Lambing and kidding
Our breeding series
The first time you get to see one of your own animals give birth can be quite an extraordinary experience. It can often induce tears, usually of relief as well as pride. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to bring new life into the world and, for those of you about to experience it for the first time, we can assure you it is just as amazing the second time, and the third time, and the fourth… in fact EVERY time!
To enjoy it you must be prepared, firstly because things can and will go wrong at some stage, if not this year, then the next; but also because your enjoyment will be enhanced if you know you are as ready as possible.
So, assuming you now have well fed, clean, healthy ewes and/or nannies bedded down in your barns and sheds, what else should be in place?
A ewe or nanny about to give birth will be restless, will pace, she may lie down and get up a lot, she may start ‘talking’ to the newborn (‘get a move on’ probably being the most popular choice of phrase). Goats in particular can be very noisy. If you have all your animals together, she may ‘withdraw’ slightly (and that is when you might want to consider putting her in a separate pen). She will start pawing
the ground (nesting!). Sometimes she will do all these things and then go off and be totally normal for a couple of hours whilst you debate (annoyingly) whether you can leave her to go and grab a quick loo break.
The actual birthing process can be viewed (very roughly) in half hour slots. A bag will appear, and then, within half an hour, the lamb or kid should have put in an appearance. Half an hour after that, any second lamb/kid should also have been born. If any of these half hours turn into hours, then that is definitely too long a gap and help and/or a vet may be needed. Sometimes the whole process from the bag appearing to two youngsters being furiously licked by an exhausted mum may be less than one half hour in total.
There are a great number of books, videos, DVDs, Facebook groups and more you can watch, read and ask advice on when it comes to lambing and kidding and you should certainly try to be as aware as possible what to expect. Helping out with lambing and kidding on someone else’s farm or holding is a perfect way to learn. Many vets run courses as do a few fellow smallholders. At the end of the day though, when it is your own stock, late at night and you can feel the panic starting, it really is best to call in an expert if you are at all worried. When you are dealing with potential lives, being over-cautious is always the best policy.
The first 24 hours
So now you have twins or a whopping single or even triplets, and mum is licking them all like mad and they are all wobbly and shaking their heads and getting used to this rather different environment. And you are feeling great!
There are a few things to check. The head shaking is all about the newborn getting rid of that birthing fluid, some of which may be in its mouth, up its nose and sometimes it can get into the lungs. If there is any sign of the kid or lamb struggling to breath, doing a LOT of head shaking
We cannot recommend enough going on a course or helping out with a friend’s lambing or kidding
or sounding gurgly, you want to try to get those airways cleared. Your finger will suffice to clear any fluid from the mouth.
Cold lips are a sign that the lamb or kid is not doing that well; they may just require additional heat or this may signify a more serious underlying problem such as a heart defect. If you cannot get the lamb or kid warned up in a few hours using a heat lamp or similar, a call to the vet may be in order.
All being well, the lamb or kid will find mum’s teats and take its first drink in that first half hour. Sometimes help is needed here, either in guiding the lamb or kid to the udder or getting the ewe or nanny to stand still. It’s a balance between not wanting to interfere too much at a time when mum and offspring are bonding, but making sure that vital colostrum gets consumed as soon as possible. In order to prevent infection, teats have ‘plugs’ which the first kid or lamb sucking should dislodge. Sometimes, however, human help might be needed to dislodge these plugs and get the milk flowing.
You also want to make sure the newborn has no deformities, that the teats are in place and normal looking, that legs are properly formed, that eyes and ears are clean and alert. We once had a lamb without an anus opening – it was most bizarre - but the vet managed to create an opening and, as all was present and correct internally, normal poo-ing was then able to take place!
Once you are happy that all seems well and that first crucial drink has been taken, you should be able to leave mum and offspring to continue bonding. At your next check, which may well be a few hours later, check the belly of the lamb or kid and, if it feels warm and full, you know that things are as they should be. The other positive sign to look out for is the lamb or kid ‘belly stretch’: this is when they get up having been resting or asleep and do a full body stretch and often a little yawn too. This is the most perfect sign that they are nice and warm and have a stomach full of milk.
This article has only touched the surface of the topic and we cannot recommend enough going on a course or helping out with a friend’s lambing or kidding. The more you see/learn beforehand the better and the more likely you are to enjoy the whole experience.
NEXT TIME: When things go wrong and how to deal with them: e.g. fostering a lamb or kid, having to bottle feed, caesareans, mum and offspring not bonding..
The ‘about-to-be-born’ having a bit of a ‘talking to’
A Boer nanny in labour with a water bag clearly showing, two front feet and a nose should follow…