Understanding the winter lambing and kidding season

By Erastus Ngaruka|

With the commencement of the winter season, small stock (goats and sheep) farmers have a big task at hand of ensuring that this lambing (sheep birth) and kidding (goat birth) season progresses well in order to potentially achieve their production targets.

Generally, animals’ breeding activities take place during seasons or times most favorable to their bodily functions and wellbeing. For example, mating commences during times of plentiful forage resources amongst others, and this is because the nutritional status of the animal has a direct influence on its breeding activities or conception (the better the nutritional status the higher the chances of conception).

Well-maintained animals with good body conditions will have higher reproductive performance (e.g., libido and fertility) than those with poor body conditions. The current lambing/kidding season is resulting from December/January mating.

Other lambing/kidding seasons include September/October and March/April, which in turn can also be mating seasons. It is common to farmers that five months after mating they should expect ewes (female sheep) and does (female goat) to commence with parturition (giving birth).

This is the most demanding stage of the season where farmers must prepare to provide the necessary support to the ewes/does and ensure lambs and kids’ survival. It is very important to ensure that the animals are not exposed to risky conditions associated with or that will compromise the health statuses of the animals, and that they are adequately fed throughout the season.

Most lambs/kids’ mortalities during winter result from cold stress, hunger, and parasite infestation amongst others. Some of the health conditions in smallstock are predisposed by unhygienic kraal environments or conditions, filled with parasites, dust, dirt and harmful objects.

Most of the times lambs and kids are kept in the kraals for long, and thus, directly exposed to these conditions. Dust inhalation and cold stress can result in lung infection (Pasteurellosis/Pneumonia), and eye infections when blown into the eyes. Pasteurellosis is a respiratory disease caused by several species of bacteria (e.g. P. multocida & P. haemolytica) that inhabits the respiratory system (lungs) of the animal.

The disease is predisposed by stress factors such as cold and dusty conditions, and even during transportation amongst others. The symptoms include, fast breathing, coughing, running nose, loss of appetite, and at post-mortem examination, the lungs are attached to the rib cage.

Pasteurellosis can be treated with the common antibiotics (e.g. Terramycin, Alamycin, etc), and can be prevented by vaccinating the animals (young and adult), and proper management of the stress factors such as keeping the kraal environment clean.

Another major problem is the internal and external parasite infestation. The most problematic external parasites attacking lambs/kids during winter are the mites, lice and fleas. The common signs of infestation by these parasites are irritation (restless, head shaking, scratching or itching), hair loss, and anaemia (loss of blood) amongst others.

These parasites can be controlled or eradicated by dipping or spraying the animals with anti-parasitic remedies. Injectable solutions (e.g., Dectomax) can also be used. Internal parasites should also be controlled either with oral or injectable solutions as well.

During winter, extra care against the cold is needed. A shelter or a housing structure can be constructed especially for the most vulnerable animals to protect or keep them warm. One of the cheapest and simplest practices is to dig a trench in the ground to keep the lambs/kids overnight but this can be a health risky because the trench can be dusty (causing lung and infections) and suffocating if not well made.

Generally, animals generate or increase their body heat through metabolism, therefore it is advisable to ensure that your goats and sheep have enough roughage feed (e.g., Lucerne or grass hay) all the time during winter in the evening. In conclusion, the survival and performance of your animals depends on your timely management interventions.

This starts with the preparation of the breeding stock for mating, caring during gestation and parturition, and caring for the young until at weaning. This includes a supply of enough feed and water throughout, carry out all necessary vaccinations, protection against adverse environmental conditions, and maintaining a clean farm/kraal environment.

All necessary equipment and remedies must be acquired in advance in order to provide first aid during complications. For example, antibiotics for bacterial illnesses or conditions such as, retain placentas, diarrhea, eye infections, and navel ill amongst others should be available all the time.

– Erastus Ngaruka is Technical Advisor for Livestock & Rangeland at the Agricultural Bank of Namibia.