Getting ready for lambing is an exciting time. Ours is a small operation, compared to large sheep ranches. But, everyone, large and small, must be prepared, because when lambing starts, it happens in a hurry.
I have a nice big barn which I clean thoroughly. We have a terrible problem with birds coming and nesting in the barn (grrrrr!), so I pressure wash the entire interior, rake all the floors, then open the doors, and let it all dry.
I also clean all our corrals, not worrying so much about sterilization – these are animals and this is outside after all – but I want the little lambs and their mothers to be in as clean an environment as possible. Also, after winter, all the corrals need a good cleaning anyhow.
Then I make sure that the lambing pen – actually an old horse stall – is deeply bedded with clean straw. It’s the first stall when I enter the barn, so I can easily check on a laboring ewe.
Then I make sure the jugs are ready to go. Jugs are wee little pens which the mothers and their newborn lambs go into for a few days immediately after the lambs are born. I just rebuilt mine this year. They’re simple – made of welded wire panels and metal fence stakes. And they’re small – mine are 7′ x 4′.
Jugs are important for two reasons. The first is so that the mother and baby can bond. They’re close together, can’t stray apart or get separated – and so that another ewe can’t steal a baby from a new or weak mother. The second reason is that if the mother or baby need extra attention from their keeper, it’s much easier. I can get right in there with them and administer medicine to the mother or assist with nursing. Into the jugs go a bed of clean straw and heatlamps to keep the little ones warm. And, being in close confines also gentles the mothers and helps them to feel more comfortable around people.
About a week before the first lambs are due, I have their wool shorn. Ward, the sheep-shearer, says, “Don’t they look like just-peeled potatoes?” Indeed!
Next I make sure my feed supply is full. Mothers-in-waiting and new mothers eat A LOT! I have a full stack of good alfalfa hay and grass hay. I also have hundreds of pounds of cracked corn and barley for the mothers. They need the extra calories of grain during their last weeks of gestation (the babies take a huge amount of nutrition from the mother during the last weeks), and during the early weeks of nursing.
Last, I have my “checklist” of things to have on hand:
Due dates – so I know which ewes to watch for imminent parturation
My barn record book – this is where I record everything that happens
My vet’s phone number and my sheep-expert, Janie’s phone numbers on speed dial
OB gloves and KY jelly – for yep, you guessed it
A sheep halter for securing an anxious ewe who might need a little help
93% iodine – for dipping the umbilicus right after the lamb is born
Vitamin Bo/Se – gives the little lamb a boost
A bathroom scale – to weigh the little lamb
Syringes and needles – always necessary for giving shots
Large syringe-plungers – to administer anything liquid orally
Isopropol alcohol and cotton balls – for sterilizing anything
Antibiotics – in case the mother has a uterine or other infection right after birth
Powdered electrolytes – to mix with water, for weak mothers or babies
Powdered colostrum – mix with water, just in case the mother can’t nurse the baby
Powdered lamb milk replacement – ditto above
Baby bottles – ditto above
Buckets, feed tubs – lots of them, for everything
Stacks of clean, old bath towels and rags – ditto above!
A magazine – to read while I’m hanging out with a laboring ewe
A flashlight with fresh batteries – for midnight “labor watch”
An alarm clock – to wake me up every three hours, all night long, for weeks on end
Wheelbarrows, rakes, pitchforks – for cleaning, cleaning, cleaning!
Later, when the babes are a bit bigger, I’ll have on hand:
Tail and castration bands and banding tool – tight little rubber bands to dock their tails and castrate the little rams
Eartags and tagger tool – for identification
So, here we go, all ready! Now bring on the babies!