Sunday, 23 August 2009

Lambing Ewes – Observations So Far

The ewes we have currently on Ochre Arch began lambing in earnest on 12th August 2009, 11 days ago.

So far we have:

  • Lost 3 ewes prior to lambing, one in hindsight we may have been able to save by putting a splint on its broken leg.
  • Lost 2 ewes in the process of lambing. In both cases the lamb had died in the mother and the mother could not give birth. In one case we did came across the ewe before she died but could not get near her over a couple of days to help. With the other, the ewe died without us even knowing she was in trouble. The paddocks we have them lambing in provide excellent tree and shrub protection against the wind and rain, but a downside is that it is near-impossible to see all of the sheep in the mob.
  • Saved 2 ewes. In one case the lamb had died and was very difficult to ‘pull’, and in the other case the lamb lived, but curiously was the second of twins. Both twins lived as far as we know.
  • Picked up a very weak and apparently abandoned lamb, taking it home to poddy. Unfortunately it did not survive.
  • Observed probably about 15 or so lamb carcasses so far, with their deaths being for a variety or reasons. Most, if not all, we believe were either still-born or just not destined to survive.
  • Seen a mixture of single lambs through to in some cases triplets. At face value it looks like the overall lambing percentage and survival rates are pretty good. We won’t know the real story until lamb marking.
  • Observed Australian Ravens in amongst the mob. They seem focused on eating the after-birth and have ‘had a go’ at the lamb carcasses.
When the ewes are due to give birth they seem to deliberately distance themselves slightly on the perimeter of the mob. In the first paddock they were in (Poppy’s) those lambing were mostly on the highest elevation part of the paddock. While the new lambs are still ‘finding their feet’ for a day or two the recently lambed ewes do tend to be together, although spread out. Obviously, immediately after lambing the ewe and her lambs are less mobile and extreme care needs to be taken to try and not disturb them to ensure the mother does not abandon her lamb/s. Those that have not had lambs are both more densely mobbed and mobile, covering more area around the paddock. In the case of Poppy’s Paddock, they travelled to the lower sections and returned to the higher ground at night. Once the lambs have gathered strength after a couple of days they and their mothers rejoin the portion of the mob that has yet to lamb.

We’ve made minerals constantly available to the mob in two troughs. The mineral mix is an even (3-way) combination of ‘Medium Course Salt’ (Sodium Chloride), ‘Fine Limestone’ (calcium) and ‘Causmag’ (Magnesium Oxide). Some of the sheep are taking some minerals but the quantity being consumed is very low at present. We placed the troughs on the track (bare ground) just inside Poppy’s Paddock to begin with. In hindsight this was not the best place as we think it may have inhibited the sheep moving out of Poppy’s Paddock (see later).

After the sheep had been in Poppy’s Paddock for about 5 days we felt it would not hurt if they moved on voluntarily and progressively to the next (Amphitheatre) paddock. To avoid the risk of a rush through the gate with potential lamb abandonment we opened the gate when the mob were so far away from it that they did not see it occur. It transpired that none of the sheep either found the opened gate or went through it after 3 days. We ended up splitting the mob with as minimal disturbance as possible by walking through some thick timber that seemed to form a natural separation point. Once one half (vast majority were ewes yet to lamb or with more mature lambs at foot) of the sheep were in the next paddock we left them all alone. On return the next day we herded most of the balance through to be with the first lot. In doing so there were 4 or so lambs that looked as though they may have been abandoned. However we made the decision to leave them all just inside the ‘new’ paddock given we were confident their mothers were still alive and that it was possible those mothers would come back to get them. The next morning there were no abandoned lambs. It’s possible they were taken by predators, but who knows. It was on this next morning that we moved those few remaining ewes with new lambs to be in with the main mob. It was necessary to do this by individual ewe with accompanying lambs.

We don’t really know whether what’s occurring with rescues and losses and such like is good, bad, or otherwise. What we do know is that we are doing the best we can; balancing our desire to look closely at what’s occurring within the mob to identify problems early against the possible impact on lambs where the mothers might choose to abandon them in the event of being disturbed by our getting too close and looking.

No comments: