Preparing for lambing

It is important to plan ahead for a successful lambing season. Good preparation for lambing season will help you to maximise the number of healthy newborn lambs to finish. Get our top tips for preparing for lambing.


Preparing for lambing

Make sure you have a system in place for rearing surplus lambs

According to Volac's November 2016 lamb rearing practices survey, more than 45% of sheep producers in Great Britain see an opportunity to rear more lambs artificially in 2017 as they gear up to take advantage of beneficial exchange rate movements and potentially better lamb prices. Ad lib milk feeding systems will help you save on labour and secure better lamb growth rates. Why spend hours a day bottle-feeding when you could be prioritising your time elsewhere during a hectic lambing period?

Get pregnant ewe nutrition right

Ewes must be in the best condition possible for the last six weeks of pregnancy when 70% of foetal growth takes place. Get it wrong and you may have to cope with poor lamb survival rates, low birth weights and inferior quality ewe colostrum. Group and feed ewes according to scanning results and their condition score. Getting the mineral balance right is important too, so ask your nutritionist for advice. Consider asking your vet to take blood samples from ewes 4-6 weeks pre-lambing just to make sure their diet is delivering the required energy and protein status.

Stock up with the equipment and supplies you'll need

Lambing is always hectic and once the season starts you won't have the time to keeping dashing out for essential kit. You need to be focused on the job too. So get prepared and order well in advance materials such as disinfectant for pens, iodine for navels, castration rings, feeding tubes, marker sprays, sterilisation equipment, milk replacer, colostrum replacer and any other lambing essentials.

Check your flock health plan

Remind yourself of the essential disease management interventions pre and post lambing. For example, don't forget to boost your ewes clostridial disease and pasteurellosis cover 4-6 week pre-lambing. Make sure any lame sheep are separated and treated well before housing. Check, too, the protocols for dealing with any abortion problems, scours or joint ill.

Prepare your sheep housing

Sheds should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before ewes are brought inside (at least two weeks before lambing). Use plenty of clean, dry bedding to reduce the risk of spreading lameness and other infections such as watery mouth, joint ill and coccidiosis. Good lighting is important too because it makes it so much easier to check stock without disturbing them too much. Avoid overcrowding otherwise stress and disease issues can spiral out of control: a typical 70kg ewe needs 1.2m2 to 1.4m2 of floor space and 45cm of trough space.

Decide on the staffing levels you'll need

Lambing is a time of year when an extra pair of hands can be invaluable. Have you got enough labour cover? Many flocks rely on students to help out, but it's important to evaluate the level of help you need. Students vary in their experience and knowledge, so be clear when advertising for staff what level of skills and experience you are looking for. Any new staff recruited need to know what is expected from them form the start and should be given clear management protocols so they know exactly what to do in any given situation.

Set targets for reducing lamb losses

Good records are essential to benchmark performance and to help you identify and potential problem areas. Your recording system doesn't have to be sophisticated or complicated the important thing is to do it well and if you don't record already, lambing time is a great time to start! You should be aiming for less than 15% lamb losses, but top performing flocks are achieving closer to 10%.

Targets for reducing lamb losses:

For less than 15% lamb losses:

  • <5% scanning to lambing
  • <5% lambing and week one 
  • <2% week one to weaning
  • <2% weaning to sale/retention

Ask your vet for advice if:

  • Ewe losses are more than 3%
  • Lamb losses are more than 15%
  • More than 2% of your ewes are barren at scanning