There’s a lot of good, complete information on lambing available. At Shasta Ranch, we found information from Ontario Canada’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, to be concise and helpful. The 3 documents below take you through lambing and caring for the lamb – and you can ignore the part about docking tails. Tail docking isn’t part of the breed standard for St. Croix sheep. The haired tail doesn’t accumulate manure or body fluids the way woolly tails can so fly strike is far less of an issue.
Some experienced shepherds have shared helpful tips learned over the years as well. If the lamb has a long or wet umbilical cord, or one that is still oozing blood, dental floss is a clean, easily available ‘string’ to have in your lambing kit. Tie the cord off a short distance from the body (2-3”), tightly enough to stop any oozing of blood, but not so tight that the dental floss cuts the cord off at the tie. Clip the cord and the ends of the floss just beyond the tie.
Cords, tied and cut, or already short and beginning to dry, should be dipped in antiseptic solution to prevent ‘navel ill’ or ‘joint ill’ – a bacterial infection that enters through the navel, and into the body, making a young lamb very ill, often with leg joint swelling and pain. A common disinfectant is 7% Iodine. It kills bacteria quickly, and after it dries, forms a protective barrier, offering some residual antiseptic protection. But 7% iodine can be hard to find due to regulations on its sale. It is also irritating to the skin around the navel, causing more skin openings for bacteria to invade. It can be messy to use, too.
For something more available, less irritating to lamb skin, less messy, and similarly effective at disinfecting the navel, research on calves gives some ideas. The most commonly available is 2% chlorhexidine, a disinfectant found to be as effective as 7% iodine. The downside is that it may not assist with drying the cord as much as iodine does. For more information, see Navel Dips for Lambs and Kids.
Good luck with your lambing. It is one of the best parts of raising sheep or one of the hardest, depending on how things go, but definitely one of the most exciting!