An A to Z Guide for Lambing
Raising Sheep can be a very rewarding experience. Whether you are raising them for profit, for meat or wool, or for milk; with a little land, some know-how, and patience it can turn into a good inflow for your farm or property. Sheep are especially good for small properties that can't support cattle but are still looking to raise a farm animal to produce high quality agricultural products.
Just to give you idea, you can raise five to seven sheep with their offspring comfortably on the same amount of land as one and a half cows. That being said, Sheep are more difficult than cows to keep fenced in but nowhere near as difficult as goats. But, they will graze land and weeds that other grazers wouldn't even touch, so even if you don't have the best land or field near you, sheep would be a great choice to get rid of those unsightly and problematic weeds.
What Breed of Sheep is Right for You?
Before we get into the tips for lambing and raising your sheep, you should know what kind of sheep you want first. There are literally almost a hundred different breeds of sheep in North America. Each has their own strengths, as well as work better in different climates and on different kinds of pasture. It all depends on what you want to do with the sheep. Do you want to produce meat? Or are you maybe looking to produce wool? Or are you looking to stay out of either and are just looking to raise the sheep for profit?
If you're serious about producing wool for commercial businesses or for the handspun market, fine-wool sheep would be the right sheep for you. Breeds like Merino, and Ramboulliet are examples of Fine-Wool Sheep. Fine-wools are generally more expensive than other breeds but can produce very high quality wool. Something to research before buying is to see what the commercial wool market in your area is like, if more conventional wool producers are already in the area, you might have a hard time carving out a spot in the market. I would recommend looking at other breeds for meat production though, fine-wool breeds produce fatty carcasses which can be looked down on by meat buyers.
Moving on, medium-wool breeds such as the Suffolk and Hampshire breeds are the most common breeds of sheep raised. They produce large and consistent carcasses with a good flavor, and their wool makes up the majority of the wool commodity market. A note of caution, the cost of shearing your sheep might not be covered by the wool you sell depending on its price in the market. Again, like fine-wool research your market and location before investing in selling wool.
Long-wool breeds like the Bluefaced Leicester are great for handspinners as they produce large and lustrous fiber clusters usually 3-6 inches in length. If you don't have a big commercial market for wool, and are looking to provide something for the local clothiers or artisans, these sheep will be perfect for you.
If you're looking to raise sheep for meat, carpet-wool breeds such as Jacob or Scottish Blackface are great breeds of sheep to raise for this. They provide meat with a more delicate taste than that of fine or long-wool breeds. Their wool is great for local handspinners as their wool is usually colored, however, their wool has little to no value on the commodity market.
Finally, if you're looking for sheep that would be great for a smaller farm, researching different heritage breeds might be the right path. Heritage breeds are in danger of dying out because they don't do well in industrial settings. Meant mainly for smaller farms, these sheep are more hardy to harsher climates and can be more resistant to parasites. Some of these breeds are great at producing meat, milk, and wool efficiently, especially for small farms. Additionally, some of the heritage breeds are much stronger mothers, creating less work for the farmer by producing less "bottle lambs" during lambing season.
Mary Had a Little Lamb...or three
Spring comes quicker than any of us expect, especially when dealing with livestock, and when spring comes, so does lambing season. Lambing is meant for the spring because it gives the lambs the best chance to survive because of (potentially) milder temperatures and plentiful food. However, for lambing to be as successful as possible you need to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row before the season is here. Lets break down what needs to be prepped before the lambing season gets here.
Before lambing begins make sure to take care of your ewes during the tail end of their pregnancy. Immunizing them for the most common colostridal diseases that can affect both ewe and lamb. You should talk with your vet to find out what you're going to need. Immunizing before birth also helps to jumpstart the lambs immune system when they're fed the colostrum (first feeding). Additionally, since most of the development takes place at the end of the pregnancy, make sure you have extra food handy because the amount of consumption for pregnant ewes increases exponentially, and may require a more nutrient-dense diet since their rumen production decreases especially if they're carrying multiple fetuses.
The next thing that you need to make sure of is is your lambing barn ready? It all comes down to what your needs are and what resources you have available to you. However, there are some universal things that any farmer, big or small, needs to make sure of when it comes to their lambing barn. Firstly, make sure you have a clean, warm space for the ewes and their lambs. But, there is a fine line between what is a warm barn and one that isn't getting good airflow and has high humidity. You need to find a balance between getting good air flow and fresh air but not chilling the newborn lambs. Also, make sure your lambing pens are also set up with enough space for the lambs to move around along with a heat lamp so they stay warm.
Secondly, you need to make sure that when lambing gets into full swing that you're keeping the newborns warm and are getting them the colostrum as soon as possible. It might be helpful to have some frozen colostrum and milk replacement handy in case you have some weak lambs during lambing.
Lambs are quick starters, they're usually standing within 30 minutes and are looking for milk. If you have a ewe who has given birth before, she might help orient the lamb to help them to get to the udder. Lambs shoud start feeding within the first hour that they're born. Also, it's usual to not need to towel dry lambs as the ewes will lick the lamb until it is clean when born. Also, if you have a weak birth, it might be necessary to tube feed the lambs. If this is necessary, make sure this is done by a professional, as it can be very dangerous for the lamb if done incorrectly.
Once the lambs are old enough, you're going to want to ID them. This can be for internal use, so if you plan on having some that are going to market and those that you are keeping for dairy, wool production, meat, etc. Additionally, this will allow you to keep track of data for how long you've had the sheep for and their individual production. Livestock tags can range from plastic to brass. Additionally, if you don't want to use a physical tag, you can also use tattoo products to identify the animal. These products are all animal safe and cause no physical pain or harm to the animal.