To Flush or Not … and I’m not Talking About Toilets

Do you flush your ewes before breeding?  Many shepherds do.   Some don’t.  Some shepherds consider flushing an “intensive farming” practice and not natural for the sheep.

Esme lamb

~~ Before I go any further, let me explain what the term flushing.  Flushing is the practice of increasing feed given to the ewe before breeding.  This is usually started 2 weeks or so before introducing the ram to the ewe flock and continued for about 45 days (tapering off gradually at the end).  The ewes can be supplemented with grain, hay or by moving to a better pasture.  The increase in nutrition prior to breeding gets the ewes into good body condition that is more nourishing to fetus(es).  It can also result in the ewes coming into estrus (heat) together and their bodies releasing more than 1 ova (egg) when in estrus.  If the ewes are overweight before breeding, flushing usually has little or no effect. ~~

Bertha's Twins

I’ve flushed my ewes and also bred my sheep some years without flushing to see if there is any difference in my lamb crop.  Since this year (2013) is only our 7th lambing, I don’t have years of data to use, but the couple of years that we haven’t flushed have produced more single births than years that we did flush the ewes.

Here are the birth results from 2 years in particular, 2012 & 2013:

2012 – Flushed Ewes.     Twin births: 5     Single Births: 1

(1 set of these twins were lost prematurely – read about it here)

2013 – Did not Flush.     Twin Births: 2     Single births: 4

As you can see the percentage of twins were higher when the ewes were flushed prior to breeding.  Our 2012 lamb percentage was 1.83% vs. 1.33% for 2013.

The decision to flush your ewes or not depends on several factors: feed/hay availability for feeding ewes carrying multiples, pasture space for ewes and growing lambs, and customer-demand for lambs.  Whether you raise your sheep for fiber, meat or the show ring, you don’t want to have more lambs than you can sell or adequately keep.  We often have a waiting list for lambs, so after looking at my data, I will be flushing my ewes from now on.

A Watched Pot Won’t Boil

… and most people will tell you that a watched ewe won’t lamb either.  Our first 4 lambs were born pretty close together.  Saturday (3/2) through Monday (3/4).  You can read their story here.  Twins, Beatrice and Bertha were the next 2 ewes to lamb, and they did so within 18 hours of each other!

Beatrice had her single ewe lamb close to midnight, Tuesday night (3/5).  Everything went well.  We woke up to baby-lamb baas over the baby monitor sometime before 1am and I went out to the barn.  The lamb was already standing and nursing so I decided it could stay with Beatrice in the big stall until the morning when I was more awake.  I dipped the lambs navel and weighed her (9.25 lbs), then went back to bed.

Beatrice lamb

Wednesday afternoon (3/6), we had a pediatrician appointment after school and got home around 4:30 to Bertha cleaning off twin ram lambs!  I got out to the barn quickly to make sure both were nursing, and to weigh them.  The older one was 8.75 lbs and was lighter in color; his darker twin was 9.5 lbs.  Since I still had to get ready to leave for work, I hurried back to the house and Dave took care of moving Bertha and the twins to the lambing jug.

bertha lambs

The first 5 ewes to lamb were 4 sisters and 1 daughter.  I’ve heard that related ewes go into heat around the same time … I wonder if that is true.

Thursday and Friday didn’t bring any lambs, but Esme had a single ram lamb (10.75 lbs) early Saturday morning (3/9).  We got out to the barn around 1:50am and got her and her lamb to the jug.  This is her first lambing and she did very well.  Esme seemed a little nervous about her lamb nursing but quickly settled down and we were back in the house in just a half-hour.

Esme lamb

We’ve past the last possible lambing date from the ewes being exposed to the ram lambs and Camille is still definitely pregnant.  We’ve estimated that she will probably not have her lamb(s) until at least 3/30 since after being exposed to the ram lambs, she was exposed to our ram, Ezra beginning on 11/1/12.

Stay tuned!

Typical Lamb Photo Shoot

Have you ever tried to photograph 2 specific lambs out of the 8 that you have?  Especially 8 super friendly and curious lambs?  No?  Well, it goes something like this:

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

tunis lambs

And here’s a short video for you:

I did finally get the shot I was after:

Bertha's Twins

All it took was patience … and a lot of maneuvering.

1 Weekend … 4 Lambs

I had to work this past Saturday and Sunday so Dave figured that all the lambs would be born while I was gone.  Well, only 4 were born, but right after I went to work Saturday morning Annie had her twins!  I left around 7:30am and Dave called me at 8:30am to tell me there was a lamb in the big stall when he went in to feed.  He got the lambing jug (pen) ready and moved Annie lamb to the smaller space to bond and continued feeding.  He checked back and Annie had 2 lambs in the jug with her.  Dave said she was so quiet that he didn’t even hear her pushing!

Dave’s 1st solo lambing couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  The 13 lb ram lamb was born first, followed by the 10 lb ewe lamb (no wonder she groaned every time she was laying down!).

Annie twins

When I got home from work Sunday afternoon Abigail was the only ewe laying down in the stall, but she got up when Dave brought their hay and grain in.  During our dinner, I noticed on the barn monitor that Abigail was the only one not really eating.  She was standing to the side of the stall by herself and only half-heartedly munching on hay.  Her ears were droopy and she had a look of concentration on her face.

I went out a couple of times to monitor her labor after dinner and was concerned that even though she was pushing I hadn’t seen a water sac or feet.  Warning …. graphic birth description …. may not be for the squeamish.

I “gloved-up” and found the sac was about to emerge.  After a few more minutes and as many pushes I saw a foot.  A single, rear foot.  Okay, I’ve done this before.  This is a breach birth, but at least the lamb wasn’t in the full breach (or butt first) position.  I felt to see if only one leg was presenting and found the other leg next to the 1st, but with the foot bent backwards.  That was easy enough to correct.  Once both feet were out Abigail started pushing again, but with no progress.  I examined again and found that the legs were bent, so I gently straightened them out and she pushed again, but  then got up to find another position.

I was getting nervous here because once the umbilical cord is pinched in the birth canal the lamb will instinctively breathe.  If the lamb is in the breach position when the cord is pinched it could try to breathe while its head is still in the mother and inhale birth fluids.  This is a concern because any aspirated (inhaled) birth fluids can cause pneumonia in the lamb.  Abigail laid down again and with each of her pushes I pulled the lamb’s legs side-to-side and downwards.  I only pulled with her pushes to lessen any tearing or damage to Abigail.  The ewe lamb came out easily and I quickly wiped any fluids from her nose and mouth so that she could breathe.

We waited for a while before moving her to the lambing jug to determine if she was going to have another lamb, but she ended up having just 1 ewe lamb that weighed 10.25 lbs.

abigail lamb

This morning (Monday) was the 1st day of Noah’s Spring Break so I got to sleep in till 7:30!  I heard lots of baa-ing over the barn, but figured it was just because Annie and Abigail were across from the rest of the ewes and they were “talking” to each other.  I got outside around 8 or so and discovered that Erin (one of our 2 first-time moms) was licking a nearly-dry lamb!  She was almost under the video camera and out of view on the screen, which explains why I didn’t see a lamb on the monitor.  I brought Annie and her twins out of the jug and carried Erin’s lamb (with her following) into it.  The ewe lamb weighs 10 lbs and Erin is very interested in her and standing still for her to nurse.

Erin lamb

We now have 3 ewes successfully lamb, with 4 more to go.  Our lambing percentage is 1.33 so far (divide the total lambs by the total mothers).  I hope we have some more multiples to boost the percentage a little.  By comparison, last year’s lambing percentage was 1.8.

Happy lambing!