For a farmer to say my production is growing, goats and sheep should give birth to healthy kids and lambs. Lambing and kidding time also known as parturition is a very critical period in a producer`s management schedule. Lambing and kidding usually occurs at the end of a 147- to 155-day pregnancy (approximately 5 months). This period should be properly prepared for in terms of good breeding records and personal notes which will allow the farmer to increase the survival rates of newborn lambs and kids. But care or closely monitoring of ewes and does should be done beginning about 142 days after breeding.
Determining breeding dates
If you do not know breeding dates, a good rule of thumb is to watch for udder development and looseness of the vulva. Enlargement of the udder can be seen as early as 4 to 6 weeks before lambing and kidding. This development is less noticeable in first-time pregnancies than it is in later pregnancies. Both psychological and anatomical changes indicate impending lambing and kidding.
Many ewes and does appear restless as lambing and kidding time approaches. Some separate from other animals and look for a secluded area in the pasture or shelters.
Swelling of the vulva and relaxation of the pelvic muscles and ligaments are noticeable. The tail may rise,and the lambs and kids will appear to have dropped in the abdomen. The udder will become hard because of a mammary secretion, known as colostrum, near the time of parturition. The teats become swollen and enlarged. Signs of impending parturition are useful, but they vary so much that producers should be cautious when interpreting them.
Lambing and kidding time
Lambing and kidding are divided into three distinct stages of labor and can last from a few to several hours. Assistance may be required for ewes and does which have a longer labor.
- The first stage of labor involves: the beginning of uterine contractions and dilation of the cervix, which can last several hours. During the first stage, the ewe or doe will frequently separate herself from the herd. The end of stage one is sometimes marked by the appearance of a thick, clear, whitish mucous discharge in sheep, and of a tan, sticky substance smeared about the hind parts of the doe.
- Stage two involves: the actual birth of the lamb or kid and can take a few minutes or as long as 3 to 4 hours. As labor progresses, the ewe or doe will spend more time lying down on her side, with her head in the air or extended forward with front and rear legs touching the ground. The uterine and abdominal muscles have strong contractions during this stage. Soon a large bubble or water bag will appear, break, and expel the water. At this time during a normal birth, the tip of the nose and front feet of the lamb or kid can be felt; they are ready to enter the vagina. As labor progresses, the lamb or kid is forced along the vagina until its toes and nose are visible at the vulva. When the head has passed the vulva, the lamb or kid is born quickly. As soon as the ewe or the doe has delivered her lamb or kid, she starts cleaning it licking its nose and the remainder of its head. If the ewe or doe is to have multiple births, interest in the previous lamb or kid will usually cease after the head is cleaned. She will return to labor, a water bag will appear, and soon another lamb or kid will be born.
- The third stage of lambing or kidding consists: of the expulsion of the afterbirth or placenta. The placenta is a red, shiny mass that many inexperienced sheep and goat producers mistake for part of the ewe`s interior, a dead foetus, or a tumor. The placenta will have strawberry-like lumps and may have whitish cords. It will be expelled naturally about 2 to 3 hours after final delivery of the lamb(s) or kid(s). In multiple births, each lamb or kid will have a separate placenta. If the placenta is not expelled within a few hours, call your veterinarian. A retained placenta can result in a uterine infection. You may miss the expulsion of the placenta if you do not check the ewe or doe at regular intervals. Some ewes and does may eat the placenta quickly, because her instincts are to hide the evidence of her lambing or kidding to protect her offspring from predators. Properly dispose any remaining afterbirth so dogs and predators are not attracted to it.
Assistance at Lambing and Kidding
If the lamb(s) or kid(s) are in a normal position in the uterus and the environmental conditions are favorable, no assistance will be required. A normal lambing or kidding usually takes 5 hours—4 hours for dilation of the cervix and 1 hour for the actual delivery of the lamb or kid. However, ewes and does that have been in stage two for 30 to 45 minutes without apparent progress may be having a difficult time. Personal experience and judgment are critical. Some people assist after 30 to 45 minutes so the ewe or doe does not become exhausted; others prefer to wait longer until fatigue is evident. The two main causes of death for lambs and kids at birth are delayed assistance and assistance without sufficient skill.
When stage one of labor has been in progress for more than 4 hours with no sign of the lamb or kid and the ewe or doe appears to be in unusual discomfort (standing, arching her back, and spreading her legs as if to urinate), the cause should be determined. Restrain the ewe or doe before attempting to assist her. Follow these three steps:
- Step 1; Entry: Every lambing and kidding is unique and demands a different action. Many sheep and goat producers are skilled in areas of production but do not know their limitations. The principal ingredients for success when assisting with lambing or kidding are complete sanitation of the hands, knowledge of the anatomy of the reproductive tract, gentleness, patience, experience, and good judgment. Call a veterinarian if you are unsure of your skills in helping your animal. Before assisting in the lambing or kidding process, remove all jewelry from your fingers and wrists. Trim your fingernails as close as possible, and scrub your hands and arms up to the elbows, preferably with surgical or highly antiseptic soap. Mild soap, either liquid or bar, will work too. Rinse in clean, warm water.
- Step 2; Examination: Wash the external genitalia of the ewe and doe with a mild, soapy solution and disposable, sterile gauze or sterile cotton balls. Lubricate your dominant hand with a sterile jelly. Begin by inserting three fingers in the vagina and gradually enter the entire hand. Carefully work your hand into the vaginal canal and assess the presentation. Quickly determine the position of the lamb or the kid. When you feel the lamb or the kid, be sure you can tell the rear from the front and the forelegs from the hind legs. If you cannot tell the difference, stop and ask for qualified help.
- Step 3; Manipulation: Some of the major frustrations experienced during the examination are working with one hand, feeling blind because you cannot see what is going on, and being unfamiliar with everything you feel with your hand.
Equipment for Lambing and Kidding
To be ready for lambing and kidding assistance you need:
- 2 clean buckets.
- Mild soap for cleaning the genital area of the ewe or the doe, disinfectant, and commercial obstetrical lubricant.
- Note:Do not use soap as a lubricant because it causes irritation to the vaginal membranes and can cause inflammation and swelling of the reproductive tract.
- KY Gel, Septi- Lube, or mineral oil for your hands to facilitate vaginal entry during a difficult delivery.
- Always wear disposable gloves to minimize the potential for zoonotic disease transmission.
- Fingernail clippers and an emery board to keep your fingernails short and smooth should be part of every kit.
- You might need a lamb puller, obstetric leg snare, or obstetric chain.
- Paper towels, old towels, and rags to dry newborn lambs or kids should also be part of your equipment. The newborn kit should include bottles, nipples, and a stomach tube in case the lamb or kid needs help getting colostrum, a thermometer, and a tincture of iodine (7 percent solution) for saturating and disinfecting the umbilical cord.