Spring lambing season is always a time of anticipation accompanied with a bit of angst. We had three ewes deliver nine nice lambs this spring. Each delivery was a different experience. I prefer to let nature take its course, with as little intervention as possible on my part.
I was looking forward to this year’s lambing season with excitement and a bit of anxiety. When the time comes, you need to keep your eye on the ewes, look for the often-hidden signs of labor, and make educated judgements about when to help out and when to leave well enough alone. With Finnsheep, the breed we raise, lambing is also a time of discovery. Regardless of the color of the parents, you won’t know ahead of time what color the lambs will be. Even though none of this year’s breeding stock were white, we still netted four white lambs and a nice variety of colored ones.
Preparing for Spring Lambing
Our former cow shed has been remade into a maternity ward for sheep. The three pregnant ewes spent the second half of winter in one large pen in the ward, separated from the rest of the flock while we supplemented their feed during the later stages of gestation.
Because Finns typically have litters of lambs, they need extra nutrition during pregnancy to remain healthy and deliver healthy, good-sized lambs. As lambing drew closer, they were separated into individual jugs to give the ewes private space to deliver and bond with their lambs.
Duchess, one of our foundation ewes, was the first to deliver. This was her third time lambing. She’s an old pro at motherhood, and I was hoping the two new mothers that were following her would learn something by watching. Just like in her prior pregnancies, she was as round as a barrel when she started pawing the floor of her pen on delivery day.
Finnsheep Lamb Delivery
Once she started, her quads — three rams and one ewe — were all born quickly and healthy. Duchess does very well on her own, although I stood outside the pen and watched for signs that she might need help as the babies started coming. She had the first one and cleaned it off in no time. It was up and looking for food in just a few minutes. But it was a while before she settled in to deliver the next one.
The second lamb came out and she showed no signs of getting up to clean it off. So, I stepped in and cleared its nose and mouth and gently shook it as she delivered two more in rapid succession. Once they were all sucking air, I got out of the way and she took over. She had two white lambs, a black-and-white lamb, and a brown lamb. Her three-year birthing record now stands at three, three, and four lambs, which meets the Finn ewe standard for delivering 10 lambs by the age of three years.
Lambing with a First-Time Sheep Mother
It was almost two weeks later when Petunia, a first-time mother, showed her first signs of labor. She went off her feed abruptly one evening, a sign that lambing may be imminent. It was around 11 pm when I did my final check of the barn that night, and Petunia’s first lamb was starting to show. By midnight, she had delivered a gorgeous black-and-white ram with curly long locks, followed by a tiny brown-and-white ram, then a white ram — both born with their eyes closed.
We lost the white ram after a few hours. She did a good job cleaning her babies, but she was nervous when it came to nursing. Because that initial shot of colostrum is so important to the lambs, we put a halter on her, tied her to the corner of her pen and helped her babies nurse the first few times. It was a sleepless night for us in the barn.
She still hadn’t passed the afterbirth by the next morning, so we called in the vet to help. After delivering her placenta, gently pulling the little brown ram’s eyes open and giving everyone a shot of vitamins, the vet declared they should all be on their way to good health. She said Petunia likely had delivered a little early and that’s why her third one didn’t live. After a couple days, we were able to remove Petunia’s halter and she settled into being a perfectly sound young mother.
The last of our ewes to deliver was Daisy, who is the largest of our Finn ewes. Judging by her size in late pregnancy, it was no surprise when she had three large lambs. Her signs of labor were very subtle, and it was just good luck that I checked in on her at mid-day when her first baby was about to be born. Like her mother Duchess, she had no problem delivering and she readily cleaned up and looked after her little ones. She had two white lambs and a black and white ram lamb.
To Bottle Feed or Keep with the Mother?
The black-and-white ram was wobbly on his back legs at a day old and was having trouble nursing. I thought he had been stepped on by his mother, so I took him to the house for bottle feeding and some TLC. I also gave him a dose of Selenium and Vitamin E paste. Twelve hours later, he had a miraculous recovery. Based on his response, I believe he was born with a Selenium deficiency.
Then I was faced with a dilemma — keep him in the house as a bottle baby or try to reintroduce him to his mother and litter mates? I chose the latter and to my pleasant surprise, his mother readily accepted him back. He lagged a little behind his litter mates but did just fine in the barn.
Our lambs are almost two months old now and are eating grain and munching on hay. The barn is a noisy and busy place. Finns begin showing their friendly personalities at a very young age and are always happy to see you when you step into the barn. Happily, these little guys and gals are no exception.
Cindy Dayton is a shepherd and DIY enthusiast who raises Finnsheep and honeybees on a Western New York homestead that has been in her family since the 1950s. She and her husband tap maple trees for syrup, mill lumber and preserve much of their garden’s harvest. Read all of Cindy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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