Lambing and Kidding 101: the basics

CEW-MR-1-Kidding and Lambing1228by Brad Johnson, Assistant Professor of Animal Science, SUNY Cobleskill

If they’re not already knee-deep in new-born lambs and kids, lambing and kidding season is on the very near horizon for sheep and goat producers throughout the Northeast. Planning ahead for this stressful and sleepless time can significantly impact the success or failure of a producer’s lamb or kidding crop.

Take a few moments to inventory lambing and kidding supplies, well before lambing or kidding starts.

There are few things more frustrating than, in the middle of an emergency, not being able to find the appropriate supplies, or, for example, finding the badly needed obstetrical chains haven’t been cleaned up from the previous season and are a rusted mess. Do you have: plastic sleeves, obstetrical lube, obstetrical chains and handles, clean towels, heat lamps and spare bulbs, nipples and bottles for the orphaned or weak, Iodine to dip navels, frozen colostrum or colostrum replacer, drench gun and/or stomach feeding tube, and coats for lambs and kids in extremely cold weather? Has the lambing/kidding barn been cleaned out and lambing/kidding jugs set up? Is the lambing/kidding barn warm, free of drafts and do you have adequate lighting in the barn?

One of the biggest questions is: do you have a great veterinary/client relationship with your local food animal veterinarian and do you have their number on speed-dial? A solid veterinary/client relationship will make them much happier to answer the phone at 3 a.m. when you call with the most dire emergency involving your best ewe or doe.

Have the ewes or does been vaccinated for Clostridium, including Tetanus (CDT, Clostridium perfringens Type C and D) 21-28 days prior to parturition? Vaccinating this far in advance of parturition allows the female to incorporate immunity to Clostridium into her colostrum and helps to prevent Enterotoxemia (Overeating Disease) in her progeny. Do you have enough CDT on-hand to vaccinate the lambs/kids when they are about a month old? What is the expiration date on the bottle of CDT?

Standard lambing jug size is 4 feet by 4 feet, which generally works well for flocks with smaller ewes or does. However, many of today’s sheep and goat breeds and types are bigger than when the 4 x 4 standard was determined, resulting in many producers finding that 6 x 6 or even 6 x 8 jugs are more functional.

After females lamb or kid, it’s not uncommon for producers to feed three-plus pounds per head per day of a 12–16 percent crude protein, 3.5 percent fat, high energy grain mix to help with milk production. Keep in mind that a 200 pound ewe in the first six to eight weeks of lactation, nursing twins, has nutrient requirements of seven pounds of dry matter per day, including one pound of protein and 4.6 pounds of total digestible nutrients (TDN). A small, individual feeder that can be hung from the jug works great to keep clutter off the ground and less obstacles for the female and her newborns to dodge.

Save the best quality, most immature, leafiest hay in the barn for females after they lamb/kid, especially if it contains legumes (alfalfa, clover, etc.). Again, the extra energy and protein in this highest quality hay will help with milk production, plus help the female’s reproductive tract recover and immune system fight any infections. Doing some informal applied research by comparing the amount of hay females wasted by throwing hay on the ground in the corner of a jug to feeding hay in an individual hay rack that fit onto the jug or is mounted on the wall, resulted in a significant economic advantage to the individual hay rack. We estimated that the hay rack easily saved 30 percent or more of the hay fed. At that rate, the individual hay racks paid for themselves in less than one season of use.

Producers should be feeding very good quality hay to females in the last six weeks of gestation, as about 80 percent of fetal growth occurs in that time period. It has been shown that late-pregnant ewes/does require about 50 percent more feed if carrying a single fetus, and about 75 percent more if carrying twins. It is highly recommended that one pound of corn or the equivalent of a high energy feed be fed daily during the last six weeks of gestation. Daily nutrient requirements for 200 pound females in the last four weeks of gestation are (expecting 180-225 percent lambing rate and 0.5 pound average daily gain), 4.6 pounds of dry matter, just over half a pound of protein, and three pounds of (TDN). The moral of the story is: get hay tested to know its nutritional content and then each producer can design their own feeding program around the quality of the hay.

These nutritional management tools help producers avoid the challenges of pregnancy toxemia in late gestation with females carrying multiple fetuses and are too thin (low body condition). However, females with multiple fetuses and carrying excessive body condition are also very susceptible to pregnancy toxemia. Pregnancy toxemia (ketosis) is not to be taken lightly. Death occurs in two to 10 days of 80 percent of the cases. Affected females are characterized by low blood sugar (glucose), causing them to lose their balance and strength very easily, while having a sickly sweet smell on their breath.

Consultation with a veterinarian is highly recommended for producers with little experience with pregnancy toxemia. Treatment may include oral feeding of propylene glycol or corn syrup at the rate of 200 ml, four times daily, plus 3/4 to one gallon of an electrolyte solution designed for dehydrated livestock. Visually body condition scoring ewes and does can be challenging. Producers should physically handle them, going down the animal’s backbone, to determine body condition.

A couple excellent online resources include: Maryland’s small ruminant page, www.sheepandgoat.com ; Sheep 101, www.sheep101.info ; and Colorado State University’s small ruminant page, veterinaryextension.colostate.edu/menu2/sruminants.shtml .

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