Frequently Asked Questions

Since Ewe Asked

Note: Each of these questions came to us during the last year or so. We thought it was high time to gather up the answers in one place before we forget them. We'll add as many as we can as fast as we can, but it will take a while to catch up!

Can I worm my pregnant ewes?

Yes, but only if you use a wormer approved for gestating ewes. For example, ivermectin is okay, but albendazole is not. Read the labels carefully. Even with the “safe” products, we prefer not to worm during the last month of pregnancy. More on worming …

How do I teach my newborn Soay lamb to stand up?

You don't. That's the mother ewe's job. As soon as the lamb comes out, the mother will start licking it and nudging its back end to get the little guy up and stumbling to the udder for its first meal. If the lamb is struggling to get up, leave it alone. It needs to figure out the balance thing all by itself (plus the mother's nudge).

What is the gestation period of Soay Sheep?

About 148 days give or take a couple. Think of it as five months. More on gestation …

Are there any early hints that a ewe is about to lamb?

The early hints are subtle and you may not see them until your second or third year of lambing, and in any event they are not foolproof. But there are several signs to look for that in our experience have been pretty reliable indicators. The ewe will be extra fussy about pawing the straw or dirt where she wants to lie down. She may stand still with a more-vacant-than-usual look on her face. At some point her hormones will kick into high gear and she may start licking the air as if trying to find her lamb to lick.

My llama is sniffing at one of my ewes. Do I need to worry about the llama hurting the sheep?

Probably not. Our guardian llama, Llucy, is beloved by our sheep and would never hurt them. The only time she sniffs one of them is during lambing. Once we had seen this behavior a couple of times, we realized the llama must be able to smell an impending birth from the change in the ewe's vaginal fluids. Now when we see Llucy appearing to "goose" one of our ewes, we know a lamb will appear within an hour or two.

Should I cut the lamb's umbilical cord?

Probably not, but here's a good way to know. For starters, don't interfere until after the lamb has gotten up and nursed for the first time, to be sure you don't disrupt the all-important first meal of colostrum. If the cord is dragging on the ground, you can snip off enough to leave it only about 2 inches long. Whether or not you trim the cord, however, you really should dip the cord in iodine because that gooey cord provides a route for infection to get into the lamb at a vulnerable time.Read more …

Can I keep my ram in with the ewes and their newborn lambs?

Assuming your sheep are in a relatively small, confined area, if at all possible move the ram to a separate location during lambing to avoid the ram accidentally (or purposely out of jealousy) trampling or bashing the lambs. If the flock is out in a big field where the ram can be mellow and basically not have much contact with the ewe and lambs, you're probably okay with having them together.

Should I use a heat lamp in the lambing area to keep the lambs warm?

No. The lamb needs to generate warmth from inside by burning fat from the ewe's milk or, if the ewe has rejected the lamb, from a supplement or at least a squirt of molasses or “lamb drench” — anything to build a bonfire in the little lamb's tummy. A heat lamp is no substitute. It basically cooks the lamb from the outside and does nothing to get the lamb's internal temperature up to a safe level. A heat lamp is impossible to regulate and unless it is very securely anchored and cannot be knocked off its moorings, it is also a fire danger. If the ewe and lamb are in an area protected from wind and extreme cold, the lamb will be okay as long as it is eating (drinking). If you are in a really cold location, you can use a heat lamp as a general “room” heater for the jug or stall, but be sure to put it well above the ewe's head. Commercial sheep breeders use something called a “warming box,” but they are cost-prohibitive for a small breeder of small sheep.

How common is twinning in Soay sheep?

It depends on the flock. Older ewes twin more, first time mothers usually do not twin. Ewes that are not carrying large worm loads and well-nourished ewes twin more. Ewes whose fathers were twins tend to twin more. But a ram that was a twin is not more likely to sire twins. The lore about Soay sheep in the U.S. has been that about 20-25% twinning was average in the British Soay, with slightly higher percentages in American Soay. We know of breeders who place a high priority on the condition of their pregnant ewes and some who use flushing techniques, and rates as high as 80% twinning in American ewes and 50% in British ewes have been reported to us. More info on conditioning ► More info on flushing ►

What should I watch for in a ewe about to have her first lamb?

First-time mothers usually do just fine with lambing and you won't notice any difference between a beginner and an experienced ewe. But … twice we have had a first-time mother try to attack her baby by butting it so aggressively that we immediately intervened, something we try never to do because of the risk the mother will reject a lamb that smells like a human. Both times we had an "attack ewe" we immediately jugged the lamb and its mother. Both times, as soon as they were in the purposely cramped confines of the jug, the mother took one look at the lamb, something clicked, and she got right to work cleaning it off and getting it to nurse. The only thing we can figure out is that the ewe mistook the pain of birthing for a predator trying to eat her! Now we flag our first-time mothers with yellow electrical tape on their horns a few weeks before lambing so we can keep a careful eye out for any more first-time incidents. More info on jugging ►

I'd like to have a level surface to walk on around the water tanks, but I also want my sheep's hooves to stay trim. Is it okay to have a concrete pad around the sheep's water tank?

Sure. You and the sheep will need to be cautious in the winter when spilled water will freeze, but a concrete surface will help keep your Soay hooves healthy by “filing“ them. A cheaper alternative is to get four big railroad ties and make yourself a box you fill with crushed rock and just put the water tank on the crushed rock surface.