NC State Extension Publications


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Lambing and kidding season is an important time for a small ruminant operation. Survival of newborn lambs and kids is paramount to the economic viability of the farm. The new lamb or kid crop is the product of investments and decisions regarding genetics, and the next generation sets the stage for the future of the flock or herd. During the period surrounding lambing and kidding, understanding and identifying normal versus abnormal behavior and physiology and knowing when to assist are essential to newborn survival, a healthy start to life, and productive individuals in the future. This guide is a simple reference for beginner sheep and goat producers experiencing the lambing or kidding season. It includes instructions for neonatal care.


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Proper facilities will provide protection for newborn lambs or kids, increase their survival, simplify handling, and reduce labor during the lambing and kidding season. Prepare lambing or kidding facilities prior to the start of the season. Housing areas must be dry and well ventilated. Bedding should be kept fresh and replaced as needed to keep the environment dry and free of excessive manure buildup. While good ventilation is essential, it is important to minimize unwanted drafts by housing newborns away from windows or doors. Temperature should be monitored to prevent condensation and ensure an environment unfavorable to pathogen development. Excessive heat can be more detrimental than cooler environments. Good facilities and proper preparation are the first steps to a successful lambing and kidding season.

Essential Equipment

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Below is a list of equipment you should have on hand at the start of the season. This list is not exhaustive; it is simply a guide to preparations. It is important to be prepared BEFORE lambing and kidding season starts. In case of a health crisis, it is beneficial to have proper resources to depend on.


  • Gloves
    • Examination and OB
  • Antimicrobial soap
  • Halter
  • Dry towels (several)
  • Hair dryer
  • Heat lamp(s)
  • Important contacts readily available
    • Veterinarian
    • Trusted producer/mentor
  • Notebook or digital record-keeping system


  • OB lube/J-Lube
  • Head snare (lamb/kid puller)
  • OB leg snare


  • Thermometer
  • Syringes and needles
  • Prolapse retainer and harness
  • Leg splint
  • Cotton bandage padding
  • Vet wrap
  • Propylene glycol
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Veterinary instructions regarding prescription medications*
    • Selenium and vitamin E supplement

Tube Feeding and Orphan Lambs

  • 60 ml (2 oz) syringes
  • Esophageal tube
  • Milking assistance device (not required but useful tool)
  • Cups/container for milk collection
  • Stored colostrum (frozen)
  • Bottles
  • Nipples

Lamb Processing

  • Iodine
  • Scissors
  • Scale and lamb/kid sling
  • Ear tags
  • Ear tagger
  • Elastrator bands
  • Elastrator
  • Needles (20 gauge)
  • Syringes (5 cc)

*Administration of Bo-Se® and antibiotics should be done only under the guidance of a veterinarian. Work with your local veterinarian to determine needs, proper dosages, and timing of treatments.

Pre-Lambing/Kidding Behavior

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This section describes normal behavior of ewes or does during the lambing and kidding process. Note that there is significant variation in these behaviors between and within flocks. First-time dams will act differently than mature females that have already experienced the birthing process. Young dams may be more nervous, restless, and agitated than mature females. They are also more susceptible to dystocia (abnormal or difficult birth) and may require assistance.

Frequent barn checks, especially at night, can result in producer fatigue. To reduce fatigue early in the season, night checks should not begin until the first lamb or kid is born. Frequency of barn checks will depend on age of dams, the mothering ability of the ewe or doe, facilities, and time of year. Mature ewes and does that are good mothers may require checks only once in a six to eight hour period. However, checks may be required every three to four hours for young ewes or does that are more susceptible to dystocia or females housed in facilities with minimal environmental protection. It is important to find balance between your well-being and the needs of your ewes or does during lambing and kidding season.

Following are normal behaviors that can be observed during lambing and kidding:

  • Ewe or doe will become restless and separate herself from the rest of the group.
  • Sometimes pregnant dams will refrain from eating as lambing or kidding becomes eminent (< 3 hours).
  • Ewe or doe will begin pawing at the ground and appear to make a “nest.”
  • Ewe or doe will make soft, short vocalizations as if she is calling to her lambs or kids. (This sound is distinct from the normal cry of a sheep or goat and can be easily recognized with experience.)
  • Mucus will be discharged from the vulva.
  • Active contractions will begin, during which the ewe or doe will arch her back and will repeatedly lie down and stand up.
  • The water bag will be delivered first. Sometimes it breaks prior to delivery and all you will see is fluid (this is easy to miss).

What is a Normal Birth?

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  • Lamb or kid is delivered front feet first with head between the front legs just above the knees.
  • Within 30 minutes of water bag delivery, feet should appear from the vulva.
  • Following the appearance of feet, delivery should proceed without much delay (intervention is needed if progress stops or no progress has been made 30 minutes after water bag is delivered).
  • Allow ewe or doe to complete the lambing process in the location she has chosen. In the case of multiple births, do not disturb unless necessary until all lambs and kids are born. Moving her will delay the birthing process for subsequent lambs or kids.

Recognizing and Addressing Dystocia

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Dystocia is a general term used to describe an abnormal or difficult birth. Common dystocia cases include abnormally long birth time, head or shoulder lock, leg back (only one leg in birth canal), or breech deliveries (images of malpresentations can be found at the Alberta Lamb Producers website). Fluids surrounding lamb or kid during delivery should be clear or have a slight yellow tint. A dark yellow or brown coloration indicates a stressful delivery.

  • When does a ewe or doe need assistance?
    • When progress stops! More than 30 minutes without progress means the ewe or doe likely needs assistance.
    • Progress means the lamb or kid is getting closer to being delivered (in other words, more of the lamb or kid is visible with each contraction).
  • Why does progress stop?
    • Ewe or doe gave up or ran out of energy.
    • Lamb or kid’s head or shoulder is locked by dam’s pelvis.
    • One or more legs back (leg tucked under lamb or kid’s body and not in birth canal).
    • Lamb or kid’s head is back behind dam’s pelvis and not in birth canal.
    • Breech or backward delivery. (Note: True breech is when lamb or kid is being born rear first with both back legs tucked under its belly. This can be identified only by palpation.)
    • Twins or triplets are tangled (two legs that don’t belong to the same lamb or kid have emerged).
    • Dam’s cervix is not dilated.
  • What do you do when progress stops?
    • Restrain ewe or doe in a place where she is not running around or stressed.
      • Place halter on ewe or doe.
      • Move her to a smaller pen.
      • Have one person hold the ewe or doe’s head while another assists with the following steps.
    • Palpate to determine cause of problem.
      • Wear OB glove.
      • Be gentle and slow in your movements.
      • Avoid unnecessary stress and damage to cervix or uterus.
    • If two front feet and a head are located in the birth canal, gently pull the lamb or kid out by holding both front legs. Pull out and down firmly and steadily; be patient.
    • If two front feet and a head are not in the birth canal, palpate past your wrist and locate leg or head. Work slowly and carefully to pull both front legs and head into the birth canal. Once the head and both forelimbs are in the correct position, deliver lamb or kid by holding both legs and pulling out and down firmly and steadily.
    • Once successful delivery occurs, make sure the lamb or kid is breathing, step out of the pen, and let the dam take over.
  • Identification and correction of a breech (backward delivery):
    • The first two joints on a front leg bend in the same direction.
    • The first two joints on a back leg bend in the opposite direction.
    • Palpate limb and manipulate joints. Is it a front leg or a back leg?
    • If a breech happens, work to position both back legs in birth canal:
      • When both back legs are in position, deliver lamb or kid as quickly as possible.
      • When the lamb or kid is born breeched, its umbilical cord will break and the animal will take its first breath while its head is still inside. To avoid fluid aspiration, deliver lamb or kid quickly.
  • When to call the vet:
    • The delivery process is no longer progressing and you are not comfortable assisting any further.
    • Cervix is not dilated.
    • You are unable to get the lamb or kid in the birth canal correctly or are unfamiliar with presentation.

Newborn (Neonatal) Lamb/Kid Management

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Once lambs and kids are born:

  1. Ensure lamb or kid is breathing (dam will likely do this on her own).
    1. Remove mucus from around nose, mouth, and head.
    2. Gently tickle the newborn’s nose to cause it to sneeze.
    3. Gently pat lamb or kid on side to encourage breathing.
  2. Once the lamb or kid is breathing, allow bonding to occur.
    1. Leave the pen and maintain your distance.
    2. Monitor from a distance.
    3. Observe for a second birth (always assume twins or triplets).
    4. Watch for lamb or kid to stand.
    5. Ensure that ewe or doe remains near newborn and licks off fluids.
    6. Watch for nursing to occur. Tail wagging by the lamb or kid is a very good indicator that colostrum or milk is being consumed.

Move pair to jug (one hour after birth):

  1. “Clip, Dip, Strip!”
    1. Clip newborn’s navel to 2 inches from the body wall. Caution: This step can result in excess bleeding if blood vessel is severed. Dipping in iodine without clipping is often sufficient to cause drying and prevent infection.
    2. Dip or spray newborn’s navel in iodine.
    3. Strip dam’s teats to ensure adequate milk flow. Apply pressure to the teat in a slight downward motion until milk flows.
  2. If unsure of pending additional births, palpate to confirm. Sometimes a ewe or doe will “give up” after the first birth and “forget” to deliver the second or third.
  3. Monitor for placenta delivery (usually four to six hours after giving birth).
    1. Remove placenta from jug.
    2. The ewe or doe may eat placenta but it is best to remove it to keep jug dry.

Monitor pairs in jugs:

  1. Check to ensure that lambs and kids are warm and full of milk.
    1. A healthy, content lamb or kid will stretch when it first stands up.
    2. Lack of stretching is the first warning sign that something is wrong.
      1. Check the animal’s temperature:
        1. Does the mouth feel warm?
        2. Take rectal temperature. It should be between 101.5°F and 103.5°F.
      2. Is the lamb or kid full?
        1. Palpate abdomen to check for fullness.
        2. An empty lamb or kid will have depressed sides and appear gaunt.
        3. Hungry lambs will vocalize frequently, and later become slow and depressed.
  2. Keep fresh water in buckets. Lactating ewes and does ALWAYS need water.
  3. Make sure hay is available. Lactation requires that the dam has sufficient nutrition. Failure to meet these demands can result in ketosis (metabolic disease resulting from negative energy balance).
  4. Monitor udders.
    1. Is one side fuller than another?
    2. Is teat size adequate? Sometimes ewes and does will have enlarged teats that are difficult to nurse from.
    3. Corrective action:
      1. Milk down enlarged teats by hand and freeze excess colostrum for later use (colostrum can be collected within 24 hours of delivery).
      2. If mastitis (infection in the mammary gland) is a concern, take dam’s temperature (normal is 102.5°F) and contact veterinarian if temperature is elevated or further concerns exist.
  5. When good bonding has occurred (24 to 48 hours), move pair from jug to small mixing pen.
    1. Process lambs and kids before removing them from jug (see “Lamb/Kid Processing” section).
    2. Monitor new pairs in mixing pens to ensure that lambs and kids can find their dam.

Monitor lambs/kids in mixing pens:

  1. Make sure lambs and kids are full and warm.
  2. When disturbed, sleeping lambs and kids should get up, stretch, and go find the dam.
  3. Lambs or kids that stand with back constantly arched are likely cold, hungry, or both.
    1. These lambs or kids need assistance. See “Starvation/Hypothermia Complex” section.
    2. Early attention is the key to lamb or kid survivability.
  4. Monitor ewes and does:
    1. Monitor udders for signs of mastitis.
    2. Observe ewe or doe appetite—feed refusal is first sign of a problem.

Starvation/Hypothermia Complex

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Excessive chilling of lambs or kids or lack of nursing can cause starvation/hypothermia complex. Early diagnosis is imperative.

  • Two pathways for chilling-related health risks:
    • Lamb or kid stops nursing; lack of nutrition results in chilled lamb or kid; chilled lamb or kid does not want to nurse; health status declines.
    • Lamb or kid becomes chilled for any number of reasons; chilled lamb or kid does not want to nurse; continues to become more chilled as a result; health status declines.
  • Signs
    • Not stretching upon standing.
    • Hunched back.
    • Empty gut.
    • Lack of activity or vigor.
  • Corrective action
    • Take temperature of lambs or kids that appear affected. A mild chill is 99°F to 102°F.
      • Feed colostrum via stomach tube.
      • Monitor for return to normal temperature.
      • Return to ewe or doe.
    • Severely chilled lambs or kids (< 99°F)
      • Place them in a warming box until temperature is normal.
      • Feed colostrum via stomach tube. Do not feed colostrum until temperature is above 99°F.
      • Monitor for return to normal temperature.
      • Return to ewe or doe.
  • Lambs and kids must consume 10% of their body weight in colostrum within 24 hours of birth.
    • Lambs and kids raised naturally should acquire this quantity without assistance.
    • Orphaned or unhealthy lambs or kids must receive supplemental colostrum.
    • Colostrum should be fed warm (same as normal body temperature of 102.5°F) via stomach tube or bottle.
      • Colostrum can be collected from ewes and does and frozen for future use.
      • Frozen colostrum should be reheated in warm water.
      • NEVER warm colostrum in microwave.
    • Example feeding quantity:
      • 10 lb. lamb or kid requires 1 lb. colostrum.
      • 1 lb. is equivalent to 16 oz.
      • Lamb or kid requires 16 oz or 480 mL of colostrum within first 24 hours of birth (within first 12 hours is ideal).

Lamb/Kid Processing

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  • Proper identification is essential to good management.
  • Ear tag should be placed between veins of the ear.
  • Ear tag number should be legible and recorded in record book.
  • Lambs and kids should be tagged before leaving the jug.

Selenium Supplementation

  • Many regions are deficient in soil selenium, resulting in low selenium in forages and increased risk of white muscle disease.
  • Supplemental selenium and/or vitamin E can be beneficial in preventing white muscle disease.
    • The medication requires a prescription from veterinarian.
    • Work with veterinarian to determine dosage.
  • Give selenium supplement to lambs or kids prior to their leaving the jug.


  • Removal of the tail on wool-type sheep is an important hygienic practice.
  • Tail should be removed at the end of the caudal fold.
  • Tails are commonly removed by banding, which should take place within 24 to 48 hours of birth.
  • Use elastrator to expand band over tail, release elastrator, and let band roll off in correct position.
  • Spray or pour iodine over band on tail to reduce risk of tetanus.
  • Use fly spray and additional iodine as needed to manage flies and reduce infection risk in hot weather.
  • Tail will fall off after a couple of weeks.


  • Male lambs or kids should be castrated if they are going to be maintained long-term as nonbreeding animals.
  • Castrating should take place within 24 to 48 hours of birth. It can be done later but is more stressful to the lamb or kid.
  • Use same bands for castration and tail docking.
  • Expand band over scrotum.
  • Release elastrator, ensure both testicles are in scrotum before removing band, remove band from elastrator, and verify removal of both testicles.
  • Spray or pour iodine around banded area to reduce risk of tetanus.
  • Use fly spray and additional iodine as needed to manage flies and reduce infection risk in hot weather.

*Many markets in the eastern United States desire lambs and kids that are intact, so this step may not be necessary.


Extension Small Ruminant Specialist
Animal Science

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: Sept. 22, 2021

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