Where you lamb, shed or pasture, can depend on a number of factors including:
- the breed of sheep you have,
- the type of land your sheep are kept on,
- how much indoor space you have,
- the size of your flock,
- & the weather at the time of, or shortly before, lambing.
There are farmers who will always lamb outside, others will religiously lamb indoors and the rest will decide based on the aforementioned factors – a particularly wet/dry winter for example can have a huge impact on where farmers prefer to keep their heavily pregnant ewes.
Personally I will be lambing indoors this year, but this is simply because I have a smaller flock therefore lamb/ewe losses impact my farm heavily so I want to keep a close eye on them, I also have the indoor space available to use and my sheep are kept on marshland, which isn’t particularly lamb friendly or accessible. I also want an easier life and lambing in a semi-warm, mostly dry barn is far preferable to trekking across the marshes in all sorts of weather.
There are however pros and cons to both lambing indoors and lambing outside, therefore to help you decide what would be best for you and your flock I discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the two below…
Lambing Outside – the Benefits
- More Space – the likelihood is that if you are lambing outside, you will have more room in your field than in your barn and this can be beneficial for a number of reasons. One of the huge benefits is that outside a ewe will be more able to display the natural behaviour of taking herself away from the group slightly to give birth. This will mean she will be less stressed because she will not feel crowded. The other ewes are also less likely to ‘steal’ her lamb(s) away from her, which can be pretty common in heavily pregnant ewes (then just to make the farmer’s life all the more difficult they will refuse to mother their own, don’t you just love sheep?). The space will also keep things fresh in the open air, meaning infectious diseases will have a harder time spreading because the animals are not penned up in close proximity of one another.
- Natural Environment – there are those that will argue, why mess with nature? The sheep are happy outside, they live outside for the rest of the year and why should lambing be any different? It is after all their natural habitat. Sheep outside are less likely to suffer from respiratory disease and lambs that are born in all weathers will not need to be gradually introduced to the outside world in the way that indoor lambed youngsters would.
Lambing Outside – the Drawbacks
- When There Are Complications – any complications, illnesses or weaknesses witnessed during pregnancy, birth or shortly after will probably lead to you bringing a sheep inside. The warmth, lack of draughts and the fact that it is remarkably easier to monitor your poorly sheep when it is inside, can only benefit a sick ewe or lamb. If your sheep are already indoors, you do not need to worry about moving the animal and it is more likely that you will have spotted the issue in the first place. If things really turn nasty and you have to call a vet in, the large majority of farm vets will want you to have the animal indoors before they visit and again, if they are inside already you’re making less work for yourself.
- Record Keeping Can Be Tricky – whenever there are births or deaths, or medicine is given, farmers must legally keep a written record of this. This is tricky enough in large flocks but it is even harder to keep track when you are outside and several ewes may have lambed at the same time or you find a dead lamb without its mum in the field. Usually indoors, with the restricted space and movement, ewes and lambs are easier to match up and births/deaths are less likely to be missed.
Lambing Indoors – the Benefits
- Lack of Predators – bringing your flock in for lambing means that their lambs are less vulnerable to predators such as foxes, badgers and birds of prey.
- Resting Pasture – lambing indoors can give you time to rest your ground before you put the ewes and lambs back outside to enjoy their first taste of fresh grass.
- Artificial Light – ewes do not always lamb at the most convenient times and head torches can only provide so much vision during a lambing that takes place outside in the middle of the night. Artificial light can make it safer and easier for you to assist the ewe if necessary, or at least keep an eye on everything.
- A More Comfortable Farmer – if I am entirely honest this was what drew me most to indoor lambing. My current building is a re-purposed Nissen Hut and my plan is to have a large pen in the middle of the building, then set up mothering pens on one side for those with newborn lambs. There is then a small wooden hut (a glorified shed) with a light and a bench in, then a smaller shed beside it with a toilet and sink in. Over the next few weeks I will add a camp bed, kettle, radio and heater to keep me company during my late night observations. Now while I will not be enjoying the 5 star luxury available at say, the Ritz, I will be dry, warm-ish, full of hot cocoa and be able to see what I am doing, and that for me is a far cry from what I would be experiencing if I was to lamb outside.
Lambing Indoors – the Drawbacks
- It’s Not Cheap – building or renting a barn is a substantial investment, however even if you have this facility in place, costs will most certainly rise when you bring your sheep indoors. Firstly, you have the added labour of moving the flock, combined with the labour of cleaning out and feeding the sheep, then add feed costs as your flock will not have any grass to nibble on and don’t forget about the cost of bedding (with the price of straw at the moment that is a cost we could all do without). Side Note – if you do not have any buildings that you could use to lamb in but would like to be sheltered, perhaps look into poly-tunnels, they are rising in popularity for lambing.
Overall you will need to base your decision, of whether you choose to lamb indoors or outside, not only on the points discussed above but also on the breed of sheep you have, your individual ewes, your personal preferences, the health of your ewes and lambs, the land you keep your sheep on, the weather you experience shortly before and during lambing, the space you have indoors and the size of your flock. I do however hope that the aforementioned benefits and drawbacks of lambing indoors/outdoors offer you some assistance when it comes to making up your mind about where you choose to lamb. Good luck with whatever you decide! And try to enjoy yourself!