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Extract from Home Farm Magazine

No 75 April 1988                       Copyright   Pam Shaw

 

Lambing Milk Sheep by Pam Shaw

 

Dairy sheep are very prolific and must be looked after during pregnancy to ensure an optimum long lactation. Our ewes go inside six weeks to a month before lambing depending on the weather and condition of the ewes. The last six weeks are the most stressful for ewes carrying multiples and every care must be taken to ensure that they get neither too fat nor too thin.

 

Feeding
Inwintered ewes pose different problems from those wintered outside. For example, drinking water must be clean, plentiful and kept from freezing. Frozen water or no water at all can trigger pregnancy toxaemia or pasteurella and will depress appetite. Up until the last few weeks of pregnancy, food must offer plenty of roughage such as hay or silage. Offering ad lib straw to pick over gives inwintered sheep something to do. During the last few weeks too much roughage can cause vaginal prolapse, but ewes will usually limit themselves. Concentrates should be fed little and often. Everyone works out the ration that suits them best. The basis of our diet for all ruminants is draff from the nearby distilleries. It is cheap and very palatable, but is not available in small quantities and must be packed in a pit to exclude as much air as possible. Dried sugar beet pult, which is high in calcium, is fed to balance the high phosphorus in draff. We also feed bruised oats.


Vaginal prolapse
Aside from the perennial problem of footrot to which milking sheep seem particularly prone, one of the most serious problems for inwintered ewes seems to be that of vaginal prolapse in the last few weeks before giving birth. This can be caused by calcium deficiency. We feed seaweed meal, proprietary mineral and calcified seaweed made into a mix and added to all feed. Another cause of vaginal pro- lapse is lack of exercise or over fatness. This can be helped by letting the ewes out on fine days. It can also be caused by the pressure of the lambs in the womb, usually big twins or triplets. Some ewes seem more prone than others. Old ewes are particularly vulnerable since their muscles are slack and their use of minerals is not so efficient. They cannot release calcium from their bones as younger sheep can. A ewe that has prolapsed one year will probably do so the next. We have found that if a "Save-ewe" plastic retainer is inserted about three weeks before lambing into known offenders, this usually stops the prolapse from occurring. This takes only a few minutes and if lambing oil is used (or some other antiseptic lubrication), causes no distress. A ewe can even lamb with a retainer in place. It usually comes out with the lambs, although it is best to remove it once lambing has started.

 

Lambing
Dairy sheep usually have few lambing problems. Narrow heads and multiple births make for easier lambing unless they are mixed up in the womb. Each lamb must get adequate colostrum, at least a half pint over the first few hours. They should be warm and dry (a heat lamp is useful here).


A reader recently mentioned tough birth-membranes. The birth-bag should rupture naturally as the lamb is born. If not the ewe will usually lick the bag from the mouth first. It could be that a tough membrane is caused by too much protein being fed. It seems to have little to do with heredity. We tend to feed high-energy feed before lam- bin and high protein feed (for milk production) after lambing.


For the ewe rearing big twins or triplets, the month after parturition is the most demanding time of all. Most ewes will lose weight through this period since it is virtually impossible to balance output with feed intake.


If a ewe is old or exhausted after a multiple birth she will often neglect the last lamb born and the lamb will suffocate in an unlicked membrane. Occasionally the lambs are born a few hours apart and the last birth will be totally ignored. Breech births, born without assistance, often fail to rupture the birth-bag since they come backwards and are often weakened from lack of oxygen anyway.


My Friesland cross ewes lamb at the end of March at around 200%. After a few days inside and depending on the weather they are turned out to grass and are fed until the end of April. After shearing they go out onto the hill with the other ewes so that hay and silage can be made from the grass fields.

Last year the wether (castrated male) lambs were sold in August and the ewe lambs stayed with their mothers until September. At first I milked only ewes that had raised wethers. This was partly to prevent a flood of milk at any one time. As one group was drying off another was ready to be milked.


This and the article in last month's edition are partly as a summary of the answers to questions I am asked about the integration of dairy sheep into flocks produing fat or store lambs. If anyone would like more details they are welcome to write or visit. .

 

* NR In the last article the cheese recipe stated that 'four parts of sieved sheep's milk" should be used. This should have read 'four pints".

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