Many Northeast U.S. livestock farms will be calving, lambing and kidding during the next two months. For the most part, the calving season is in full swing.
Goats and sheep are another story, with many farmers delaying delivery to reduce the negative effect of the region’s extremely cold winter.
For those whose livestock is ready to deliver now, prepping barns for birthing is priority one. Farmers who will have young stock on the ground later in the season should be adjusting diets so mothers can milk and have the right body condition at delivery.
If sheep are eating good-quality forage, rations need not be increased beyond maintenance levels prior to lambing, according to Donna Coffin, extension educator at the University of Maine. If that’s not the case, then protein and energy need to be ramped up to account for the mother’s needs.
“When lambing approaches, increasing protein and energy becomes important to aid the growing fetuses,” she explained.
Be careful not to overfeed ewes. If fed too much, enterotoxemia results and vaccination is a must. Enterotoxemia, also called overeating disease, is brought on by sudden increases in rations, which result in an explosive growth of Clostridium bacteria in the intestines.
Ewes vaccinated for this disease will pass along sufficient passive immunity to offspring until they can be vaccinated. The disease can also be staved off with careful feeding. Larger flocks can be broken up into feeding groups based on body condition or lambing potential, while hand feeding can be employed with smaller ones.
Farmers should provide ewes with a minimum of a three-sided shelter to protect against wind and the elements. Pen size should be a minimum of 4 by 4 feet for lambing and constructed with livestock fence panels.
Body heat is usually enough to keep lambs warm, though some farms use heat lamps when lambing in extremely cold weather. Lamps should be mounted sturdily and well away from flammable materials.
“Optimal heat for lambing ranges from 33 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit,” stated Tatiana Stanton, a Cornell University Extension goat specialist.
For those still housing sheep in bank barns, be sure to leave enough windows open to provide proper ventilation. If your eyes water when you enter the barn, open more windows to get the air circulating, Coffin advised.
As lambing season approaches, farmers need to be watching ewes more closely to determine when they will lamb. Immediately prior to lambing, move ewes into pens bedded with straw; avoid using shavings or chips for the wool breeds since they’re not as absorbent.
If the ewe is not milking, not letting down her milk, or even showing a lack of interest in allowing lambs to suckle, have some colostrum available. “Freeze it in ice cube trays and warm it up slowly to assure the good protein doesn’t diminish,” said Coffin.
For colostrum, Stanton recommends 2.5 ounces per pound of birth weight in the first 24 hours.
Once lambs are on the ground, dip their navels in iodine immediately. Rub them down with clean cloths, and check to see if they are breathing. If not, clear their nasal passages using an infant nasal aspirator.
Wait two to three days before castrating males and docking tails. For those who raise Katahdin sheep, docking is less necessary, since those animals have hair and not wool.
Discuss vaccinations with your veterinarian. “If you don’t have a relationship with a veterinarian, create one,” Coffin said.
The main difference between kidding dairy and meat goats is that dairy kids are separated from does shortly after they’re born so the mother can get back into the milking string as soon as possible.
Another reason for pulling kids from does is to prevent caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE), a crippling form of dairy goat arthritis passed through milk. “Longtime participants in CAE prevention programs know their herds are negative for the disease and can leave their kids on the does a little longer,” noted Stanton.
Protein and energy should be adjusted upward in does’ diets in the last third of their pregnancies. Add grain in late pregnancy to reduce the risk of ketosis. “In the absence of ultrasound to determine what’s inside does, assume you are feeding a doe carrying twins,” Stanton advised.
Use a highly fermentable feed, such as good second-cutting grass hay or grass hay with legumes, she added. “Try to avoid the use of alfalfa, because the stems are high in lignin and indigestible.”
Clover as a legume is fine in hay, but not advisable for pregnant does in pastures. “There is a bacterial leaf spot that can occur that is linked with abortion,” Stanton said.
Well-balanced grain rations should provide the necessary calcium prior to lambing. Save alfalfa for kidding, when does need a boost to milk production.
Optimal housing for the kidding season should provide a draft-free, dry environment. “Be careful with heat. Higher than 65 degrees [Fahrenheit] is a waste of energy and will cause unwanted humidity,” said Stanton.
She suggests dropping down on your knees in the kidding area. “You don’t want to smell ammonia. If you do, you need more ventilation,” she explained.
Goats on the ground
Once kids are born, check for signs of breathing. If kids aren’t breathing, clear the nasal passages with a nasal syringe or insert a single piece of straw into one nostril to stimulate sneezing.
Once they stand, watch to see they are finding their mother’s teat. “Get them latched onto mothers quickly,” Stanton said. “If they are not moving toward their mother right away, rub your hand on their heads until they show suckling behavior, or present them with a bottle, if you are bottle feeding, right away.”
Watch carefully for kids to begin discharging the meconium, a tarry black stool composed of material they ingested in the uterus. If the mother doesn’t immediately begin licking the kid dry, use clean towels to dry it off as quickly as possible to protect against chilling.
Follow up with a Bo-Se shot. “Selenium is necessary to prevent white muscle disease, and the vitamin E assures it will be used. Kids should acquire this immunity at the same time they are getting the rest of it from the doe’s colostrum,” stated Stanton.
Look after the mother with some feed and warm water with a little sugar or molasses added. Over the next 24 hours, check to see if the doe passes the placenta; if she hasn’t done so within a day, call your veterinarian.
Wait three days for castration and ear tags. As soon as the horn buds are visible, dehorn the animals. “Don’t wait longer than three weeks,” Staton noted.
Vaccination schedules vary. First-time mothers should be vaccinated for enterotoxemia and tetanus three to four weeks before delivery.
Experienced does should receive their first booster six to eight weeks before delivery, and a second booster three to four weeks ahead of lambing. Vaccinating less than 10 days before kidding is a waste of time and money.
Handy ration resource
Goat farmers looking for some help formulating rations can find it on the website of the E (Kika) de la Garza Institute for Goat Research at Langston University in Oklahoma (http://www2.luresext.edu/goats/research/nutreqgoats.html).
Photo by TheDman/iStockphotography.com