Lambing is a crucial process in sheep farming as it determines the success of the entire agricultural venture. The process requires skill and knowledge about the signs of lambing. This is necessary in the efficient management of lambing to ensure minimal mortality. In fact, higher lambing percentages have been proven to be positive for productivity and profitability in areas like New Zealand where farmers are equipped with necessary knowledge and skillset. One of the important lambing signs to look out for is ewe udder before lambing. This helps to determine the exact lambing timeframe thereby allowing for timely preparation and making sure that the lamb will get adequate colostrum. If the development is poor, farmers can supplement dietary plans with lacking nutrients to guarantee sufficient colostrum production.

Signs of Ewe Udder

Signs of lambing can vary from ewe to ewe hence the need to keep a sharp eye on all flock members. However, ewes share some common symptoms with the purpose of alerting shepherds that lambing will soon take place. Among the most critical signs is the development of the ewe udder before lambing. Note that upon identifying the most critical signs of ewe udder before lambing, it is recommended to check the sheep every four hours, day and night, which ensures that ewes are not left for too long before help is at hand. Leaving ewes that have just given birth for prolonged periods of time exposes both the mother and lamb to infection that might be detrimental. Additionally, since the lamb should be provided with colostrum within the first two hours, it therefore becomes highly necessary to monitor development frequently. Signs of ewe udder before lambing are not only important for protecting sheep from diseases or providing lambs with sufficient colostrum intake but also in dealing with problem deliveries. The following are the most crucial signs to look of out for:

Ewe Udder Development

The development of the ewe udder before lambing is an important aspect to monitor. Under normal circumstances, the udder starts to develop at about 4 weeks prior to lambing. Note that this feature is extremely variable with different varieties among other factors. Whilst udder development is a reliable sign that lambing is about to take place, a lack of udder development does not necessarily mean that lambing is a long way off. Experts reveal that ewes with virtually no udder development have been known to lamb successfully. It is stated that some ewe breeds tend to develop udders in a week or less before lambing takes place. The delayed udder development is often attributed to poor nutrition. As such, upon realising that the udder is slow to develop, there is need to supplement sheep dietary plans with lacking nutrients to allow for timely rectification. As the lambing due date approaches, it is advisable to develop a habit of walking behind the ewe when feeding grain and reaching under it to check for the first signs of udder. In order to keep careful track of the lambing process, farmers are also advised to mark the date on the calendar so as to get a clear sense of when the ewe might deliver.

Bagging Up

The hormonal changes taking place inside the ewe can be detected by the shepherd though a thorough inspection of the developed udder. As lambing approaches, the udder gradually fills up with colostrum. This often occurs about 10 to 14 days prior to lambing. Keep in mind that although this is the general timeframe, the exact period of colostrum filling the ewe udder before lambing may vary according to the breed among other factors. Studies also indicate that within 24 hours prior to lambing, the udder becomes firm. To add on, it is also stated that the ewe’s teat becomes large, swollen and filled with colostrum. Other signs of ewe udder before lambing includes an elongated and slightly red udder.  The condition of the ewe udder before lambing is regarded as a clear indication that sheep lambing is about to occur within a short space of time. During this period, ewes require dietary plans consisting of more protein so as to achieve good quality colostrum. Also, farmers should make sure that sheep diets are well-balanced. Failure to provide ewes with good quality dietary plans in sufficient rations is risky, particularly in the production of adequate high quality colostrum. Additionally, there is need to vaccinate ewes so as to protect them from various diseases known to attack sheep during the lambing season.

Additional Signs of Lambing

Ewe udder is said to be among the most reliable indications that lambing is about to take place. However, as earlier stated, some breeds are known to lamb with minimal signs of udder development. As such, it becomes necessary for shepherds to be aware of other signs of lambing. In addition to the condition of the ewe udder before lambing, another sign is a sunken loin. Along with standing out nipples, a fuller and harder udder, lambing is shown by the state of the ewe’s belly which sinks. The lambs drop inside the ewe offering an appearance of sunken cavities between the hipbones and the last rib. This often occurs 1 to 2 days prior to lambing as lambs move into position for delivery. Another sign of lambing is a vulva that is swollen and soft. It also appears pink. Note that this happens several weeks prior to lambing. When lambing nears, the ewe usually isolates itself. It seeks out a secluded area where it either paws gentle or creates huge mounds of bedding in an effort to create a welcoming area for delivery. This is usually one of the final signs of lambing before the ewe goes into labour. Finally, the water bag is passed out which serves as a sign that labour has begun in earnest. The first lamb should be delivered within 20 to 30 minutes.

Below are the common signs of lambing:

Sign Description Timeline
Bagging Up Udder fills with milk. Closer to lambing the udder gets firm and slightly red 0 to 30 days
Swollen Vulva Starts to swell and look soft and shiny under the tail Up to several weeks before lambing. Usually last week
Vaginal Discharge Slight light coloured or clear discharge Up to several weeks before lambing.
Hollowed Flanks Ewe suddenly stops looking pregnant and is sunken in front of hip bones Lambing will take place within 12 hours.
Restlessness Self-isolation Beginning stages of labour. Lambs will arrive within couple of hours.
Water bag visible ‘bag’ of dark fluid is visible Lambs should follow within ½ to 1 hour