Lambing is a busy time. Whether you have five, 50 or even 500 ewes, frequent observation of the flock is essential to detect and assist with difficult lambings and to care for the ewes and their newborn lambs. When the lambing period runs into numbers of weeks of day and night-shifts it can become exhausting, particularly if also juggling a ‘day job’.
For some flocks it can be extremely appealing to have a compact lambing period so that the majority of labour can be directed at a few days of hard work. Sponges can be used to tighten your lambing period.
What is a sponge?
A sponge is a hormone-releasing device which is placed in the vagina of ewes and used to synchronise the reproductive cycle. Over a 14 day period, the sponge primes the ewe for cycling by releasing progesterone into the bloodstream. When the sponge is removed, the fall in progesterone levels mimics the normal cycle and triggers the ewe to come onto heat. When executed correctly, you can expect most of your sponged ewes to lamb within seven days.
Application of sponges can be performed manually or with an applicator with lubrication. It is often advisable to seek advice from your vet when performing your first year of sponge application. After 14 days the sponges should be removed and, 48 hours after this, the rams can be introduced. This 48 hour window must be strictly adhered to attain good results. Occasionally, some sponges are not present when you come to remove them and a veterinary advice should be sought. Sponging can also be used to breed out of season, and in this case an additional hormone is given when the sponges are removed.
The flip side to a compact lambing is that you need the facilities to manage it. Have you got enough water buckets, pens and manpower? If you have organic status or pedigree animals, advice must be sought from your control body as this is a hormonal intervention.
Sponging, when used correctly, can be hugely successful and hopefully improves the overall welfare of sheep and shepherd/ ess!