Lamb Check-up Routine

We recently had a baby lamb born to Nabi, her name is Ame. This is Nabi’s first lamb and she gave birth easily and with little need of aid. However, we still do a check-up routine for the first couple days. Lamb supplies should be assessed and topped up if necessary. Common lamb supply kits include:

  • Feeding/Stomach tube
  • Iodine
  • Clippers for umbilical cord (Sanitized)
  • Gloves
  • Blanket for the lamb
  • Colostrum and Milk supplement/replacer
  • Bottle w/nipple
  • Rectal thermometer
  • Syringes/Needles if medication required as directed by vet

The first 48 hours are critical for a lamb’s survival. The majority of lamb deaths happen within the first week of life, and the majority of those happen in the first two days post-birth. Upon finding a newborn lamb, the first action is to clip, dip, and strip. The clip and dip are clipping the umbilical cord to 1 to 2 inches long (if it’s longer than that) and for all cords, coating them in iodine to prevent infection. Iodine will also help promote drying of the cord too. Stripping refers to making sure the wax plug on a ewe’s teats isn’t blocking milk flow. Oftentimes baby lambs can do this on their own; but sometimes the plug is pretty hard. After that is doing a lamb check-up.

We do a lamb-checkup every few hours on the first day. There’s a few things we look for:

  • Can the lamb stand on it’s own legs after about an hour?
  • Is the lamb getting plenty of sleep?
  • Is the mother paying attention to the lamb? Calling out to her?
  • When the lamb stands up is it huddled and/or shivering?
  • Have we seen the lamb poop or pee?
  • Have we seen the lamb attempting to drink from the mother?
  • Is the mother giving the lamb opportunities to drink?

These pictures below were taken about 3 or 4 days post birth. Ame had no issues that required intervention. Whenever we went to check on the lamb, besides the questions above we would check for a few other things. First is picking the lamb up, is the lamb dry, free of mud and debris? Does she try to struggle and want down? Does the mother call out to her or vice versa? It’s pretty normal lambs don’t want to be held or may not like how you’re holding them; weak lambs will put up little to no struggle especially if hypothermic or starving.

Next is checking the mouth with a clean finger. We’re checking for a suckle reflex and warmness. If the lamb is suffering from hypothermia, they may have a cold mouth; if their suckle reflex is gone and they’re weak and dull-looking, that’s intervention time!

We also check the ear tips. Ear tips can be warm to cold depending on the weather. We also like to check for any signs of bugs like ticks on ears and remove them if need be. Barbados Blackbelly sheep will often hold their ears out to their sides, parallel to the ground when alert and active.

Last is checking the belly. Holding the lamb up like in the picture below, does the lamb’s belly bulge out from the sides or at minimum is in line with the ribs? If you gently palpitate the belly, does it feel full? This will tell you if the lamb is getting adequate colostrum and milk. A lamb is born with some fat reserves, but those reserves will dwindle and be used up. If they’re getting no milk, the reserves will be gone rapidly within a day even. Colder, challenging weather will also use up those reserves faster. Lambs tend to drink only a little bit at a time but frequently. Ame had a good belly, Nabi is making lots of milk and she drinks happily. A lamb that’s not getting enough milk will have a belly that’s sunken in even when held, you may even feel the ribs very prominently if it’s been a long time since they last drank.

Other things you may see when checking on the lamb includes pooping and peeing. The first poop of a lamb is the meconium. It’s the first poop of mammals and it’s often greenish-black and very sticky. You can check the lamb’s rump when you hold her and if poop is sticking to her fur, wipe it gently away. After that the lamb’s poops will be yellow-to-slight orangish from the milk. It’s often pasty and it can also stick to fur. Once the lamb starts eating vegetation or hay, the poop will change again to become pelleted and brown over time.

The main reasons for this check-up is to make sure the lamb is getting colostrum and milk and is not suffering from hypothermia. Lack of nutrition especially in the first day can lead to death very quickly. However, it can be tricky to know if it’s hypothermia or starvation or maybe even both, especially if the lamb is born in cold weather. Intervention may need to happen quick especially if they took a turn for the worse within a few hours. If the check-up brings up issues, such as shivering, sunken-in belly, and weak suckle reflex, intervention must occur. Consult a veterinarian for health issues, and do readings on how to best treat these two conditions. The sooner these issues are caught the better chance of survival. For a routine check-up, note down the date and time and your observations. Save these for later for reference to past lambings. If you do have to intervene to give a lamb colostrum or milk supplement or have to treat them for hypothermia, write down the amount of milk given and what you did. Follow the instructions from your vet and the labels on colostrum/milk supplements and replacers.

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