Health and NutritionOther Livestock

How to Prepare Sheep for Healthy Lambing and Kidding

What’s happening during the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy? Seventy (70) 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. At the same time, rumen capacity is decreasing. The result is the need for increased nutrition, usually a more nutrient-dense diet. During late gestation is the time when energy is most likely to be deficient. Extra nutrition is needed to support fetal growth, especially if the female is carrying multiple fetuses. Extra feed is needed to support mammary development and ensure a plentiful milk supply. Proper nutrition will help to prevent the occurrence of pregnancy toxemia (ketosis) and milk fever. It will ensure the birth of strong, healthy offspring of moderate birth weight. Birth weight is highly correlated to lamb and kid survival, with low and high birth weight offspring usually experiencing the highest mortality.

Nutrition & Health Care

The level of nutrients required will depend upon the age and weight of the pregnant female and her expected level of production, i.e., single, 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.

Selenium and vitamin E are critical nutrients during the late gestation period. 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.

Pregnant ewes and does should be vaccinated for clostridial diseases (usually clostridium perfringins type C & D and tetanus) approximately one-month prior 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.

The most important time evaluate the need to deworm a ewe or doe is prior to parturition. This is because pregnant and lactating ewes/does suffer a temporary loss in immunity (because of hormonal changes) that results in a “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. An alternative to deworming the flock is to increase the level of protein in the diet. Protein supplementation has been shown to decrease fecal egg counts in peri-parturient ewes.

Provided by Susan Schoenian, Sheep and Goat Specialist Western Maryland Research & Education Center University of Maryland Extension.

Did You Know?

The byproducts from sheep are used in everyday goods throughout the World. After reading through this list, you may want to stop and thank your local sheep producer. It is likely that a product you just used was provided by a sheep.


Sausage Casings, Instrument Strings, Surgical Sutures, Tennis Racquet Strings

Bones, Horns and Hooves

Syringes, Gelatin Desserts, Rose Food, Piano Keys, Marshmallows, Potted Meats, Pet Food Ingredients, Bandage Strips, Bone Charcoal Pencils, Gelatin Capsules, Adhesive Tape, Phonograph Records, Combs, Toothbrushes, Buttons, Bone Meal, Emery Boards, Ice Cream, Laminated Wood Products, Horn and Bone Handles, Collagen and Bone for Plastic Surgery, Bone China, Wallpaper and Wallpaper Paste, Dog Biscuits, Steel Ball Bearings, Malts and Shakes, Fertilizer, Neatsfoot Oil, Adhesives, Bone Charcoal for High Grade Steel, Plywood and Paneling, Shampoo and Conditioner, Dice, Collagen, Cold Cream, Crochet Needles, Cellophane Wrap and Tape, Glycerin, Photographic Film

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