Search The Site
Featured Posts
Find Us On Facebook
Browse Topics

Animals Animals

Gardening Gardening

Pumpkins Pumpkins

Tractors & Implements Tractors & Implements

Murphy’s Law of Lambing

Raising sheep is always hard work, but lambing season is the toughest. There’s a lot at stake. Preparation, vigilance, and a keen shepherd’s sense are the keys to success. The reward is sweet. When I look out on a pasture dotted with ewes and frolicking lambs, it’s easy to forget the long nights spent out in the barn.

Lambs on the Pasture

Sheep have twins most of the time. In a highly managed flock, lambing rates (average number of lambs born per ewe) can reach 1.8 or greater. A more important statistic is the number of lambs making it through to weaning and beyond. The industry average is probably 1.5 weaned lambs per ewe, for an implied mortality rate of around 15%. Hobby sheep farmers tend to have more volatile performance from year to year with their smaller sampling. There were several seasons when I got all twins and never lost a lamb. Other years, some of the ewes had singles, or a couple lambs died. That can be significant for a small operation like mine. 

Mothers with Lambs on a Larger Farm

Larger scale operations will average 1.8 lambs per ewe or more

One non-statistical phenomena is what I call the Murphy’s Law of lambing season. Things tend to happen at the worst possible times, often with the least likely outcome. For instance, last year my best prized ewe had triplets, and then proceeded to get a terrible case of mastitis. She recovered, but half her udder was scarred for life. I bred her again this year, hoping maybe she’d just have single. Wham, triplets again! Twice in a row. That’s rare. With three lambs on just one half an udder, they need bottle supplement.

Another example. Just before this year’s lambing season began, I was elected to the school board. I had to attend a mandatory orientation meeting with superintendent. Just as I was getting in the car, I decided to do a quick check of the barn. It had to be. There was a ewe outside in labor, water bag hanging out, the first of the season. I’d be gone only two hours. It was getting dark though. Should I just leave? What to do?

Ewe Starting Labor

This ewe picked the least opportune time to start labor.

Every sheep and lamb count on a small farm, so I telephoned the school board chair, and told her I’d be late. “As soon as I see the lamb presenting correctly, I’ll be right in”, I said. I figured an experienced Mamma like this one would be fine for couple hours so long as the delivery looked normal, which is the case some 80% of the time. So, I changed clothes, gently guided the ewe into a lambing jug, and waited. Normally with a veteran ewe, the feet and nose of the lamb appear within 15 minutes of the water bag. Not this time. Murphy’s Law of lambing strikes again!

Normal Presentation

A normal presentation - Fully extended front legs and nose first

 Almost an hour went by, cause for some concern. The ewe wasn’t tired though, she just wasn’t really pushing. I decided to wait a bit more, knowing the chances of making my meeting had all but slipped away. After another 15 minutes, I was about to put on the gloves for an examination, when all of a sudden Mom got down to business. Right away, two little hoofs appeared, followed by a nose. A perfectly normal presentation. In a jiffy, the lamb was born, problem-free, and her twin sister shortly after that. Once again, Murphy’s Law of lambing got the best of me. In a hurry? That’s exactly when to expect a delay.

Twin Newborn Lambs

Mother ewe licking off her newborn lambs after a problem-free delivery

The dubious start to my school board term was forgiven. The ewe in question and her lambs are doing great. Sadly, I lost one of the triplets. The rest of the ewes almost all had healthy sets of twins. So, overall numbers should be very good. At this point, there is just one left to lamb, 4 year old Carmelita. She’s a big, 200 lb, registered Shropshire who always has healthy twins, and never a bit of trouble. Whoops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that!

4 Responses to “Murphy’s Law of Lambing”

  • Jim B. says:

    Enjoyed your story and good pictures. I have a small hobby farm in AR. I have 18 ewes going to lamb in about 3 weeks.

  • Leoma Z says:

    Your comments and pictures brought back my childhood on the farm. My dad tried raising sheep for a few years.
    We lost one ewe but the lamb survived and we had to hand feed it. It was a good job for us kids, but the lamb didn’t know it was a sheep. It followed us around
    everywhere even into the house. Needless to say, when it was old enough to market, my mother insisted it go.
    Us kids had a great time playing with that lamb,named

  • Marie Genevieve says:

    Hi this is my 3rd year for lambs lack of experience can you advise me on subject mon is 3 had pneumonia 2 time but recovered had 2 lambs first year 3 lambs 2 nd year and quads this year followed by mastitis after 2 week in .should I keep her ?she a great leader of all the small herd of 6 moms I bottle the quads mom utter came back after 3 dayes.

  • Loved this post! It’s true about all aspects of a sheep’s life, though. They have an instinct for bad timing and precarious situations.

Leave a Reply

Premier1 Supplies