'Look before entering' rule for lambing ewes

The importance of privacy for lambing ewes


It's a case of 'look before entering' when checking for problems at lambing time as privacy becomes an important factor for lamb survival.


Creating a stable and private lambing site for lambing ewes is one of the most underrated factors when it comes to lamb survival.

This is according to Achieve Ag consultant Nathan Scott who said it's a multi-pronged approach producers need to take to give the ewe the best privacy possible.

"Ultimately a ewe needs six uninterrupted hours on her birth site to achieve that really strong maternal bond with her lamb," Mr Scott said.

"But six hours is the minimum. You need to give her as much time as you can and if you watch in your paddocks you will see some ewes spend 24, 36 and sometimes even 72 hours on the birth site."

He said as managers, every time you go near a paddock you have the potential to upset that and cause that unwanted interruption.

"In an autumn lambing one of the challenges is the feeding scenario and having to drive into the paddocks because clearly, particularly if the sheep are hungry, they are going to move off their birth sites," he said.

"But beyond that, every time of year lambing, every time we go in to the paddock to check those ewes we upset them on their birth sites."

The aim, he said, is to cause the least amount of disturbance recommending looking from one spot in a paddock or a laneway with binoculars and if there is a problem, go in as quietly as possible to try and fix that problem.

"If you don't see a problem, don't go anywhere near them," Mr Scott said.

"Sometimes this is a challenge, as the ewe with the problem might be right in the middle of the mob. In that case, go and check another paddock and come back and see if she is still in trouble, and if she's still in trouble, then sneak in there as quietly as possibly can."

But the more complex way disruption happens on the birth site is ewes looking for the smell of afterbirth.

As a ewe is about to go into her own active labour, her hormones will kick in.

As a result, they will go looking for the smell of afterbirth, often travelling the entire paddock searching for any sign of afterbirth they can find.

"When a ewe drops her lamb her system is designed to start cleaning that lamb straight away," Mr Scott said.

"Which is great, except that she starts looking for that smell before she has actually gone into her own active labour.

"That will see her visit as many birth sites as she possibly can and she will try and clean lambs that aren't hers."

He said that's when confusion sets in and no one knows who's lambs are who's.

And as soon as the ewe goes into a true active labour, she is no longer interested in those other lambs.

"Unfortunately, the lambs that you often find wandering the paddock will fit into that 4.5 to 5kg weight range - a perfectly healthy lamb, it just hasn't had anyone feeding it," Mr Scott said.

"In singles it's not as much of a problem because when a ewe drops a lamb, she turns around she cleans it and no one gets a chance to interfere.

"But in twins and triplets, it's the time between the first and second lamb or the second and third lamb when there is an opportunity for someone else to come onto the birth site and start trying to clean the lamb that is not theirs."

He said the only real way to try and overcome this is with mob size to try and reduce the number of lambs that are born any given day.

"Moving to smaller mob sizes will help stop the confusion on birth sites as well as making it easier on producers when checking on ewes when lambing down," Mr Scott said.

"By breaking the mobs down the producers will go into the paddock a lot less than they otherwise would looking for problems."


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