Prada with a newborn triplet
There are so many great items that can make lambing easier. Here is a list of my "must haves" and a list of my "nice to haves". Obviously your list will depend in part on your weather, lambing season, barn situation, etc.
1. Nice, easy to put together lambing jugs. I like and use Premier One Supplies lambing jugs. In addition, I've begun using shavings for my lambing jugs, for me it tends to stay dryer and it's easily and quickly shoveled out and completely freshened for the next ewe.
2. Backstrap molasses. I make up a bucket of warm water with a big slug of molasses mixed in for each ewe after lambing. Ewes tend to not drink much prior to lambing so it helps get them rehydrated and the added iron, protein and sugar are good to help the ewe's milk come in. Plus, I love sharing a special treat with her after she's gone through labor.
3. Good alfalfa hay and grain. It's always important to have treats to offer the girls to help them settle into the jug, help them get their energy up or just to be able to offer them a treat.
4. OB Lube and gloves. This is important to have on hand especially if you are lambing smaller ewes or yearling ewes. Your hand can do a lot of damage if you are not careful and cause the ewe a lot of discomfort and stress for the ewe so this is a necessity.
5. Gentle Iodine dip to spray navels with. If you don't spray navels infection can travel up into the umbilical cord. It will present itself weeks even a month or two later as infection in the joints and sometimes the belly - really nasty stuff not to be messed with. Dip those navels and dip them within the first hour of birth if at all possible!
6. Nutri-Drench - just in case, always good to have on hand for a sick sheep but can give lambs the added boost they need if they've had a stressful event.
7. Colostrum replacement of some sort. Whether you have have ordered some from a supply catalog or stole some from a ewe previously and kept it in the deep freeze - you need to have something on hand. We use really high quality colostrum from our dairy cows (it has to be from a farm that actually tests their colostrum if you are going to do this). A lamb who doesn't get colostrum or doesn't get enough is set up for "failure to thrive" and starts out life ten steps backwards - yes, it's that important!
8. Sheep halters and an easy place to tie the ewe in the jug. Sometimes you are going to need to help and it is very important that you not chase the ewe around, even spinning around in a jug is no good for the ewe or the lamb. I prefer to calmly catch then tie a ewe in a jug so a lamb can be manipulated, moved and/or pulled if necessary.
9. Bo-Se or Selenium Gel is important if you are not comfortable with where your selenium supplementation is at. We have discontinued giving Bo-Se shots to ewes a couple of weeks prior to lambing or to lambs at 1 day of age because we feel our ewes are getting adequate amounts and then passing it on in their milk however if in doubt, keep some on hand!
10. Laura Lawson's book Managing Your Ewe and Her Newborn lambs. Read it prior to lambing, re-read it prior to lambing and then keep it on hand during lambing for reference.
These items are nice to have but not necessary for all shepherds.
1. Headlock or Grafting gate. We have a couple of ewes who always seem to "forget" they delivered one lamb prior to the second. They seem to bond with the second and not bond as strongly with the first. In a few extreme situations we've had them try and dis-own their first lamb altogether. Or in other instances we've found it necessary to graft an extra lamb onto a ewe that has a single. Headlocks for the ewe that fit into your lambing jug are ideal. This keeps the ewe still and prevents spinning in the jug to allow the lamb to nurse.
2. Udderly EZ Milker. If you have any interest in milking your ewes, a little cheese making or just want to be prepared in case you have to milk a ewe to collect colostrum for a weak lamb, etc. the Udderly EZ Milker is the way to go!
3. Lamb scale and sling. It's nice to be able to take weights of lambs immediately after they are born and also in the days and weeks afterwards to see how they are gaining. It helps put your mind at ease that ewes are providing them good nutrition and they are gaining adequately. It can also obviously help you notice any outliers or pick up on a lamb twin or triplet that doesn't seem to be getting his or her share.
Also, I don't think there is a lot of magic in the "items" rather the management in the weeks and months prior to lambing are much more key to a successful lambing season. Here are a some items to keep in mind.
- Don't chase your ewes around! Be calm around your ewes and work them in a catch pen if you have to work them at all in the month prior to lambing. Yes, Icelandic sheep are a hardy breed and their lambs are vigorous, however if you want to be able to help if there are issues then you need to have your ewes in a space where you can easily and calmly catch a ewe who is in labor and is having difficulty. We keep our ewes locked in the barn and a small outdoor paddock during lambing, not that they need help often but if they do then ewes are easily caught. It also allows for our lambs to be handled a lot in their first couple weeks. We also find this to be important with the number of triplets we have on our farm each year as we can catch and weigh the smaller lambs to make sure they are gaining appropriately.
You absolutely can pasture lamb your Icelandic ewes, but if you do, realize there are going to be some issues and potentially some losses that you have to be willing to accept as a trade off for a more managed lambing.
- Shear those ewes! We always shear before lambing and though it is not completely necessary, it does make it easier for lambs to find teats and to see if the lamb is attaching and nursing. Also, if ewes are sheared and they are free to choose their own location to lamb then the ewe is more likely to choose a warm spot in the barn.
- Clean out the barn prior to lambing. We always clean out our barn completely a week or two before lambing starts as it is always nicer to work in a clean barn; I know if I appreciate it then my girls probably do too! It is also healthier for the lambs and more sanitary in general.
- I usually remove my rams, especially adult rams, from the ewe flock during lambing to prevent any rough treatment from the rams. Rams can be rough with newborn lambs as well as the ewes during lambing - they just don't need to be in there and it's not worth risking a lamb being butted by a ram!
- Feed the ewes carefully. It is such a fine line to feed your ewes. You want them to have enough protein that they have the energy to grow lovely little lambs but not too much otherwise you'll have lambs that are simply too big. This is especially critical if you are lambing yearling ewes. We always feed alfalfa hay to our ewes through the winter and Sweetlix protein tubs after January however we have had years where the hay was just not good enough for my liking and I supplemented with grain to make sure they were getting adequate protein.
- Selenium and all minerals really need to be attended to long before lambing. Your ewes must have access to loose minerals all the time and the selenium provided in a general mineral mix is usually not enough for a selenium deficient area so you need to add in more either with added selenium yeast or via a tub or even selenium gel dosed per ewe. Selenium plays a big part in lambing ease (dystocias or mal-presentation of the lambs are the most common issues), vigor of lambs and retained placentas. If you've had issues with any of these in the past then you may have selenium issues on your farm.
- About two weeks after lambing I set up a creep feeder for my lambs that has the very best lovely green alfalfa I can find and good lamb grain with a coccidostat included. It helps them have a place to go to get away from their moms (fun!) and they can try feed without having to compete around the ewes. It also helps their rumen begin developing if they have lots of early "nibbling". I also provide them with a Sweetlix protein tub for added minerals, protein obviously and because it has a little added copper in it which Icelandic sheep need more so than other breeds. More on copper requirements in another article.
Please note that this information is not to take the place of a vet or good ol' common sense. Obviously this is just a quick overview and is meant to provide some direction and an opinion on lambing supplies and items to consider.