Each spring, novice shepherds everywhere wait anxiously for their first lambs to be born. They wonder whether they'll need to help the laboring ewe or save the weak lamb. They worry about whether they'll do it right. And they worry about whether they'll have all the supplies on hand that they need.
At some point, every one of them asks, "What's in your lambing kit?"
So this year, as I was cleaning and restocking my lambing kit in preparation for my own flock's lambing season to begin, I thought I'd write down what I keep in there, and why.
Paper towels: To wipe out the lamb's nostrils and mouth if necessary, and to wipe your own hands when needed. I used to keep a regular terrycloth towel in the lambing kit as well, but I found that I never used it. I always reach for the paper towels instead. These go in the bottom part of the tote to keep them clean and dry.
Lamb puller: I don't have to use it very often, but when I need it, this is a fantastic tool. Once you get it positioned properly, it allows you to pull a stuck lamb far more easily. I clean mine thoroughly between uses and store it in clean ziploc bags in the bottom of the tote, to keep it clean.
Sheep care book: There are several books that are good, but this is the one I keep in my lambing kit. In case of lambing trouble, it has clear diagrams of the different possible lamb presentations and directions on how to deal with them. I don't need to refer to it much anymore, but it was a great confidence builder when I was less experienced. I keep this in a ziploc bag in the bottom of the tote to keep it clean and dry.
Ball of yarn: In a ziploc bag to keep it clean. I usually wait until lambs are a few days old before I ear tag them. Meanwhile, if the twins are so similar that I can't tell them apart, I tie a piece of yarn around the neck of one to identify which is which. I wouldn't do this if my lambs were loose in a pasture where they could get the collar caught on something and strangle themselves, but my lambs are in small paddocks until they are at least a few days old.
Ear tags and ear tag applicator: I use Snapp tags for lambs, as they don't weigh the little ears down very much. Later in the summer, when the lambs have grown a bit, they get their adult ear tags.
A few extra ziploc bags: Just in case. You never know when something might leak or spill. It's nice to have a few clean extras you can grab in a hurry.
Flashlight: With fresh batteries.
Head lamp: With fresh batteries. A flashlight is good if you're just checking on the sheep at night. But if something comes up where you actually have to DO something with a sheep in the dark, you're going to want to have both hands free. Head lamps are great in this situation.
Iodine: The strong, 7% kind. For putting on lamb's navels. Keep this in a ziploc bag and don't spill it on yourself. The fumes will sting your eyes if you get it on your clothes. It will stain clothes, hands, and just about anything else.
Iodine navel cup: I've used several types, and this is by far the best, sturdiest, least messy one.
Betadine: For cleaning my hands and the lamb puller before assisting with a difficult birth. I keep both Betadine Solution and Betadine Surgical Scrub on hand
Latex gloves: To wear in case I have to do an internal exam or help with a birth. I put several in a ziploc bag in my tote, and keep the rest of the box of gloves in a cupboard where they will stay clean.
OB lube: To lube up my hand for internal exams, if a lamb is stuck or positioned wrong. This is the brand I use, though I only buy it in much smaller quantities. It would take me forever to use a gallon!
Baby Lamb Strength: Each lamb gets a couple of squirts of this liquid to boost their vitamin levels and give them a good start. (I can't find a direct link to this product, but it's available here.)
Watch: So I know if that ewe's labor is REALLY taking a long time (so she might need help) or if I'm just impatient. Since I can't wear a watch in case of doing an internal exam, I just fasten the watch to the tote, so I always know where it is.
Cell phone: To call my husband out from the house to help me in case of a really difficult birth, or if there was an extreme case, to phone the vet. Program in your vet's number, and if you have a sheep mentor who is willing to take your calls and talk you through any problems, program in their number too.
Scissors: For cutting twine, etc.
Lamb scale: To weigh the newborn lambs, for my records. This one is very convenient and dependable. The rest of the year, when I'm not using it to weigh lambs, I use it to weigh my wool and fleeces.
Lamb sling: I DON'T use a lamb sling. I have one that I bought (it's similar to, but not exactly like the one in the link), but it's too big for newborn Icelandics. So I use a clean loop of baling twine to hoist the lamb for weighing. I pass the loop under the lamb's belly, so that it comes up like long purse handles on either side. Then I reach down between the lamb's front legs, pull that loop of twine forward, give it one twist to keep it in place, then pull it over the lamb's head. I put each of the three loops (one on each side of the lamb and one behind his head) over the hook of my lamb scale, and hoist the little guy. Hint: Do this BEFORE you put the iodine on the lamb's navel, or you'll get iodine on yourself!
Emery board: Occasionally a lamb will be born with a tooth that is so sharp that the mother ewe won't let it nurse. A few quick swipes of an emery board makes nursing much more successful for everybody!
Notebook and pens: To write down each lamb's info as it is born: parents, date of birth, gender, color, weight, number of lambs born, whether it was an assisted birth, ear tag number. I think you should write your lambing notes in a notebook with a beautiful sheep on the cover! You can find some in my CafePress shop.
List of due dates for all the ewes: So I know who's due on what days.
List of potential names for all the new lambs: Ear tag numbers don't stick in my head, so I always name all my lambs too, so I can keep track of who is who better. As each lamb is born, I pick a name from my list that seems to suit her.
Camera: For taking photos or video of the newborns.
Other things that are often necessary during lambing season, but which I don't actually carry around in my lambing kit:
Milk replacer: I've used a few different brands. Currently I use Sav-A-Lamb. Get one that dissolves instantly in water, to make your life easier!
Colostrum: Each spring I milk colostrum from several of my best ewes, freeze it in ice cube trays, then store the frozen cubes in ziploc. That way I always have some back-up in stock, in case for any reason I suspect a newborn lamb has not gotten enough from her own mother.
Pritchard teats and bottles: These used to fit on any standard soda bottle, until the major soft drink brands changed their bottles. Now each spring, I end up drinking a couple of six packs of generic Food Lion brand orange and grape sodas, to stock up on bottles that still actually fit the Pritchard teats.
Udderly EZ Milker: This takes a little getting used to, but it's a HUGE help in getting colostrum or milk from a sheep.
Stomach tube: I have one, but no matter how many times I look at the diagrams and read the instructions and have other shepherds explain to me exactly how to use it, I can NEVER seem to get the tube to go into the lamb's esophagus rather than its trachea. Other people use these successfully, but I just can't get the knack of it, and I stress the lamb out with my repeated failed attempts. So now I rarely risk using it. If a lamb is too weak to suck, I warm him up and then trickle tiny amounts of colostrum into his mouth with a small syringe.
Penicillin: If I have to do an internal exam on a sheep to help free a stuck lamb, I give the ewe a shot of penicillin afterward, to ward off infection because of any germs I may have introduced.