Lambing season may typically be associated with springtime, but more and more producers are shifting to get newborn lambs on the ground earlier. Lambs born in the first few months of the year have more time for growth and will be heavier at weaning – benefits for both the production and show sides of the industry.
Maximizing the benefits of an earlier lambing season means minimizing the impacts of cold weather stress on ewes, as well as newborn lambs.
Regardless of whether you’re in Arizona or Michigan, taking a few extra steps to prepare ewes for lambing in cold weather will help you manage the impacts of weather stress on your animals.
Keep these winter tips in mind when preparing for lambing in cold weather:
Start with sheep mineral
When you think about winter feeding and management, you likely think of heat lamps, barn ventilation, warm bedding, or other tried and true tips that help provide a smooth lambing season experience in cold weather.
But, one thing is more important – feeding a quality sheep mineral.
Mineral is absolutely the most important step. The last thing you want to deal with in below-freezing temperatures is lambing problems. Feeding a quality sheep mineral
can help get newborn lambs on the ground with fewer issues.
Monitor sheep body condition score
Cold temperatures mean ewes need to expend more energy to maintain normal body functions and regulate temperature. Evaluating sheep body condition score
(BCS) before lambing season can help ensure ewes have the proper amount of energy to keep themselves warm, recover from birth and tend to newborn lambs.
Ewes should be in at least a BCS of three, or even a three and a half, before lambing season. If they have a little extra energy, they’ll be more durable and more prepared.
Feed more forage and water
One way to help ewes maintain body condition when lambing in cold weather is feeding more forage.
When animals metabolize feed, the process creates heat that can help keep them warm. Hay or forage creates more heat than other feeds like corn or fats because animals must spend more time breaking down forages in the digestive system.
The other side of the coin is water. Providing animals with fresh, clean water and frequently checking to ensure water sources aren’t frozen is essential to help with digestion.
It’s a combination of forage and water that will help animals stay warmer.
Keep newborn lambs warm and dry
Newborn lambs are tougher than you might realize. They can handle a lot and continue to thrive. One thing they can’t handle is not getting dry quickly enough after birth.
Hypothermia in lambs is a big concern – no matter the temperature. Anytime newborn lambs are wet and there’s a breeze, they will get cold.
If the ewe isn’t drying off a newborn lamb immediately after birth, you may need to dry it with a towel. Heat lamps can also be a good tool for newborns that do get cold or in extremely cold weather.
The biggest thing is making sure lambs get dry and start nursing so they can have a strong start. If you have those two things covered, they can withstand a lot from that point on.
With a few proactive nutrition and management steps, you can capitalize on the benefits of an earlier lambing season while reducing the impacts of cold weather stress on your animals. Learn more about supporting ewes after lambing