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Getting Ready for Lambing and Kidding

by Susan Schoenian
Area Agent, Sheep and Goat Specialist
Western Maryland Research & Education Center
Maryland Cooperative Extension
Date Created or Last Revised:
12-Dec-2005

 

What's happening during the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy?

Seventy percent of fetal growth occurs during the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy. Most of the female's mammary (udder) growth is occurring during this period. In addition, her rumen capacity is decreasing. The primary result is the need for increased nutrition. Extra nutrition is needed to support fetal growth, especially if there are multiple fetuses. Extra feed is needed to support mammary development and ensure a plentiful milk supply. Extra nutrition will prevent the occurrence of pregnancy toxemia (ketosis). It will ensure the birth of strong, healthy babies that aren't too big and aren't too small. Birth weight is highly correlated to lamb and kid survival.

Nutrition during late gestation

During late gestation, energy is the nutrient most likely to be deficient. The level of nutrients required will depend upon the age and weight of the ewe or doe and her expected level of production, i.e. singles, twins, or triplets. To meet the increased energy needs during this period, it is usually necessary to feed concentrates (grain). In addition, if forage quality is low, it will be necessary to provide a supplemental source of protein and calcium.

Feeding during late gestation

During late gestation, energy is the nutrient most likely to be deficient.
Examples of late gestation feed rations are:
• 3.5 to 4 lbs. of medium to good quality hay + 1.25 to 1.5 lbs. of concentrate
• 4 to 5 lbs. of medium quality hay or pasture equivalent + 0.5 to 1 lb. of concentrate
• To limit the roughage intake of ewe lambs and doe kids and mature females carrying 3 or more fetuses and feed 1 lb. of grain per fetus
It is important not to underfeed or overfeed ewes/does. Inadequate nutrition may result in pregnancy toxemia, small and weak lambs/kids, higher lamb/kid mortality, reduced colostrum quality and quantity, poor milk yield, and reduced wool production (in the offspring) via fewer secondary follicles. Fat ewes/does are more prone to pregnancy toxemia. They experience more dystocia (birthing difficulties). Overfeeding can result in oversized fetuses that the female cannot deliver on her own. It costs extra money to make ewes and does fat.

Feed bunk management

In addition to feeding the right ration, you must also practice good feed bunk management. All ewes and does should be able to eat at once. If there is inadequate feeder space, some animals, especially the small, young, old, and timid ones, will not get enough to eat. Pregnant ewe lambs and doe kids should be fed separately from mature females. Their nutritional requirements are higher because in addition to being pregnant, they are still growing. They may also have trouble competing for feeder space. You should never feed pregnant ewes or does on the ground. This is how abortions are spread.

Selenium and Vitamin E

Selenium and vitamin E are critical nutrients during late gestation. Low levels of selenium (Se) have been associated with poor reproductive performance and retained placentas. Selenium is passed from the placenta to the fetus(es) during late gestation. Selenium supplementation will aid in the prevention of white muscle disease. Free choice mineral mixes usually provide adequate selenium to pregnant ewes and does. Be sure to feed mineral mixes that have been specifically formulated for sheep and/or goats. Flocks/herds with a history of selenium deficiency should add selenium to the grain mix. Free choice minerals do not always ensure adequate intake. Selenium may be provided via injections, but supplementation is cheaper and safer. There is a narrow range between selenium requirements and toxic levels.

Calcium Intake

You need to monitor the intake of calcium (Ca) during late gestation. The female's requirements for calcium virtually double during late gestation. Milk fever is caused by a low blood calcium level, which can be the result of inadequate intake of calcium or failure to immobilize calcium reserves. Excessive intake of calcium can also be a problem. It is recommended that you save your "best" hay for lactation, and feed a mixed (legume-grass) hay during late gestation.

Grains, such as corn, barley, and oats, are poor sources of calcium. Forages are generally higher in calcium, especially legumes (alfalfa, clovers, lespedeza). Supplemental calcium can be provided through complete grain mixes or mineral supplements (dicalcium phosphate, bonemeal, and limestone). If low quality forage is fed, calcium should be supplemented through the grain ration. Free choice minerals do not always ensure adequate intake.

Vaccination for CD-T

Pregnant ewes and does should be vaccinated for clostridial diseases (usually clostridium perfringins type C & D and tetanus) 3 to 4 weeks prior to parturition. Vaccinated females will pass antibodies in their colostrum to their newborn lambs/kids. Females that have never been vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown will require two vaccinations at least 2 weeks a part. Males should be vaccinated at the same time, so they are not forgotten.

Deworming

The most important time to deworm a ewe or doe is prior to parturition. This is because pregnant and lactating ewes/does suffer a temporary loss in immunity (as a result of hormonal changes) that results in the "periparturient rise" in worm eggs. Deworming with an effective anthelmintic will help the ewe/doe expel the worms and will reduce the exposure of newborn lambs and kids to worm larvae. It will reduce the worm burden when the ewes/does are turned out to pasture in the spring. Deworming can be done at the same time as CD-T vaccinations.
Vaccinated females will pass antibodies in their colostrum to their newborn lambs/ kids
Valbazen© should not be given to ewes during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Feed a Coccidiostat

It is a good idea to feed a coccidiostat (Bovatec®, Rumensin®, or Deccox®) to ewes and/or does during late gestation. All sheep and goats have coccidia in their digestive systems. Feeding a coccidiostat will reduce the number of coccidia being shed into the lambing and kidding environment. Continue feeding the coccidiostat through weaning. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that feeding a coccidiostat during late gestation will aid in the prevention of abortions caused by Toxoplasma gondii, which is a coccidia organism harbored by domestic cats. Coccidiostats, especially rumensin, can be fatal to equines.

Antibiotics

The use of antibiotics will aid in the prevention of abortions caused by Chlamydia (Enzootic/EAE) or Campylobacter (vibrio). Chlorotetracycline (aureomycin®) can be fed to ewes to prevent abortions. It is approved by the FDA to be fed at a rate of 80 mg per head per day. Alternatively, injections of antibiotics (e.g. LA-200) every 2 weeks during late gestation will help to prevent abortions.

Shearing

It is a good idea to shear fiber-producing ewes and does about a month before lambing and kidding. There are numerous advantages to shearing prior to lambing and kidding. Shearing results in a cleaner, drier, healthy environment for newborn lambs/kids. Shorn ewes put less moisture into the air. Shorn ewes are less likely to lay on their lambs. They are more likely to seek shelter in inclement weather. Shorn ewes take up less space in the barn and around feeders. Shearing before parturition results in much cleaner fleeces. Shorn ewes/does will require more feed to compensate for heat loss, especially during cold weather. They require adequate shelter. An alternative to shearing is crotching. Crotching is when you remove the wool around the udder and vulva.

Getting your supplies and equipment ready

Two weeks before your first ewes and/or does are due to lamb or kid, you need to gather your supplies (ear tags, rubber rings, iodine, colostrum, etc.) and set your facilities up for lambing/kidding. While the general rule of thumb is to have 1 jug per 10 females, you may need more jugs if your lambing and kidding is tightly spaced. If you are pasture lambing or kidding, you will want to bring the ewes or does to the pasture where they will be kidding. Even with pasture lambing/kidding, you will want a few jugs in case you have some problems.
 


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