A LAMBING/KIDDING BOX
To start with there is that allimportant lambing/kidding box. This needs to contain a variety of equipment, tools and medical supplies just in case things don’t progress as naturally as they should. Knowing what can go wrong is useful but, to be honest, it is best NOT to scare yourself too much by ‘overreading’. Some of the more serious problems can only be sorted by a vet anyway and, if you have looked after your expectant mums well, you will hopefully not have anything too serious to deal with. But, because you might, one of the most important things you must have is your vet’s number programmed into your mobile phone and to make sure yours is always charged up and with you.
Back to that box, in no particular order these are recommended items and why you should have them: (huge thanks to Wowie Dunnings (South Downs) and Andrew O’Shea (Lincolnshire) for allowing me to ‘peek’ inside theirs).
LUBRICANT, MEDICAL GLOVES AND LAMBING ROPE
If you have been instructed how to do it (via a vet or on a course) or are super competent and confident, any internal help or examination of your ewe or nanny must be preceded by putting on a pair of medical gloves and liberally applying lubricant to your now gloved hands! There are various reasons why you might need to intervene in the lambing/ kidding process and an entire article could be written on this subject alone, but essentially, when a lamb or kid is born, the ‘correct’ presentation is the ‘diving position’ whereby the two front feet come out first, closely followed by the nose. If the newborn is in any position other than this, or they are correctly presented but a little large, you might need to help, hence the need for the gloves and lubricant. Sometimes an ‘incorrect’ presentation might be as simple as one leg bent back, in which case this is a relatively easy thing to sort out by pushing the lamb or kid slightly back into the mum, straightening the said leg and then allowing mum to push it out again! More complex mis-presentations (breech, backwards, twins coming together) may involve a lot more ‘sorting out’ internally and obviously it is vital that you are gloved and lubricated so that there is no chance of any infection being introduced and so that you are making the whole thing as comfortable for mum as possible (which realistically, isn’t going to be ‘very’ comfortable at all). Lambing ropes are used to wrap around legs or shoulders of the lamb or kid when you have got it in the right position so that you can then gently help pull as mum has her contractions and so prevent the newborn from getting in the wrong position again. But, if in any doubt, get the vet or an experienced shepherd/ess to help.
COLOSTRUM AND FEEDING TUBE
A newborn lamb will receive colostrum via its mum’s milk. Colostrum is the initial thick milky liquid that fills the udder immediately prior to lambing/ kidding and, not only is it super rich, it also contains antibodies that will keep nasty bacteria away from your newborn until its own antibodies kick in and it is old enough to receive its own vaccinations. Lambs and kids that don’t get any colostrum are likely to die. Ideally they need to take their first drink within half an hour to an hour, in order for it to warm up the body and get into the bloodstream. In an ideal world, and for maximum effect, a newborn lamb/kid should have 10% of its body weight in colostrum within its first six hours! After 48 hours, the stomach lining loses its ability to absorb any of the antibodies. If a newborn is struggling to suckle, or the ewe has very little initial milk, you may need to give the lamb or kid colostrum via a syringe/bottle or even a stomach tube – using mum’s colostrum is the ideal first choice or powdered colostrum can be mixed up accordingly. If you have any particularly milky ewes or nannies, you can even take some from them and then keep it frozen for later use. Feeding tubes are used on lambs or kids that are unable to suckle or swallow for whatever reason and are a way of getting milk/colostrum straight into the stomach. You MUST be shown how to insert a stomach tube by a vet or someone more experienced. If you do it wrong, you can kill the animal.
MEDICATIONS AND HUSBANDRY ITEMS
Iodine or similar: used to spray onto the navel of the newborn lamb or kid to help dry up the remains of the umbilical cord and to protect the naval from any nasty bacteria getting into the body;
Antibiotics, syringes and needles: NOT to be used unless absolutely necessary and then only if part of your health plan as agreed with your vet. Sometimes the stress of giving birth can leave a ewe or nanny with a lowered immune system and then an infection can take hold. It is useful to have a broad spectrum antibiotic available just in case.
Twin lamb drink (or similar) and a drench gun: if, in the weeks/days leading up to the birth, you suspect twin lamb disease (see Vet’s View on page 19), an appropriate twin lamb drink can literally be a lifesaver; these are readily available online and from feed stores;
Heat lamps to help keep newborns warm as required;
Dagging and foot trimming shears: hopefully you will have given your ewes their pre-lambing MoT some weeks before, but having these in your box means you should be able to re- dag or trim feet if needed. You don’t want the ewe/nanny to be uncomfortable on her feet nor any ewe to be mucky round her back end;
Antiseptic spray: just in case you need to cover any minor wound or injury – you don’t want there to be any risk of nasty bacteria being around whilst you have vulnerable newborns.
Torches, emergency rations (for you), notebook and pen (for that all important record keeping. e.g. when births happened, any difficulties, how many born etc);
Colour sprays. If you have a lot of sheep, you might want to consider spraying the lambs with their mother’s tag number so that you don’t lose track of who belongs to whom.
Get your lambing/kidding box together in good time, including checking any use-by dates on items not used since last year!