Raising Lambs Part I: Preparing Your Flock

A shepherd with many years of experience raising lambs tells how to best survive the most critical time of the year.

| November/December 1981

  • 072 raising lambs - color
    Raising lambs is a joy when the newborns are healthy, like these specimens.
    PHOTO: ELORA McKENZIE
  • 072 raising lambs 1 tagging
    When tagging a lamb, hang the label so that the ear has room to grow.
    ELORA McKENZIE
  • 072 raising lambs 3 nursing2
    A halter will restrain a ewe when a young lamb is learning to nurse.
    ELORA McKENZIE
  • 072 raising lambs 2 lamb raincoat
    A plastic LamDry raincoat may look silly, but it can help a baby sheep survive harsh weather.
    ELORA McKENZIE
  • 072 raising lambs - diagram
    Lambing records such as this one provide a wealth of information, though some of the headings on the form may not be self-explanatory. "Color" identifies whiteface or blackface offspring. "Graft" refers to the technique of transferring an orphaned lamb to a surrogate mother. In this case, one newborn was grafted to green-tagged No. 130. "Oxy" is our shorthand label for a drug, oxytocin, sometimes administered to initiate milk flow. "Asst." denotes that the mother needed birthing assistance. And "turned out" marks the date the lamb and ewe were moved out to open pasture.
    ELORA McKENZIE
  • 072 raising lambs 4 feeding syringe
    A 60cc syringe and rubber catheter are handy for feeding starving newborns
    ELORA McKENZIE

  • 072 raising lambs - color
  • 072 raising lambs 1 tagging
  • 072 raising lambs 3 nursing2
  • 072 raising lambs 2 lamb raincoat
  • 072 raising lambs - diagram
  • 072 raising lambs 4 feeding syringe

Whether you're managing five pregnant ewes or 500—as my husband Mac and I did last spring—you'll soon find that establishing a routine lambing procedure can keep birthing nightmares to a minimum. After nearly six years of lambing and raising lambs, my husband and I have come up with several shepherding techniques that make our lives a lot easier during this crucial time of year. Perhaps by sharing some of our hard-won experience we can spare you some of the agony and expense that comes from learning about lambing by trial and error. Using our tools and procedures won't necessarily result in the 200% lamb crop every shepherd hopes for of course, but it may (at least) keep you from having such a lousy time with lambing that you give up on sheep raising altogether! 

Worming and Flushing

Many of the steps that can help insure successful, hassle-free lambing experiences should be taken well before the actual birthing days begin. Indeed, such preparatory measures are so important that I'll devote this entire article to them. In a separate article I will describe a good shepherd's duties during those exciting—and tiring—"birthday weeks".

Mac and I start our lambing preparations, six months before we see the first fuzzy babe, by worming and flushing our herd. Both actions will, by boosting the fertility of our rams and ewes, improve the chance for multiple births and increase our lamb crop by as much as 20%!

We find the best prebreeding wormer to be the oral medication Levamisole. (Ask your vet for a recommendation, though, as other medicines might be more suited to specific problems in your area.) This broad-spectrum parasiticide kills almost all stomach and intestinal worms in sheep, and wipes out lungworms (parasites that inhibit breathing) as well.



The term "flushing" refers to giving livestock a short-term quality and quantity increase in their feed. A month before breeding begins, we start feeding each sheep 1/4 to 1/2 pound of grain per day, and turn all the animals out in lush fall pastures. If, however, the new pasture is largely legumes—such as clover or alfalfa—we're careful to set the animals on the new land for only short periods of time at first, and then to increase their grazing time gradually. This precaution protects the sheep from bloat, a dangerous and often fatal entrapment of gas in the rumen that can follow a too rapid ingestion of legumes.

Schedule Breeding

If your ram's free—as a relative of ours used to say—to "spread his raw oats" from Labor Day to Mother's Day, you won't know whether your ewes were bred for a January "drop" in nine-below-zero weather (in which case you'll get lamb popsicles instead of sheep if the newborns aren't immediately sheltered) or July birthings (when summer flies can practically devour both mothers and offspring).






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