Preparing for Lambing

Lambing Supplies

Camp stool
Makes theMore about working newborn lambs ► whole experience of working lambs more pleasant.
Flashlight or lantern and extra batteries
News Flash: Lambs do not always cooperate in arriving in the warmth of mid-day.
We used to use latex or vinyl gloves, but the nitrile gloves are way better. We actually don't work the lambs while wearing these gloves, preferring the sensitivity of bare fingers. We use the gloves when we discover a fresh wet lamb in a situation where it seems the right thing to put mother and her lamb in a jug More about jugging ► right away, before she has licked it dry and gotten it to nurse. We use the gloves to keep our scent off the lamb until the two are bonded. Once they are safely in the jug we leave them alone until the lamb has nursed.
Lamb ear tags and applicator
If you are expecting more than two or three lambs, and you want to be sure of their parentage, there is no substitute for an ear tag. Unfortunately, commonly-available tags are way too heavy for Soay lamb ears. Our long-time source of appropriate tags—Dalton—no longer carries them, so try for rabbit tags or anything you can find that is really small.
Thermometer and lubricant
thermometer and syringe full of lubricant
The now-common digital thermometer available from drug stores is all you need. Your family will be happier if you don't use the one from the bathroom.
It is a good idea to use KY jelly or a similar product as a lubricant when taking the lamb's temperature. Smear a little on the tip of the thermometer or on the lamb's back end to make things go more smoothly. We dedicate a 3cc syringe (without needle) for this, as shown in the photo. The pink tip is a short piece of 1/8 inch micro fuel line, available from your hardware store. It fits nicely on the syringe tip. Hint: don't try to fill the syringe by sucking. Rather, pull out the plunger and fill from the open end.
BO-SE and Vitamins A&D
vitamins A&D injection and BO-SE Selenium VitaminE injection
BO-SE is the brand name of a solution of vitamin E and Selenium. It is a prescription product (we're not sure why) that you can get from your vet. It is important in our selenium-deficient area, but check with your vet or extension agent.
Vitamin A&D solution does not need a prescription, and you can get it from your feed store or via catalog . The bottle we got from our vet contains 500,000 IU/cc Vitamin A and 75,000 IU/cc vitamin D3. Jeffers has it in their catalog.
Syringes and needles
syringes for giving injections to lambs and their dams
We use 1cc “tuberculin” syringes for both lamb injections (0.25cc) and 3cc syringes for the ewe's shot (1cc). You could use a 1cc syringe for the ewe, but we find it clumsy to deal with a 1cc syringe all-the-way full. The 3cc syringes should be of the luer-lock type to keep the needle from popping off, as the BO-SE solution is quite viscous, especially when cold. Unfortunately, the 1cc syringes we use for lambs seem to be available only in the luer-slip design, so it is possible for the needle to pop off if you deliver the dose too quickly.
20 gauge needles are the best compromise. 18g is too large, especially for lambs. 22g needles are too thin for the viscous BO-SE or A&D solutions. Try to find 1/2" or 5/8" lengths. Longer ones will work, but a shorter length makes it easier to avoid "punching through" and "blowing the dose," particularly with a wriggly lamb.
Portable scale and lamb sling
These simple digital scales are available from sheep supply companies as well as from sporting goods companies (they are sold as fish scales). The lamb sling is a real help, as it's much easier to use than a bucket. Available from Premier and Pipestone. You may get funny looks if you ask for a lamb sling from the bait and tackle shop.
Smear a gob around the lamb's rear end, and on the underside of his tail. This will help keep the newborn's sticky feces from forming a hard clod that can literally plug the lamb up. If this happens – the lamb is said to be “pinned” – you must remove the clump of feces to save the lamb. It is a truly yucky undertaking, easily avoided by a quick smear of vaseline on day one.
Strong iodine and dispenser
iodine for treating navels and dipper contraption for applying it
A dip in strong iodine sterilizes and dessicates what's left of the umbilical cord, closing off a pathway through which bacteria can find their way into the lamb. We used to use a 7% solution, no longer available, since it was used by the meth “industry.” There is now a substitute that provides the same level of iodine but in a form that can't be misused. The brand we get is called Triodine-7, pictured here. Your farm store will almost certainly carry something like this. Do not settle for a product containing only 1% iodine, the so-called “gentle iodine.” It is too weak for the purpose.
The dispenser/applicator can be as simple as a pill bottle, a commercial teat-dipper (shown here), or something you cobble together from PVC pipe fittings.
Clean rags or towels
We bought a really cheap package of 50 "automotive" towels from Costco and dedicated them to sheep use. It would be impossible, of course, to list all their uses on our farm.
Pencils, and a small clipboard
More than one pencil, since they get lost in the hay. Clipboard holds lambing cards. The more notes you take at birth, the more fun you can have – if you want to – tracking the history of lambing at your farm.
Kitchen garbage bags
For gathering up cast off placentas and whatever.

Additional supplies to have on hand for problem lambs

Lamb drench
Quick-energy nutrient solution for jump-starting a weak lamb so that it will get up on its feet and go for the bag. Nutri-Drench is widely available. In recent years we have been very pleased with a product called Baby Lamb Strength. It is available from Pipestone, and perhaps others. The calories in Nutri-Drench come mainly from sugars whereas the calories in Baby Lamb Strength come mainly from fat.
Milking jars
Wide-mouth bottles (6oz jelly/canning jars work well) to catch the milk when stripping a ewe. Narrow-mouth containers are not good. It is harder than you would imagine to direct the stream of milk where you want it to go.
Tube feeder
This consists of a large (30cc or 50cc) syringe with a "catheter tip" and a long rubber tube to be threaded down the lamb's throat to deliver milk directly to its stomach. This can be, literally, a lifesaver.
Heat lamp
Plus a long, strong extension cord, and a chain to hang it safely with. Please use extreme caution with heat lamps, and don't leave them unattended for long periods. You can kill a lamb with too much heat, and you can burn your barn down if the lamp gets knocked loose and lands in the bedding.
Milk replacer
You may not need this, but good to have on hand in case a ewe dies, fails to produce milk, or just rejects her lamb. Comes as a powder to be mixed with water. Widely available from farm stores and by mail order.
Pritchard teat
There is really no substitute for this device when bottle-feeding. Other artificial nipples designed for sheep are just way too big. You may need to slice the tip with a razor blade, but be very careful to make only the tiniest opening possible. Slice cross-wise into the teat from the end rather than cutting it off. You want the slit to close up when the lamb is not suckling.
It is common for a bottle-fed lamb to scour if it gets too much milk replacer too fast. When this happens, you can dilute the milk replacer with electrolyte solution. That way you keep the lamb hydrated, but on a less-rich diet until its digestive system returns to normal.