box means you should be able to re-dag or trim feet if needed. You don't want the ewe/nanny to be uncomfortable on her feet nor any ewe to be mucky round her back end.
  • Antiseptic spray: just in case you need to cover any minor wound or injury – you don't want there to be any risk of nasty bacteria being around whilst you have vulnerable newborns.
Other
  • Torches, emergency rations (for you), notebook and pen (for that all important record keeping. e.g. when births happened, any difficulties, how many born etc)
  • Colour sprays. IF you have a lot of sheep, you might want to consider spraying the lambs with their mother's tag number so that you don't lose track of who belongs to whom.

That initial bonding is a joy to witness
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Giving Birth
A ewe or nanny about to give birth will be restless, will pace, she may lie down and get up a lot, she may start 'talking' to the newborn ('get a move on' probably being the most popular choice of phrase). Goats in particular can be very noisy. If you have all your animals together, she may 'withdraw' slightly (and that is when you might want to consider putting her in a separate pen). She will start pawing the ground (nesting!). Sometimes she will do all these things and then go off and be totally normal for a couple of hours whilst you debate (annoyingly) whether you can leave her to go and grab a quick loo break!!!
The actual birthing process can be viewed (very roughly) in half hour slots. A bag will appear, and then within half an hour, the lamb or kid should have put in an appearance. Half an hour after that, any second lamb/kid should also have been born. If any of these half hours turn into hours, then that is definitely too long a gap and help and/or a vet may be needed. Sometimes the whole process from the bag appearing to two youngsters being furiously licked by an exhausted mum may be less than one half hour in total.
There are a great number of books, videos, DVDs, Facebook groups and more you can watch, read and ask advice on when it comes to lambing and kidding and you should certainly try to be as aware as possible what to expect. Helping out with lambing and kidding on someone else's farm or holding is a perfect way to learn. Many vets run courses as do a few fellow smallholders. At the end of the day though, when it is your own stock, late at night and you can feel the panic starting, it really is best to call in an expert if you are at all worried. When you are dealing with potential lives, being over-cautious is always the best policy!!!

The first drink of that vital colostrum
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The first 24 hours
So now you have twins or a whopping single or even triplets and mum is licking them all like mad and they are all wobbly and shaking their heads and getting used to this rather different environment they now find themselves in. And you are feeling great!!!
There are a few things to check. The head shaking is all about the newborn getting rid of that birthing fluid some of which may be in its mouth, up its nose and sometimes it can get into the lungs. If there is any sign of the kid or lamb struggling to breath, doing a LOT of head shaking or sounding gurgly, you want to try to get those airwaves cleared. Your finger will suffice to clear any fluid from the mouth.
Cold lips are a sign that the lamb or kid is not doing that well, they may just require additional heat or this may signify a more serious underlying problem such as a heart defect. If you cannot get the lamb or kid warned up in a few hours using a heat lamp or similar, a call to the vet may be in order!
All being well, the lamb or kid will find mum's teats and take its first drink in that first half hour. Sometimes help is needed here either in guiding the lamb or kid to the udder or getting the ewe or nanny to stand still. It's a balance between not wanting to interfere too much at a time when mum and offspring are bonding, but making sure that vital colostrum gets consumed asap. In order to prevent infection, teats have 'plugs' which the first kid or lamb sucking should dislodge, sometimes however, human help might be needed to dislodge these plugs and get the milk flowing!
You also want to make sure the newborn has no deformities, that the teats are in place and normal looking, that legs are properly formed, that eyes and ears are clean and alert! We once had a lamb without an anus opening – it was most bizarre - but the vet managed to create an opening and as all was present and correct internally, normal poo-ing was then able to take place!
Once you are happy that all seems well and that first crucial drink has been taken, you should be able to leave mum and offspring to continue bonding. At your next check, which may well be a few hours later, check the belly of the lamb or kid and if it feels warm and full, you know that things are as they should be. The other positive sign to look out for is the lamb or kid 'belly stretch': this is when they get up having been resting or asleep and do a full body stretch and often a little yawn too. This is the most perfect sign that they are nice and warm and have a stomach full of milk!!

This article has only touched the surface of this topic and we cannot recommend enough going on a course or helping out with a friend's lambing or kidding. The more you see/learn beforehand the better and the more likely you are to enjoy the whole experience.

And so to end with some words of wisdom from a few experienced voices!!!
Dave Church (Pembrokeshire)
Even when our does are in their 'maternity barn', if the weather/conditions are good, we let them out daily as exercise is still good for pregnant stock.

Vicki Woodward (Devon)
If a newborn's mouth is cold, don't try to feed it as it won't be able to digest the food and it will give it belly ache, gently bring the animals core temperature up to normal range then once the mouth is warm tube it, ideally with mum's colostrum.

Yvonne N Vince Lay (Oxfordshire)
If you need to warm a baby lamb all over and you're on your own and have another lamb coming, place the first lamb in a tub of warm water as it mimics being inside the womb... keep the head above water with a ring float around it.

Lorraine Turnbull (France, was Cornwall)
Tube feeding is an art; not to be attempted by someone who doesn't know what they are doing as you could drown the lamb.

Isla Anderson (Aberdeenshire)
Tickling the nose with a piece of straw will make a newborn sneeze out any liquid from its lungs.

Jeni Parsons (Carmarthenshire)
We lamb outside and the three most important things are vigilance, even at 3am, a head torch, and an experienced neighbour.

Katy McDermott (Leicestershire)
We're very careful to give lambs and ewes 48 hours to bond before they go out, and we put bales out for lambs to escape the wind / rain.

Dawn McHugh (Carmarthenshire)
Once our girls had kidded we gave them a bucket of warm water with molasses in, they gulped it down. The vet suggested this as a good energy replacement.

Nick Flux (Somerset)
Don't worry. Don't panic, less is more. If you worry, you will worry about things that aren't wrong, sometimes your ewes know best. Don't get yourself tired, that's when you miss things. Lambing should be a joy not a chore.

Next time: When things don't quite go to plan - we look at a few common examples of where things go wrong and how to deal with them: e.g. fostering a lamb or kid, having to bottle feed, caesareans, mum and offspring not bonding...

Next article in the series: Successful Breeding (Part Eight) - Tricky births

This article and images © Jack Smellie 2019       An adapted version was first published in the Spring 2018 edition of Country Smallholding

Tel: 01769 581175  07929 204386/204521    jack@celebratingsmallholdinguk.org.uk    Relaxed Ltd    Celebrating Smallholding Uk

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