Labor and Delivery

Birthing Process:

Before ewes begin the process of labor, there are a few signs that producers or breeders can look for to alert them to the appending birth. The first sign may be the lack of appetite from the soon to be mother. They may become restless, or separate themselves off from the others by sticking to unoccupied corners. The ewe's udder fills with colostrums, the first milk, shortly before labor begins. The pelvic ligaments will loosen up, creating a hollow around the dock or tail head. A sign that is easier to detect is a "dropped" look to the abdomen with a hollow below the hip bone. Sheep also exhibit a nesting behavior. The ewe will paw at the bedding to push the bedding around and dig her nest. The ewe will walk around her nest and settle in.

The process of the actual labor can be broken up into steps. During the first part, which could last from 12-24 hours, the cervix becomes dilated in preparation of the passing offspring. When this stage is almost completed discharge of the mucous plug will be seen.

The second stage of labor will be when the animal is beginning to push. At this time, you may see her lying on her side with the head in the air. Nosing is a sure sign of contractions. The ewe will stretch forward and push her nose way up in the air. When it is time, she will release the amniotic fluid, which has an appearance of a water bag, followed by the front feet of the first lamb. If the animal is still pushing but there is no visualization of the above mentioned, this could be due to an improper position of the lamb, causing a problem with the birthing, take action immediately and assist with delivery.

Delivery should normally take between 45-60 minutes for a single birth. Once the newborns feet are appearing, the animal should be expelled within approximately 30 minutes. With the case of the multiple births, the timing should be about thirty minutes in between each one with the ewe going through the same process of expelling the water and then the lamb.

Out slips a wet black lamb, usually with front feet followed by a muzzle that struggles for its first breath. The amniotic sack can be broken before the whole lamb is born so that it can breathe. Unless lambing takes place in a sparsely populated pasture, dipping the umbilical cord in a strong (7%) iodine solution a few minutes after birth is essential. Make sure that the lamb is able to stand and nurse. About 16 hours after birth, the lamb will lose its ability to absorb antibodies from the colostrums. If the ewe rejects her lamb, it must be bottle fed.

Watch for the afterbirth; discard it right away or let the ewe eat it. In the wild, this is what mothers do to remove some of the birthing smell, hoping to discourage predators. The afterbirth also contains hormones that, when consumed by the mother, stimulate the uterus to contract and return to its normal size.

Typically for the lambing process, if assistance is required from the breeder, only a pair of gloves, some lubricant and strong arms are needed to reach in to help pull. Occasionally, if traction is needed, obstetrical chains can be used. These are placed on different parts of the lamb's body to allow for an easier pull. One chain can be applied to the mouth and behind the ears where as the others are placed on each of the two legs.

Assistance should be given as soon as a problem is realized. A ewe should deliver a lamb within 30 minutes of visualization of the front toes. If the process takes longer, check for complications, and pull the lamb. A sign of problems is the ewe showing distress. When the ewe is getting up every few seconds and looking for a lamb and lying back down, this is a sign that there may be complications. Never let a ewe tire herself with contractions and pushing. When assisting, remember to always wear gloves. Shoulder length OB gloves work excellent when maneuvering around inside the ewe and pulling lambs. A water based lubricant is necessary to make things less stressful on the ewe as well as easier for an arm to move around inside the ewe. Another thing to remember is, if one is pulled, pull them all.

OB Lube and Glove
OB Chains
Lamb Puller
OB Lube and Glove
OB Chains
Lamb Puller

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