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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.

  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension - (301) 432-2767 x343


There's a baby in there!
Baby on the way

 Birth of a lamb
Lamb just born

 Cleaning her lamb
Licking her lamb

 Sleeping lamb
Sleeping baby

 Lambs running
Lambs running


    Mary had a little lamb . . . or two

  • A normal delivery
    In the vast majority of cases, ewes give birth to their lambs without any difficulty or assistance from the shepherd or a veterinarian. Normal presentation is the nose and two front legs, one lamb at a time. A backwards delivery is also considered normal.

  • Dystocia (difficult births)
    Difficulties arise when the lambs are not in the proper position for delivery or when there are other problems causing a difficult birth. The most common malpresentation is when one or more of the front legs is back or the head is bent back in the birth canal. These are relatively simple for the shepherd to correct.

    Breech baby

    A breech birth is when only the rear or tail of the lamb is presented for delivery. Even the back legs are tucked under. A ewe cannot deliver a breech lamb on her own. Usually, the back legs are brought forward and breech lambs are delivered backwards. Care is taken to make sure the umbilical cord doesn't cut off the lamb's oxygen supply before the lamb is out.

    Twin or triplet lambs can sometimes get tangled in the womb or attempt to be born at the same time. Care must be taken to figure out which parts belong to which lamb and to re-position the lambs for delivery. Sometimes, a lamb is too big or the ewe's pelvic area is too small for delivery. In this case, the lamb may have to be sacrificed to save the life of the ewe.

    Sometimes the ewe's cervix fails to dilate (open up) sufficiently for the lamb(s) to be delivered. This is a particularly difficult delivery to assist with and it is possible to lose both the ewe and her lamb(s). The best course of action is to remove the lambs via a caesarian section. Unfortunately the cause of "ringworm" is unknown, though it may have a genetic link.

    Various health problems, both infectious and non-infectious, can compromise a ewe's ability to deliver her lambs normally. Poor breeding decisions, overfeeding or underfeeding, and stress can lead to difficult births. There are also several diseases which can cause a ewe to abort (terminate) her pregnancy or give birth to weak lambs that die shortly after birth. The infectious organisms that cause a ewe to abort its lambs may also cause a woman to miscarry.

  • Quick starters
    After a lamb is born, the ewe begins to lick it. Cleaning and licking is part of the ewe-lamb bonding process. It also helps to dry the lamb. In many cases, the ewe will clean the lambs in the order in which they are born. She may "talk" to her lambs as she licks them.

    Lambs are usually able to stand within 30 minutes after birth. Instinct tells them to look for milk. If a lamb is slow to get up, the ewe will encourage it by nudging or pawing at it. The lamb usually has its first meal before it is an hour old. An experienced ewe will try to orient the lamb(s) in the right direction, since lambs aren't born knowing whether the udder is in the front or rear of the ewe.

    First milk
    The first milk that the ewe produces is called colostrum. It is very nutritious and contains antibodies that protect the lamb from infection during the early part of its life. It's important that a lamb consume adequate colostrum during its first 24 hours of life, an amount equivalent to 10 percent of its body weight.

    Lambs suckle frequently during their first few weeks of life, from 1 to 2 times per hour, for as long as 3 minutes each time. But by the end of their fifth week, lambs will only be sucking once every 2 hours.

  • Baby lambs
    Baby lambs are like other baby animals. They sleep a lot, approximately 8 to 12 hours per day. They like to play with other lambs. They nibble on things. They are very curious of their surroundings. They get into trouble. They like to climb on their mothers' backs. They like to play "king of the hill." They prance around on all fours when they have room to run. They like to get into groups and run back and forth in a field or around the feeder in a pen. They get tired and take naps. When it's nap time, they will seek their mother out and sleep as close to her as possible.

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