Take the Chill Out Lambing and Kidding

Lambing and kidding season may traditionally be associated with springtime, but to capitalize on more lucrative marketing windows, more and more producers are shifting to get newborns on the ground earlier. Lambs and kids born in the first few months of the year may be more appropriately sized to hit desired weight ranges for specific ethnic and holiday markets or summer show seasons.

Maximizing the benefits of earlier lambing and kidding means minimizing the impacts of cold weather stress on ewes and does, as well as newborn lambs and kids.

“The last few years have taught us that almost no part of the U.S. is exempt from freezing temperatures during the winter months. As such, it’s essential to be prepared to cope with frigid temperatures during the lambing and kidding months,” says Patrick Gunn, Ph.D., sheep and goat nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition.

Keep these winter tips in mind when preparing for lambing or kidding in colder temperatures:

Start with mineral
When you think about winter feeding and management, you likely think of heat lamps, warm bedding, appropriate barn ventilation or other tried and true tips that help provide a smooth lambing or kidding experience in cold weather.

But one often overlooked component is nutrition, and the most important thing that can be accomplished nutritionally is feeding a quality mineral.

“To me, mineral is absolutely the best dollar spent on your nutrition program and serves as the backbone to combating every metabolic challenge on the farm or ranch,” says Gunn. “The last thing you want to deal with in below-freezing temperatures is lambing or kidding issues. Feeding a quality mineral can help get lambs and kids on the ground with fewer issues and get them going quicker. It’s no secret that a good mineral program can help with newborn vigor and help with colostrum quality.”

Monitor body condition score
Cold temperatures mean ewes and does need to expend more energy to maintain normal body functions and regulate temperature. Evaluating body condition score (BCS) before lambing and kidding can help ensure ewes and does have the proper amount of energy to keep themselves warm, recover from birth and tend to their newborns.

Ewes and does should be in at least a BCS of 3-3.5 to provide a little extra energy so they’ll be more durable and more prepared before lambing and kidding.

Feed more energy and monitor water intake
One way to help ewes and does maintain body condition when lambing or kidding in colder temperatures is feeding more energy when cold fronts pass through.

“Sharp drops in windchill require more energy just to meet maintenance requirements,” says Gunn. “If ewes or does are already thin, the maintenance requirement is even greater when experiencing times of cold stress. Energy should increase by 10% for every 10 degrees below normal, but this only needs to continue for a handful of days until their metabolism adjusts to the ‘new normal.’”

It’s easy to focus on energy when cold temperatures are top of mind, but don’t overlook water consumption. Providing animals with fresh, clean water and frequently checking to ensure water sources aren’t frozen is essential.

Dr. Gunn goes on to say, “Ewes and does should drink at least 1 gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight during the colder months. If animals aren’t drinking enough, they don’t consume as much dry matter, which can cause shortfalls in daily energy intake when it’s the most critical.”

Keep newborns warm and dry
Newborn lambs and kids are tougher than you might realize. They can handle a lot and continue to thrive. One thing they can’t handle is not getting dry quickly enough after birth.

Hypothermia is a big concern for newborn lambs and kids – no matter the temperature.

If the ewe or doe isn’t drying off a newborn immediately after birth, you may need to dry it with a towel. Heat lamps can also be a good tool for newborns that do get cold or in extremely cold weather.

With a few proactive nutrition and management steps, you can capitalize on the benefits of earlier lambing and kidding while reducing the impacts of