Practical lambing - problems in new born lambs and sheep

Friday 14 December 2012
Practical lambing - problems in new born lambs and sheep

Around thirty members attended the Northern branch meeting of the Zwartble Sheep Association at the Crooklands Hotel at Kendal for a refresher on lambing.

After the winners of a recent flock competition were announced, an informative presentation was given by sheep specialist Judith Charnley MRCVS on problems in new born lambs. Refreshments were provided by the hotel before the meeting was brought to a close with a raffle.



Changes in scanning practice have meant that accuracy has greatly improved and date scanning is recommended to tell what date lambs are due, though 100% accuracy should not be assumed. The process is also much quicker and more comfortable for the ewe than it used to be.



Vaccinate properly against Clostridial Diseases +/- Pasteurella, following instructions, even when a problem is not obvious. Consult the vet and manufacturers data sheets.

Two doses of Heptavac P is easy to use and cost effective.

The first injection makes the body think it has the disease but it is the second that makes it work. This should be followed up with annual boosters and pre-lambing boosters 2-6 weeks before start of lambing.

When buying tups always assume they haven’t been vaccinated as even if they have this will not do them any harm.

Vaccination of ewes pre-lambing will protect the lambs for 4 weeks if they have ingested enough colostrum.



Condition score each ewe by feeling along the back. Aim for 2-2.5 for hill ewes and 2.5-3 for lowland ewes. If over fat there can be difficulty lambing and if thin there will be poor colostrum and milk production with the possibility of twin lamb disease.

Feed blocks can help overcome twin lamb disease particularly with shy feeders. Poor quality or bad tasting feed or poor teeth can also be factors.

Treatment for twin lamb disease should be with glucose injection into the vein straightaway by a vet. Also induce lambing and steroids given after day 135.



This is often brought on by a high demand for calcium in late pregnancy. It is often precipitated by stress eg moving the flock. Treatment is to inject with calcium but never intravenously, it should be sub cutaneous and the calcium solution should be warm.



This is brought about by a demand for magnesium in early lactation. It is often when there is a flush of grass. Absorbtion is reduced by high potassium and low sodium. It usually occurs after lambing. Ewes should be handled gently or they can have irreversible fits. Treatment is with injection of magnesium sulphate.


Vaginal Prolapse

Commonest before lambing, increased abdominal pressure and slack ligaments being the cause. Breeds with tails docked too short can often see the problem more frequently as the tail can act as a truss when it is kept longer. Sheep tend to graze with the head up and rump down when heavily pregnant which can exacerbate the problem. Clover can also make them prone to prolapse. Once a ewe has prolapsed it is more likely to do it again and so should be marked and culled.

Treatment is with epidural from the vet followed by pushing it back in with the flat of the hand and either stitching in place or fitting a harness or “spoon”. Use of a harness means the ewe can lamb without intervention however this is not the case if the ewe has been stitched. Always ensure strictest of hygiene measures when using the harness or “spoon”.


Prolapsed Uterus

Occurs after lambing due to low calcium and no muscle tone. It can be treated if seen quickly as it can cause shock to the ewe.


Prolapsed Intestines

Occurs before lambing and is fatal due to infection.



"Never mother a lamb to a ewe that has aborted as she will more than likely be infectious"

Most abortions are due to an infection of some sort and can cause 30% losses. Never mother a lamb to a ewe who has aborted as she will more than likely be infectious. Adhere to strict hygiene measures and be careful of infection passing onto you (zoonosis).mb to a ewe who has aborted as she will more than likely be infectious


Lambing Kit


Dystocia – difficulty lambing (foetal – lambs fault, maternal – ewes fault)

It is quite possible that this is hereditary.

Hill ewes take longer time at birth site than lowland ewes as they take longer to lick and groom.

Suffolks take longer to get up than Blackfaces

Vigour of new born lambs – Blackface and Welsh are best, Southdowns and Suffolks are worst.

Assisting – be clean, be gentle, be patient

Don’t interfere too early

 Use plenty lubricant and “walk” one leg out at a time, don’t pull both at once

Lots of meconium on lamb indicates stress at birth

Cleansing usually occurs after 2-3 hours, nearly always another lamb if cleansing doesn’t appear


Lamb Needs

Food – initially colostrum, then milk. Most dead lambs have either none or very little colostrum. Colostrum will last ages (several years) in the freezer. Do not use cows colostrum as it can cause irreversible anaemia. Adequate intake of colostrum is the single most important factor affecting survival. A lamb will need 50ml per kilogram body weight, 3-4 times within first 18-24 hours. If the lamb hasn’t had sufficient then stomach tube. Watery mouth can occur in colostrum deprived lambs.

Protection against disease – antibodies in colostrum. In sheep antibodies do not pass across the placenta.

Shelter – field boundries, shelters, jackets


Hypothermia in newborn lambs

Colostrum will make the lamb warmer. Ensure lamb is dry and give glucose. The blood glucose level will drop after 4 hours and the lamb will become hypoglycaemic and start to fit. If the lamb is over four hours old it must have glucose by intraperitoneal injection, then warm it up, then give colostrum, always assume it is over four hours old if unsure as it will do it no harm to have more glucose than it needs. If less than four hours old warm the lamb and feed colostrum by stomach tube.

Hypothermia is most common in:

Entropian – best method for cure in lambs is the use of Michel clips – apply at least 3 to the eye lid and leave until the lid has repositioned itself ( usually about 1 week).


To conclude –If in doubt – call the vet out!

Be prepared to ask for help, never think you know it all, we are constantly learning and can always pick up tips.

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