Stages of Lambing (warning…graphic photos)


Lambing is always an exciting time on the farm. The sound of newborn lambs bleating for their mothers is just wonderful. It can sometimes be stressful for the anxious flock-master or flock-mistress as they await the birth of the year’s lambs and hope that there are no difficulties.

The ewe’s body usually starts preparing for lambing a couple weeks to a month before the birth of her lambs. Her vulva will swell and get darker pink as her due date approaches. During this time her udder will also fill with colostrum – the lamb’s thick, antibody-rich, first milk. Her udder will get larger, but a day or so before she delivers her lambs her teats will appear full and the skin on her udder will feel tight.

You can see the changes in Erin’s udder before lambing in the collage below. She gave birth the day after the last photo in the collage was taken. (Edit – Erin was born 3/3/2011. She was 2 years old when I took these photos and was pregnant for the first time.)

Erin changes

Closer to lambing, the ewes sides “hollow out” as the lamb drops into birthing position. As active labor approaches she will usually become restless and separate herself from the flock. She will begin to paw at the ground to make the area comfortable for her.

These photos were taken over a couple years and are a few of out ewes in labor. Click on each photo to see it enlarged.

Stage 1 The water sac emerges (figure 1)…

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…and soon ruptures (see arrow – figure 2). The dam paws at the ground to make a “bed”.

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Stage 2 She becomes restless and begins pushing. She may stand up and lie down repeatedly, trying to get comfortable. The lamb’s feet can soon be seen…

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Stage 3 …followed by the head

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Stage 4 The shoulders are the most difficult part for the ewe to pass. She may lie down and really strain to push the lamb out.

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Stage 5 The lamb slides out quickly after the shoulders are free. The dam may stay lying down or stand up again.

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Stage 6 The lamb is on the ground and waiting for its dam to clean it. I already wiped the birth fluids from its nose.

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Stage 7 The ewe licks the amniotic fluid off the lamb, cleaning her baby and bonding with it.

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Stage 8 This ewe continues cleaning the lamb as she rests before her 2nd lamb is born. You can almost make out the 2nd lamb’s feet (see arrow).

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Stage 9 The first lamb searches for the teat and begins to suckle as the ewe cleans her second lamb. Nursing triggers the release of the placenta (see arrows).

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Stage 10 The placenta(s) is (are) delivered. This usually happens within a couple hours of lambing, but can take 24 hours or longer. It it important NEVER to pull on the placenta if it is hanging from the ewe. If it is still attached to the uterus and is pulled the ewe could hemorrhage and bleed to death.

Not all deliveries are textbook, but it’s important to learn what a normal lambing looks like so you can identify an abnormal delivery and intervene. Once the dam begins pushing, it is imperative that the lamb is delivered in a timely manner. If a malpresentation of the lamb or another issue prevents this, the shepherd must assist the ewe. Remember when you assist, wear gloves (OB preferably) and use LOTS of lube. If you’re in a pinch and don’t have veterinary lube any unscented, plain-old KY-type lube will do fine.

Do you learn better from watching or experiencing, rather than through reading and photos? You can watch Bertha’s textbook lambing here.

119 thoughts on “Stages of Lambing (warning…graphic photos)

  1. While I wait outside and check often, I’ve never actually witnessed the entrance of any lambs. They just seem to “appear” (but as the mother of 4 , I know better! ) This is a wonderful teaching/learning segment. Nicely done.

  2. My most favorite time of the year!….When the lambs are born! 🙂 Thanks for putting this together! It’s great.

  3. Very good we got some video last year and one of ours even had triplets lisa was able to see the last one born ,what a surprise. Very good pics should post on tunis news

  4. I don’t expect to be birthin’ no lambs, but your feature was fascinating, and in the best of ‘all-natural’ taste – not offensive or too graphic at all.

  5. Thanks for the pics. People tell you what to look for but seeing is much better for me. I’m guessing my little lambies are only a day or two away – if that!!!!!

  6. This is so helpful, thank you for the pictures! My ewes (theoretically) should be lambing in the next month or so and I’m nervous as the proverbial cat about to have kittens. 🙂

  7. Thank you so much for these photos and information! We are waiting on our first lambs which based on comparing the photos to my photos, it should be any day now! We have a small flock of Tunis, 5 ewes and a ram. We put our ram in with 3 of our girls 10/17 and left them together until 12/5. Do you have any pictures of a ewe that still has 4 weeks to go, but is definitely expecting? I have 1 that is due any day, and 1that I think is pregnant but not so far along and then one that I am completely unsure about.

  8. Thanks for documenting! We lost our ram a couple years ago and finally got another on last fall. We have two pregnant ewes and I couldn’t remember what it looks like when she is ready! We will hopefully lamb in the next week.

  9. Our ewes are pregnant. This is our first time with sheep. The last week or so 2 of them have the udder starting to slightly show. Yesterday, the udder on one of them doubled in size but is still small. That ewe’s vulva today is slightly red. No other signs so far. I’m wondering how long do we still have before they give birth?

  10. Your pictures and video were very informative, actually the best I have found online. We are expecting our first lambs any day now and I feel your posts have helped us prepare! Thank you.

  11. What year are these sheep the photos are of? We have 2 yearlings that we are expecting to lamb any day but this is my first time lambing so I really am not sure what to look for! I have heard that first time mothers may or may not have big udders. They def have looked like they have “dropped” and have a small amount of discharge.. vulvas are swollen and somewhat elongated. Hoping for babies soon! lol

    • Hi Kimberly, the photo collage at the top of the page is of Erin, who was born in 2011. She was almost 2 when I took these photos and pregnant for the first time. Some ewes naturally get larger udders than others and can pass those traits on to their female offspring. I hope lambing goes well for you! -Kim

  12. This page is a great learning tool! Thanks for posting it. We are anxiously awaiting our first lambs. although all our ewes are experienced mamas with previously easy births, I’m nervous because It’s our first year breeding.

  13. I have a ewe that had a lamb this morning and had yet to have the second one. She eats, paws the ground, lets the other nurse, but hasn’t had the second one. You can see it kicking inside her still.

  14. Got a Barbado ready to deliver today it seems. Separation from the pack; really well developed udder over the last two + weeks; and my others never develop a sack to the sizes shown with dorpers on these sites. Smaller but full. Even after delivery they do not get much larger than the day of birth. And yes they drop lambs out of nowhere, in the field. Had to give one away as mom rejected the second lamb and we could not take on a bottle baby. She was rejected because my loving young longhorn heifer licked her to help clean up the baby before we knew she’d been dropped in the tall grass. A first time birth from the ewe and twins to boot. Maybe there is a way to smear milk on her or rub the placenta on her as some old timers have suggested. We are too new to all of this to have known at this point. Our four successful Barbado births this spring have all grown like weeds and are totally loveable. Talk about early independence. Three and one half months after birth, they are abusing moms when they come to drink. Another one (or two) lambs due perhaps this afternoon from our friendliest ewe, a mate we purchased at a yound age and bottle fed a while, for our bottle baby ram. Thats another story, but don’t get too friendly with your ram babies or you may need to sell them due to trying to their trying to head butt you incessantly, and a serious risk of getting hurt!! Ed from Central Tx in a cool July..

  15. Excellent and informative presentation. Can anyone tell me why the majority of our lambs are born with a single front leg head position. The majority of our lambs have presented this way this year and require assistance. Any information gratefully accepted

    • There can be a variety of factors that affect presentation. One year we had all but 1 or 2 lambs born with 1 leg forward presentation. The next year all the lambs were normal presentation.

  16. Thx this helps me a lot as we have a hobby farm and have sheep on it. We have a ewe that is pregnant and we had no knowledge about it. We have one ram and one ewe. Our ram is quite aggressive with us and the ewe while eating. Do you think we should separate them while the ewe is birthing? If so how long do we separate them for after the lamb is born?

  17. I’ve used this resource for 2 years at least to refresh myself prior to lambing, and I’m curious have you ever experienced an udder dripping milk prior to lambing?

    Thank you,
    Gabriella Reid

    • Hi Gabriella, I haven’t had that issue before. I imagine if the waxy plug in the teat becomes dislodged leaking milk can occur. I’d keep an eye on the ewe because if milk is dripping out, bacteria can get into the udder.

  18. Hi Kim,
    How are you? I asked you a while back about separating my ewe away from my ram while birthing. Well it helped loads. On the 1st of August twin ewes were born. We are extremely grateful for your advise.

  19. Hi Kim I am new to sheep. We bought14 ewes and 2 rams last October knowing that some were pregnant but not knowing due dates we have had one ewe lamb born without any assistance or problems We now have a ewe presenting cotyledons but no lamb had been born Is this placental separation and will she still have a lamb without intervention? These ewes are not friendly and have to be captured via head gates and U do not want to stress her since this issue just presented itself this morning Thank you for your advice.
    Sharon

      • Thanks for response She is just walking around like normal eating and drinking as normal not pushing straining or pawing and staying as far from humans as she can like normal lol she just has the cotyledons dangling out attached to about 8 inches of membrane It is New Year’s Day and our vet is 35 miles away

      • She has been confined to our barn and lane way areas due to bad weather and we have searched for a lamb and not found one we thought of that as well Thanks for the advice we will just see how she goes tonight

  20. I’m caretaking a flock of 31 Shetland ewes and 3 rams that are completely pastured. This will be my first lambing and I’m nervous as only 1 ewe is friendly!
    I am thinking of splitting the group to, hopefully, make it easier for me to keep an eye on everyone. The rams will be separated into their own pen for lambing so I don’t have to worry about watching my back constantly. One of the new rams can be grumpy and I don’t know if he can be trusted.
    Thank you for the walk through!

  21. We have another lamb on the way and I’m glad to say I’m prepared and know what to expect.
    I may be emailing u a lot. Sorry about that. I can’t thank u enough for taking the time to answer my questions when I was stressed about the birth. Thanks to your advice, we had a smooth birth.

  22. thanks these are great. A 3 yr old great ewe…Did it herself two lambings. voila. Now she is taking her time and I got a bit worried. Cross fingers, I think she will be OK. Pushing labor for 30 mins, digging holes, no sac visible yet. 2/20/21. CRB

  23. Hey Kim! How are u??
    I have a question (again!) we have another ewe that’s very heavily pregnant and she has a very tight quite red udder and a very swollen vulva. It’s been like this since yesterday. Also her bum gives a bit of a jiggle when she walks. How far off do u think she is??

    • Hi Hayleigh, doing good. Thanks! Hope all is well with you. I’d say she should give birth in the next day or maybe 2. I would keep checking on her and think it would be done than later. Do you know the breeding date?

  24. Ok. She does make it hard for us to touch since she is not as friendly as the others and prefers to stay well away from us. She is quite a small sheep that could also probably make her udder red because it is very big?

  25. Hey Kim! My ewe stil hasn’t given birth but I don’t think she is too far off. I was able to milk out a small amount of colostrum. She is also a bit more restless than the others. When the others are lying down she is always up. How far off do You think she is??

    • Hi Hayleigh, just be patient. It doesn’t sound like anything is wrong… just that she’s close. You can send me pics or videos to our fb or ig. Don’t try to milk any more colostrum. Bacteria can enter the udder once the wax plugs are removed.

  26. I am extremely grateful for your advice, and will try to be patient, though for me very hard as it is all very exciting. 🙂

  27. Birth is finished. There was never a second lamb just the 1st one that died. It’s quite unfortunate
    😦 😦

      • Will an untamed ewe allow me to assist?? We have sheep for the first time my husband got from a contract sale barn guy can’t get near them! Sorry to butt in here! We have 10 due to lamb but don’t know due dates or anything!

      • These ewes are so wild they run from me as soon as I start to walk toward them. I caught one once like you suggest she threw herself around so badly feared she would injure herself so I turned her loose. It seems the only way we can do anything with these sheep is to run all of them through our head catch setup and catch the one we want but it is so stressful for the pregnant ewes. They are literally like wild animals ! My husband says just leave them alone to sort out their problems and they can live or die! He is from Australia and had worked sheep on big stations on horseback since he was 15 so has no empathy for livestock. I am beginning to think he may be right with these sheep. We do have 2 that we got from a local farm that are friendly but my new lambs are just as wild as the other crazy ones !

      • That’s a tough situation. The safest and least stressful way to catch the ewes would probably be to run them through the head catch. Do you have a pen or barn to keep the pregnant ewes so they’re in a more confined space?

      • Two of our untamed ewes have successfully had a lamb (singles only) without assistance. Now the lambs are as wild as their mothers even though I have held them and handled them from birth. How can I get my new lambs to be semi friendly so I can at least get near them without them running away like they are going to be murdered? It is a real problem,my goats kids were usually always semi tame but these sheep are insane!

      • I always find the best way to make lambs (or adult sheep) friendly is to use food… either grain or treats. Ram lambs will almost always be more friendly than ewe lambs, but unless you’re castrating them you shouldn’t let them get too friendly. You want rams to have a respect of people, not think they are the same.

      • You are so helpful! We got our Dorper ram from a sale yard and he is definitely a head butter! I have to carry a big walking stick into his ram area and he stays away when he sees it. These animals only come for their food after I move away except for the two tame ones, who get most of the food since they are happy to be near me while the others stay far away! My tame ones are fat!

      • I always advise purchasing stock from breeders so you can see the temperament of their flock. Buying from a sale barn is tricky… usually sheep get sold there for a reason – like safety.

      • Yes I see this now! Now I just wait to see if there is a new lamb when I turn them out or bring them in. If there is a problem I can only hope the ewe will be too busy with labor to care if I come to assist! I am concerned at how totally the new lambs learn to run run away like their mothers! I would never recommend sale yard livestock to anybody for breeding stock! They are less expensive but more trouble than just spending more money for better sheep! You are a godsend! Thanks for the suggestions

      • One thing you could do to make the lambs more friendly would be to bottle feed them. It’s a lot work though. And I wouldn’t bottle feed any ram lambs unless necessary. Bottle rams can grow up to be aggressive.

      • Yes we have bottle fed our girlie goat kids in the past but our goat kids even if not bottle fed are often friendly enough to handle without bottle feeding I don’t have time to bottle feed lambies lol we both have regular jobs besides the farm we had another unassisted lambing just now single so far but she may have another lamb is already on it’s feet and nursing mom but s very attentive Thanks for being there! Hopefully all my ewes will have unremarkable births!

      • You are so helpful! We got our Dorper ram from a sale yard and he is definitely a head butter! I have to carry a big walking stick into his ram area and he stays away when he sees it. These animals only come for their food after I move away except for the two tame ones, who get most of the food since they are happy to be near me while the others stay far away! My tame ones are fat!

      • Yeah. We couldn’t see if she was in labour because she was just lying down. Thanks for your support though.

  28. Two of our untamed ewes have successfully had a lamb (singles only) without assistance. Now the lambs are as wild as their mothers even though I have held them and handled them from birth. How can I get my new lambs to be semi friendly so I can at least get near them without them running away like they are going to be murdered? It is a real problem,my goats kids were usually always semi tame but these sheep are insane!

  29. We had one lamb twins today! Did everything by herself, we just had to move them to a better location. No lambing jugs here, just pasture and a small pen we use for catching them. So she’s in there and is taking good care of them. I was able to make her sure her milk supply had come in and both lambs have drank and are quiet and laying down.
    Yay! I survived the first lambing! lol

  30. That is so exciting! We have had 3 singles but no twins! Like you we don’t have jugs either and our sheep are also wild and not friendly at all

  31. Well, had a 2 yr old lamb today, with a bit of help. I stepped in as I could see a head but no feet. Turned out the feet were there but weren’t extended at all, elbows were caught. Pulled the little guy (yes, it’s a ram!) out, set it by momma’s head, wiped some goo on her nose and walked away. She took one sniff and got up and walked away! Kept her back to him for awhile, then we moved mom and baby into a smaller area and kept putting him right in her face. She kept head butting him and walking away.
    We brought him inside for awhile to warm him up and figure out next steps. Our dogs were very curious. Lol. I went back out to see if I could get some colostrum out of her, she had some but it’s very thick. Good stuff if we could get it into him! Brought the lamb back out to see if we could get him to nurse, put a halter on mom so she couldn’t walk away. She let him try, I think he got something, his tail was going crazy!
    Finally, she started to clean him off!
    We left them alone for awhile and waited for the owner to get here. The owner and I decided to milk some colostrum out of her using the Udderly EZ milker, ended up mixing it with powdered to give him more. He took almost the whole bottle. I kept them in the small area for tonight, tomorrow I’ll let them out with the rest.
    And the owner said that another ewe is due soon! And the fun begins!

  32. Hi there,
    I have been appointed to look after a farmer’s sheep. They are all lambing beautifully. My concern is that I have an ewe that has a bad back leg. As she gets bigger, she struggles more and more to walk about. She is heavily pregnant. She has been lying down for 2 days now, I go to her frequently to pick her up and then keep her stable so she can get some bloodflow to her leg and side, as well as keeping water and food within reach. She tries, but as soon as she starts to walk, her leg folds in underneath her. The farmer seems to think that she either has bad arthritis or that the lamb(s) are causing a pinched nerve somewhere.
    My worry is that she will have difficulty lambing. I am afraid that she will start to lamb and I won’t be there quick enough to be on standby in case she needs me. I am already getting up frequently at night to check on her as well. Your website is a massive help, especially the visuals, it gave me a better idea what to look for, how to check for signs, thank you so much!!
    Is there anything I can do additionally to just checking or when the lamb comes? Do I need to check on her every hour at night? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Sigi! Thank you so much! If she were mine, I’d try to get a vet’s opinion on her leg. Other than that, just check her every hour or 2 and keep getting her up. How is she doing eating and drinking? I haven’t dealt with it, but pregnancy toxemia can be an issue in late pregnancy. With her not very mobile, you may want to read up on that condition.
      If you think it’s more her leg, you can make a splint for her, using pipe insulation and vet wrap. That would give her more stability. Let me know how things go with her! Take care, Kim

      • Hi Kim,
        Thank you soooo much for your reply! I will read up on the toxemia as well.
        Her leg has been a problem for a while now, it is like she cannot lift it up properly, like it is a little lame. We injected her a couple weeks back with Hi-Tet and anti-inflammatory, and it helped a lot. But the bigger she got, the less mobile she got. I think maybe the weight of the lamb(s) is causing her to lose what little control she had over her leg. Hopefully it will be better after she gives birth. I was just concerned she might have trouble lambing and even if it goes well, might not be able to get to her lamb in time or that the poor baby won’t be able ro drink. I will continue to watch her closely and let you know how it goes.
        The splint is a good idea, though, I will see what we can MacGyver tomorrow 😉
        Thank you thank you thank yoy, you guys are wonderful!!!

  33. This was awesome thank you. I only Wish that I saw this when our 1st lamb was born. Our 2nd ewe is do with in a couple of weeks. Now I have references. Our first birthing God blessed us because he had everything in control. AMEN. Woke to a baby ram that was just born and the placenta was still hanging out.

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