The importance of proper lamb booth management
DOHNE MERINO, FARMING | Oct 7, 2022
The weather, predators, feeding – a number of factors can affect lambing season on a Dohne farm.
Still, farmers can take various measures to prevent lamb deaths, improve the lambing process and support genetic progress along the way.
One of these measures, as discussed in a previous blog post, is the implementation of lambing booths. Suidplaas owner, Wynand du Toit, says that lamb booths helped him lower lamb deaths on the farm from 23% to 3%.
But building these booths is not enough. Precise planning and close management are necessary to ensure your lamb booths work effectively and efficiently.
Wynand says: “For us, on a farm where cultivating genetic progress is the priority, lambing booths are a necessity. We have to use them. So, it’s vital to manage your booths correctly to prevent complications that can affect your ewes in the future, or lead to lamb deaths.”
Wynand shares these 4 tips to ensure your booths are properly managed:
1. Feed and water
Pregnant ewes are fed special lactating ewe pellets about 6 weeks before entering the lamb booths. We feed them 500g a day each. Their portions are increased in the coming weeks, to reach 1.5kg per day a week before they go into the lamb booth. Afterwards the feed is continued to help them readjust to life outside once they start grazing again.
The quality of the ewes’ feed is vital, says Wynand. ”It’s important that these pellets have the right chemical composition, since it’s a specialised product. It needs a balance of minerals, phosphates, calcium and magnesium, that prevents mastitis in ewes, and a high level of proteins which aids milk production when the ewes can’t graze.”
It’s also important to have fresh water available for your sheep at all times, and to keep the water troughs clean.
2. Proper preparations
If your lamb booths are outside, take extra measures to ensure that there is ample shade and shelter for your ewes, to provide protection from the sun and rain.
To make sure there is enough room for the ewe and her offspring – especially in the case of twins or triplets – your booths must be at least 2,25m². Proper ventilation in every booth is also necessary to prevent respiratory complications.
Your ewes must also be prepared and ready for the lambing process. They must be sheared 4-6 weeks before entering the booths, to remove long wool that can get in the way during the lambing process. This step is especially crucial for Dohnes, since they produce so much wool.
3. The day-to-day
Separating single lambs from twins or triplets makes it easier to ensure that all sheep get proper care, since ewes with twins and triplets often need more support to keep her lambs healthy and strong.
Umbilical cords must be sterilised with an iodine mixture to prevent infections, and ongoing pest control is also vital, since flies can carry diseases.
The daily tasks in the lamb booths are integral to the success of the whole lambing season. In this regard, Wynand says that the Suidplaas lamb booth assistants, Jackie Siegelaar en Rosaline Malgas, play an integral role. “They are unmissable, because they work gently with the sheep – slowly and calmly. They have a softer approach with the births and with feeding the new lambs, which is needed to keep the ewes calm.”
4. Keeping the future in mind
Proper lamb booth management not only focuses on the day-to-day tasks, but also takes future lambing seasons into account. Since stress can lead to wool loss, your lambs and ewes should not be transferred from the booths all at once. Rather transfer them to camps in small groups about 5 at a time to minimise stress and ensure a smooth transition.
Once all the ewes and lambs have been moved, the booths must be thoroughly cleaned and sterilised. On Suidplaas, the floors are covered in slaked lime to kill any germs and pathogens, and then left for 4 months to ensure everything is sterile before the next ewes enter.
Lamb booths provide one final advantage: the opportunity to monitor the mothering traits of your ewes to improve your genetic pool.
Wynand says, “In lambing booths, you can more easily see good mothers versus those that aren’t good mothers. Those ewes with bad milk production, or those who don’t let the lambs drink should be removed from the herd and not allowed to lamb again, since these qualities are hereditary. In this way, you will achieve better genetic progress and in 5 or 10 years, you’ll have only the most fertile ewes with excellent mothering traits.”