Since we are in the middle of lambing season, I thought I’d share some of the tricks we have learned and gleaned over the years to help facilitate a healthy and thriving lamb crop. Lots of this, we have learned the hard way, so this is the guide I wish I had a few years ago. Overall, Katahdin sheep are excellent mothers, but there are always a few situations that don’t go according to plan.
Just when it gets really, really cold, the bellies start to expand and udders begin to fill, and ewes start waddling around in droves. We are finally in full-on sheep midwife mode here in early February. It’s one of my favorite times of year. Obviously very little flower farming is taking place (although more than years past, thanks to our nifty new 24×60 hoophouse) and I’m starting to get a little anxious for a routine. 60ish lambs should do the trick.
We start to really get ourselves together and prepped in the second half of January. Buying supplies, setting up lambing jugs – this year we also added cameras to the barn and hooked up some new lighting (barn previously didn’t have electric) so we can see what we are doing, should a ewe or lamb require our assistance during the long, dark nights.
I’m often asked why we lamb in the most punishing part of the year, instead of waiting until the warmer early spring days for the lambs to come. This is a multipart answer:
So, right now we are truly in the thick of lambing. 9 ewes have lambed thus far, twenty-something left to go. Here’s a little insight on our process with different lambing scenarios.
Scenario 1+2 are by far the most common here, and only because we check our sheep quite often. It can feel a bit defeating during the few times when things don’t go well. To minimize loss, it’s important to know what to do, and manage your sheep. It’s taken us several years to learn all we need to do to keep our ewes and lambs thriving in the lambing barn. We’re still learning. We’re always learning.
While the lambs are in the jugs with the ewe, my process when going out to the barn is to wake up each lamb and make sure they get up and stretch and walk over to their mother. If the lamb is drowsy and unresponsive, I quickly check it’s temperature by putting my finger in their mouth. If the inside of their mouth is anything but warm, I scoop up the lamb to bring inside and begin the warming/tube feeding protocol. Then, I hopefully return the lamb to the ewe after the body temperature is back to normal, with a better understanding of why the starvation/hypothermia spiral occurred.
Common reasons for starving/cold baby lambs are:
Katahdin sheep are known for being ‘easy-care’ which is true, however, easy-care is not the same as no care. Domestic animals need to be managed and cared for, and if this means a few extra steps to be sure that the animals are dry, warm, comfortable, and fed, we are absolutely willing to do so. If you want a hands-off animal for your hobby – get a goldfish.
Lastly, it’s important to keep track of your experiences with each ewe. Let the sheep work for you. Record information on each birth. Was it easy? Did the ewe require intervention? Be ruthless with your culling decisions. Keep replacements from your easy ewes, and you will gradually build a flock that has the traits you desire. Or, start with great stock from the get-go – we are still taking deposits on our NSIP enrolled, registered Katahdin breeding stock – how’s that for a plug? Contact us for more information.
All photos provided by our dear friend Julia at Simmons Photography, head to the link to see more of their beautiful, timeless images.