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Lambing time requires year-round planning

PIPESTONE, Minn. - "Preparation planning before lambing is key to success," says Phillip Berg, teaching a lambing pen management course as part of the Pipestone Lambing Time Short Course. "Better prepared equates to less problems."

Lambing time requires year-round planning
Jim Smith of Elm Springs, S.D., asks a question at the Blair Hellewell farm. A tour of the Hellewell's Balaton, Minn., farm was part of the recent two-day lambing course conducted by the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program and Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

PIPESTONE, Minn. - "Preparation planning before lambing is key to success," says Phillip Berg, teaching a lambing pen management course as part of the Pipestone Lambing Time Short Course. "Better prepared equates to less problems."

The planning begins at breeding time. Ewes with lambs must match barn capacity. In an ideal lambing barn layout it's recommended to have 9-12 square feet for drop area.

Approximately 10 percent to 15 percent of lambing jugs should be permanent. Berg recommends jugs should be accessible with a height of 32 to 36 inches.

"It's important to be able to reach over to get a lamb up to see how it's doing," he said. "If they are too tall, we can't get it."

A little larger jug is needed now than before because ewes are larger and more have multiple births, Berg said. Each jug needs to have room for food and fresh water. Fresh, clean water is an essential nutrient that is often overlooked. The ewe needs water to consume feed.

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Proper nutrition prevents problems going into lambing, said Berg. A ewe's nutrition needs changes during this transition from pregnancy to lactation. Her energy requirements increase by 50 percent, while crude protein needs increase 70 percent to 90 percent. Protein is needed for milk production.

Corn, barley, oats, soybean hulls and DDGs are high-energy feeds. Acidosis becomes a concern with the higher-starch feeds, warned Berg. DDGs hahave much of the starch removed so it is a little safer to feed.

"Sometimes a ewe will go off feed," said Berg. "During this transition it is advisable to feed a little less grain. It is possible that the ewe wasn't eating her portion of grain at the feed bunk."

If ewes are used to corn, and will be returning to a corn ration, it's a good idea to retain corn in the ration. Berg likes alfalfa in a ration because of the minerals and vitamins it contains.

Ninety-five percent of the time lambs will get up and be aggressive. To help a lamb get started, Berg advises clearly nasal passages, vigorous rubbing to stimulate the lamb, and tugging on the umbilical cord get the lamb breathing.

Once in a jug, check the navel and put iodine on the umbilical cord for disinfection and to dry the cord more rapidly. Check the lamb's eyelids. Inverted eyelids are possibly caused by genetics or the muscles may have been affected during birthing. They can be corrected manually or by inserting a clip.

Berg suggested checking lambs every four to six hours for starvation because it is the No. 1 killer. Symptoms are a humped top, empty belly, lack of skin elasticity and a cool body temperature. A healthy lamb will stretch when it rises to stand. Its belly will look full and have a body temperature of 102.5 degrees F.

Once lambs are 24 to 48 hours old, other management techniques need to be considered. Identification of lambs can be done with paint brands, ear tags and notching. Paint brands are easy to see. Tail docking and castration should happen at the same time, said Berg.

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When grouping lambs it's important to put them into smaller groups first so that the ewes and lambs get used to being with other sheep families. Age of the lambs is an important consideration.

"The narrower we can make the age spread, the better it is," said Berg.

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