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)…


…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.

59 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.

      • 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

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