Preparation reduces challenges as lambing season returns to WyomingWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“Everybody runs their operation a little bit differently, especially if we are comparing a farm flock to a range flock,” comments Kalli Koepke, assistant farm manager at the University of Wyoming Laramie Research and Extension (R&E) Center.
Range flocks are usually managed less intensively than smaller farm flocks, where pairs are often kept in pens, called jugs, and monitored closely.
“Our operation is considered a farm flock, and we have jugs set up. We usually pen ewes and lambs together shortly after they’re born, so we go about every two hours to check on the flock,” Koepke explains.
Keeping the jugs clean is important for keeping animals healthy. They provide clean, dry straw for bedding and use heat lamps, if necessary, to make sure lambs stay warm.
“We lamb our yearlings in January, and that’s the coldest month in Laramie. We use a lot of straw and heat lamps, so the lambs don’t get pneumonia or other illnesses,” she adds.
Similar to cattle operations, many producers lamb out yearlings earlier in the season than mature ewes to watch for problems and help the inexperienced animals.
“Sheep have a huge flight instinct. If a yearling doesn’t know what she’s doing, there’s a good possibility she’ll walk away from her lambs and not take care of them if she’s out on pasture,” she says. “We want to keep an eye out when our yearlings are lambing.”
Producers also want to watch lambs to make sure they able to get milk from the ewes when they begin to suck.
“There are wax tips inside the teats, and sometimes the lambs aren’t strong enough to suck those wax tips out. If we don’t catch that, it will be too late for colostrum, and the lambs get really weak,” Koepke remarks.
At the Laramie R&E Center, the lambing crew strips the wax from the ewe when they place her in the jug with her lamb, checking on the pair within about an hour to ensure the lamb is sucking. They also apply iodine to the lamb’s umbilical cord to prevent illness caused by bacteria.
“Nutri-drench is a product we use a lot. It’s basically a molasses formulation that we give to the lambs if they are slow or weak after birth. It usually gives them enough energy to get up and want to suck,” she notes.
Whether they are run in farm flocks or range flocks, keeping sheep in small bunches during lambing can also increase the success of pairs, as well.
“A ewe’s instinct is to butt away anything that might hurt her lambs or herself. If we put a bunch of ewes together that have just lambed and haven’t had the opportunity to really get to know their lambs, they could easily kick off their own lambs or hurt other lambs,” Koepke explains.
“At about five days old or so, the ewes are more used to the lambs being around them and know who their lambs are, so there is less opportunity for them to kick their lambs off,” she continues.
A number of challenges can arise in lamb crops, and producers should keep an eye out for potential problems, such as parrot mouth or monkey jaw, two facial defects sometimes found in lambs.
“Parrot mouth is where the upper jaw comes out further than the bottom jaw, and monkey mouth is where the bottom jaw comes out further than the top jaw. Any defects in the mouth can cause problems with sucking because the jaws don’t meet up,” she notes.
There isn’t much that can be done to treat jaw defects, but lambs may need extra attention to ensure they receive proper nutrition.
Another potential problem, seen most commonly in Rambouillets, is an inverted eyelid, where the bottom eyelid, of the lamb rolls underneath itself and can cause blindness in the lamb if left untreated.
“We want to make sure we have tools to fix inverted eyelids, like a pair of pliers and penicillin,” she suggests.
Vaccinations can help to prevent other potential problems that arise, and Koepke encourages producers to vaccinate for diseases that are common in their areas or on their operations.
“We have sore mouth in our barn, so vaccinating for sore mouth is super important for us. Once the lamb gets sore mouth, it can transfer it to the teat of the ewe, and the ewe will get scabs and scars on her teats, making it hard for the next year’s lambs to suck,” she comments.
The Laramie R&E Center also vaccinates for enterotoxemia type C and D, also known as overeating disease.
Many range flocks also use tetracycline, an antibiotic, to prevent a range of abortion diseases that can appear in their flocks.
“Mastitis, commonly known as hard bags, is another thing to pay attention to. They probably happen more often in sheep than they do in cattle. It is a bacterial infection most commonly seen in ewes with multiple lambs or high milk production,” she says.
Hard bags cannot be reversed, and ewes with this condition are usually culled at weaning.
At the Laramie R&E Center, ewes are fed corn and alfalfa to keep good body condition during lactation. Creep feed is also used for the lambs to help them transition off of the ewes.
“Everybody has their own ration of creep feed. We go through our local feed store here. It’s good for the ewes as well because those lambs will start eating on grain and not be so dependent on lactation,” explains Koepke.