How Do Ewe Raise Happy Lambs?
Once all of the lambs have been born the work of shepherding begins a new phase. We will spend the next several months managing and monitoring the health of both the ewes and their lambs. It is during this time that we get to enjoy watching the lambs playing, nursing, beginning to nibble hay, and taking their super sweet naps snuggled with mom. It is also this observational time that builds the foundation for what typical lamb and adult sheep behavior is. Once you have watched and truly taken in the group as a whole, it will become abundantly clear when you walk into the flock and something is not correct. Learning what developmental milestones look like for lambs and what their moms are doing during this time will make all of the difference for the care of your flock.
Very quickly after lambing the ewes establish their nursing schedule. While they are eating, their lambs will often gum the hay and nibble grain to try out what mom is doing. Upon entering the barn we tend to make a lot of noise chatting to everyone as we make our way around the pens. Lambs should get up pretty quickly, have a good stretch, and often pee. If we have a lamb not doing well, they generally will not get up or if they do they are quite stationary or hunched. If a lamb is a little off from the norm we take their temperature and listen to their lungs. If they have begun with pneumonia it is likely due to aspirating amniotic fluid at birth. This can be treated with guidance from your vet.
Within two weeks the lambs will begin to eat hay and their mom's grain while continuing to nurse. We like when lambs eat grain with the adult sheep. This simple action allows for the lambs to be exposed to the bacteria from an established, healthy adult rumen. This will assist the lamb in naturally establishing a healthy gut thus improving their growth and overall health.
Once all of the lambs have been born we open the gates and let them begin grazing. The moms will teach the lambs what grasses to graze and what shrubs to browse. Their days are spent out on pasture and are interspersed with loafing in the shade. Although this pastoral scene of sheep spread out upon a field of green is calm and soothing, we know that lurking in that nutritious forage are parasites. This is something we will monitor them for in the coming months. While they are on pasture we will also keep mangers filled with hay. It is important to offer some dry matter for their guts while they are on lush spring grasses. In addition to these food sources, we offer a free choice mineral salt, sea kelp, loose sulfur, and cobalt. Each of these are available for the adults and lambs to eat as they need it and helps to fill in nutritional gaps and keep them healthy and growing well. We also offer baking soda free choice to help sooth their rumen if they are feeling mildly bloated from something they have grazed. It isn't uncommon to see mineral or sulfur on the lips of the sheep!
At 6-8 weeks of age we will vaccinate the lambs with their first shot of CD&T. This vaccination will protect them from Enterotoxemia (overeating disease) and Tetanus. We administer a booster shot within 2-3 weeks. It is around this same time when we begin watching the eyelid color of the lambs and their moms. The moms generally have a well established resistance to parasites, but the lambs are only just beginning their exposure to the parasites and it will be a while before they build their resistance. We check weights on each of the lambs and add this to our records so we can track their Average Daily Gain. Knowing their ADG helps to ensure everyone is growing at an appropriate pace and can alert us if a lamb is not keeping up so we can investigate why.
At around 3 months of age we separate the moms and their lambs for weaning. We will keep the moms in the barn to dry off where they are fed hay and have access to all of their minerals. The lambs remain with the larger flock of sheep being mentored and comforted by all of them. A few days after weaning we weigh each lamb to check their growth and then we check their eyelid color. The color of their eyelids can give us a good indication regarding their parasite load and overall health. Checking lids for scoring their health is a program called FAMACHA and you can read more about it by clicking the name. Lambs are most susceptible to parasite problems during weaning due to the stress of separation. Nearly all of our lambs will be dewormed at this time, with only a select few with excellent eyelid color and a good ADG not receiving the medicine. Those selected to go without deworming medicine are monitored over the next several weeks and receive the medicine if their FAMACHA score encourages it. Additional measures for parasite control are to keep the sheep moving around the farm, grazing different pastures every few days and allowing pastures to rest. Once dewormed as lambs they may never need to be dewormed as an adult.
Weaning will end after 3 weeks and the moms are reunited with the rest of the flock. One final weight and FAMACHA check happens in early August. After this time the flock is moved up the hill to late summer grazing. Ram lambs are removed from the ewe flock to graze on their own without risk that they might breed the ewes. We will keep a close eye on the flock and if anyone seems to be moving slower than the rest of just seems off, we will check their eyelids and if there is a concern we can treat them again. After about 4 months old the lambs are generally strong and able to be monitored in the same way as the adult flock.
There are many different ways you can monitor and manage a flock. These are the highlights of how we have chosen to keep our lambs happy and healthy!