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.)
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)…
…and soon ruptures (see arrow – figure 2). The dam paws at the ground to make a “bed”.
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…
Stage 3 …followed by the head
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.
Stage 5 The lamb slides out quickly after the shoulders are free. The dam may stay lying down or stand up again.
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.
Stage 7 The ewe licks the amniotic fluid off the lamb, cleaning her baby and bonding with it.
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).
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).
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.