Breeding and Birthing

The key to any breeding practice is to keep accurate records.  Birthing comes naturally.   
                                        Are you looking for information about
                        breeding Barbados Blackbelly sheep?


                                                          Maybe I Can Help!

          My dad always told me to believe about half of what I see and even less of what
          I hear.  Obviously, things are not always as they appear, and these days everyone
          seems to be an expert about everything that has an opinion attached to it.  Dad
          also taught me that if you need advice about something, go to someone who has
          been, not only doing it for a long time, but is also successful at it before taking
          their advice.

          Mike and I do not know everything there is to know, but we have been breeding
          and raising Blackbelly sheep since 1996, we are pretty successful at it, and we are
          willing to share the knowledge that we have.  There is a lot of confusing, incorrect
          information circulating about the Barbados Blackbelly sheep.  We keep a flock of
          about sixty sheep at all times and sometimes more.  We, therefore, feel qualified
          to offer some advice about what we have actually experienced while breeding and
          raising them, in order to help you with your own flock.

          There are many things that we are still waiting to get some results on that we
          won't be passing along to you until we have that information.  One is breeding your
          ewes back after lambing.  A friend of ours recently told us that ewes will breed
          back after eight weeks, provided they are not nursing lambs.  So the idea of
          putting your ewes back in with a ram before they have weaned their lambs
          sounds like an act of futility rather than a good idea.  However, once your lambs are
          weaned, preferably at eight weeks of age if you are planning to breed back that soon,
          you will probably get the results you want.

          We waited ten weeks to put our ewes back with a ram.  One had a lamb at her side.
          We'll let you know how that turned out.  We have bred ewes twice in one year before,
          but it was in spring and fall, months after they had lambed.  Now that I've told you about
          what we are experimenting with, let's go back to the beginning.

          Our experience is that a ewe comes into estrus for the first time as young as four months
          of age, but usually five or six months of age is the rule of thumb.  We never take a
          chance on that.  We always remove weanling ewes from exposure to rams by or before
          four months so we don't have to deal with a baby having a baby and then Reenie (that's
          me) or Popo (that's Mike) have to bottle feed it.  Mike and I are way too busy to do that.
          We have to hire someone to bottle feed, which cuts into our profit, so unless it is a
          lamb out of a bloodline we have to have, we just don't want to do it.  Besides, we are
          firm believers in the fact that a bottle fed ram should be castrated before he reaches
          puberty.  Once that fear of humans is lost by being bottle fed, rams can become very
         demanding and dangerous if you don't comply with their whims.  That also cuts his
         chances of being a breeding animal, literally.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound
         of cure.

          Generally, when ewes are housed together, they begin to cycle together.  They can
          become testy with each other over food, space and any imaginable detail.  You will
          see them butting heads just like the rams do it.  They will paw the ground, back up
          a few paces and then charge one another, much more gently, but just like the boys.
          They may stand head to head for awhile.  Usually, the next clue, is that they will
          mount each other.  Put her with the ram at that time.  After the ewe has been driven
          by the ram for awhile, she will stand still for the ram to mount her. 

          Now, that is the question!  Rams can, will and do breed at four months of age.  Make
          no mistake about it.  Secure your ram weanlings with good fencing or you will have a
          huge surprise in five months.  If a ram lamb breaks through a fence and your reasoning
          is that you are sure he didn't breed any ewes because he was only in there a minute,
          think again.  It takes a ram approximately fifteen seconds to breed a ewe.  Some
          naive folks assume that a ram won't breed his own mother.  That information is false.
          If a ram can breed one ewe in fifteen seconds, then in one minute, he could have bred
          his mother, his grandmother, his sister and his aunt.  SECURE YOUR RAMS!

          Now that's more like it.  Our rule of thumb is this:  if your ewe will be a year old
          before the lamb is born, that is probably a good time to breed her, provided she
          has grown sufficiently to carry lambs to full term and then care for them.  Again,
          Reenie and Popo Mike are very busy.  If she is so immature that she still looks like
          a lamb instead of a ewe, I would recommend waiting until she is a little older.

          The normal gestation for a ewe is 144 to 152 days.  That is kind of complicated, so
          if you figure five months, that will get you pretty close to due date.  Figure five
          months and be prepared a week earlier than that and be willing to wait the long
          week after the due date if you planned for her to be early.  Although, we have
          found that if you are not prepared she will deliver early in most cases.

            MY RAM WON'T BREED
                  It is surprising how many times I encounter  this statement.  It may not be a matter of seeing
            him breed, but rather are there lambs born five months later.    Somebody is doing something
            if the lambs show up.  We have rams here at Lone Star Farm that we have never witnessed
            breeding a ewe, yet they continue to produce lambs year after year.  If you are in a hot
            climate as we are, they are usually smart enough to breed at night when the temperature
            is cooler. 

             We usually run large numbers of rams together, but there are ways of moving
             them in and out of the flock so it is safe for all the rams.  The rams left behind, not getting
             to breed this season, are resentful of the ones who do when they are brought back to the
             ram pasture.  There are several ways to reintroduce them after a leave of absence to be
             with the ewes.  We'll talk more about that later.  Something important to know about rams
             is the fact that they need a buddy when they are not with the ewes.  Left to their own devices,
             rams will either get into trouble, or possibly panic when they can't find their friends.  Fences
             can at times suffer.   The video below was taken after this ram lost sight of his buddy rams
             for less than one minute.  He wasn't paying attention and they went to the barn without him.
             You can imagine what he might do if expected to stay in a pen alone without other sheep
             in sight.  Listen to him snort at the idea of being alone.




          About a week before she delivers the ewe will pass a mucous discharge that you may
          or may not witness.  Her milk bag should look like it has milk in it, her teats will be
          enlarged but they will be flaccid.  As the ewe nears the delivery day itself, her teats
          will become firm.  We pay particular attention to her when the teats point outward,
          they have turned pink in color and her vulva becomes flaccid and pink.  Birthing is
          imminent at that point.  Generally, she will be nesting (digging) in the hay or on the
          ground, she will be very restless, moving from place to place.  Or when she has
          finally settled on a place to lamb, she will be standing up, lying down, standing up
          again and digging (pawing the ground).  When she begins to have contractions that
          are strong enough that you can visibly see her pushing, look at your watch.  This
          should not go on for more than an hour before you do a physical exam to help
          position the lamb if necessary.  Honestly, I rarely let more than about thirty minutes
          pass if I want to ensure the birth of a live lamb.  I know lots of people will disagree,
          but I'm going by personal experiences with many different types of animals.  If the
          mother is 
already in labor trying to deliver the baby, you will not be helping too soon. 
          If you 
wait, however, you may end up with a dead lamb, or two.  I have never had a
reject her lamb/lambs because I helped her deliver.  Most of the time, the ewe
  will deliver alone, unattended, without needing any help whatsoever.  That usually 
  happens at night.  Pay close attention to a ewe trying to lamb during the day.  That
  is not necessarily the "norm".

          PULLING A LAMB
          Have someone stand in front of the ewe holding her head.  Wash your hands, put
          on a latex surgical OB glove (one that goes to the shoulder), grease up your glove with
          KY jelly and proceed to enter the uterus gently, otherwise the ewe may jump over
          the head of your helper.  The size of your hands determines who is the holder and
          who is the helper.  The smaller hands fit better.

          If the ewe has been pushing for awhile and has not produced a lamb, it stands to reason
          that she may not be dilated.  The cervix will be a tight fit for your hand to get through.
          Make your hand as skinny as possible and gently continue.  Once you are passed the cervix
          and into the uterus, there will be more room to work.  But remember, you will be
          working blind (you cannot see what you are doing) and with one hand tied behind your
          back (only one hand fits inside).  You'll have to ignore the fact that the cervix is cutting
          off the circulation to your hand and work as quickly as possible.  If you start to get
          a little squeamish at this point, what will usually help you to get beyond it is the
          fact that the lamb, and possibly the ewe, could die without your help.  That makes
          heroes out of us every time.

          The lambs are on the ewe's right side.  Every time you have to pull a lamb, because of
          the non-sterile environment, it is a good idea to give your ewe a full round of antibiotics
          for several days after.  If you find the legs of the lambs entangled, feel one leg from the
          body down to the foot.  If you can fold the leg into a "U" shape, it is a front leg.  If the
          leg folds into a "Z" formation, it is a hind leg.  This will give you information about
          whether the lamb is coming head first (which is normal), or rear first (though it is not as
          good for the lamb to be born this way, it is an easy delivery for you and the ewe once
          the legs are untangled from the sibling).  Check to see if the spine is on top or on the
          bottom of the lamb.  If it is on the bottom, the lamb will have to be turned over or it
          will not fit through the birth canal without serious injury.  Sometimes it is only one lamb
          that is just too large for the ewe to deliver alone, or perhaps it is coming spine first.  If
          you enter the birth canal and find a large solid object and no feet, the lamb is coming
          doubled over spine first and now you have a real problem.  You must push the lamb out
          of the birth canal back into the uterus to turn it, so it is presenting head first preferably.
          Needless to say this is very painful for the ewe.  I once had a ewe pass out because the
          pain was so great.  Tell your helper to hold on tight before you begin the procedure.
          Once the lamb is in position, try to loop a small cotton rope, that has been soaked in a
          betadine solution, around one foot and then the other so you will be pulling both feet at
          the same time with equal pressure, pulling towards the ground, not straight out.  The
          lamb will be very slippery and so will your greased glove which makes the cotton rope

          Okay, for those of you whose palms are beginning to sweat, I think its time to ease the
          tension a bit with a tale of a funny experience that Mike and I had birthing lambs.  We
          apparently had twin lambs whose legs had become entangled and therefore were making
          things difficult for mom.  I could feel one head and body, but six legs.  To make sure
          that I was pulling on legs that went to the first lamb in line, I thought I should feel from
          the head down to the feet.  As my fingers moved across the face coming down towards
          the chest, suddenly the lamb began sucking on my finger while still inside its protective
          sack.  It scared me so bad, I jerked my hand out of the poor ewe who almost jumped
          over Mike's head knocking him backwards off his bucket.  We eventually delivered two
          live lambs.  We are still laughing about that experience years later.  Okay, back to the
          business at hand.
          Once the lamb/lambs are born and settled, keep an eye on mom.  She should be
          contented after she passes the placenta.  If she acts restless, or if she is dripping blood
          from the vulva, or if she refuses to claim her lambs, she could be in trouble.  Many things
          could be happening at this point.  She could still be having small contractions to pass the
          placenta or another lamb.  Usually, after the placenta is passed the cramping stops so she
          will then accept her lambs.  Always watch to be sure the ewe has passed the placenta.
          She could have a damaged uterus from the traumatic birthing, or she could be trying to
          have a third lamb.  With all the drama and trauma from having the first one or two, the
          next lamb could be dead, so prepare yourself for that outcome.  There is nothing more
          exhilarating though, than helping her deliver a triplet that is alive.

          You may ask why I haven't suggested calling a veterinarian by now.  I can't even count
          the number of times that I have done just that to hear the vet tell me he's hours away
          and I'll have to do it myself, or "I don't work on sheep."  You may hear that many times
          before you find your prince (veterinarian), hopefully before your ewe needs him.


          This can get a little tricky and dangerous if you are not careful how you do this.  The
          other rams will know what the breeding ram has been up to by scent.  I don't know if
          they are actually capable of being resentful that he got to breed ewes and they didn't,
          or if they just don't recognize him because of his scent after being with the ladies.
          Nevertheless, the first rule of thumb is never put a breeding ram back into a pasture with
          more than one ram in it.  You will need to gradually introduce him to the group to keep
          him, or them, from being injured.  Trust me on this, they will fight.  If you have a small
          paddock, or even a stall to put him in with another ram, that will work.  The smaller, the
          better, as they will have less room to backup and ram one another.  I have seen brothers
          who grew up together come back together and almost kill one another over this, so
          please pay close attention.  You cannot put a breeding ram back into a pasture with a
          multitude of other rams.  They will all gang up on him.  They will butt him head on, from
          the rear and from both sides simultaneously.  He won't have a chance.  Put the breeding
          ram in a neutral pen (or paddock) first, then bring one of your other rams into the pen
          with him.  We want the second ram to be a little unsure of himself by bringing him into
          a neutral area that is not so familiar to him.  Let's get him off guard a little bit, then all
          of his attention won't be focused on the breeding ram.  They will sniff each other like
          they have never known each other before today.  Ridiculous, I know, but that's how
          they are.  After they are settled with each other, which may take up to a few days, but
          usually only a few hours, bring in another ram from the ram pasture.  Now you have three
          in the pen.  Since the second ram has buddied up with the breeding ram, that will
          leave the third ram wondering just whose side he's on.  Keep them guessing and give
          them plenty of hay to distract them.  Note:  I said hay, not grain.  We don't want to give 
          them something that is so yummy it will cause a fight.  Think of calling three five-year-old
          children in for lunch.  If you set a sandwich in front of them, they will usually eat 
          without incident, but if you throw twenty pieces of candy on the table, the fight is
          on.   Just offer hay, please.  Let the three rams become acquainted again.  Then, bring
          in three more rams from the pasture.  Let those six get reacquainted.  Now you have
          six rams who more or less know each other.  You can now take your gang of six rams
          and put them back into the ram pasture with the rest of the houligans.  Now, if they
          are determined to fight, you have equaled the playing field and their game is more
          even.  Keep an eye on them for awhile just to be sure things are working out.

          Let's say you are breeding three rams to three separate groups of ewes.  When breeding
          time is over, put those three rams together in the pen.  Let them settle, then bring in
          a group of three more from the pasture.  It  shouldn't take but a day or so for them to
          buddy up again.  The small paddock is used to keep them from backing up fifty feet then
          charging each 
other with the intent to do bodily harm.  Also, we have found that if you
          start this procedure in the evening, by dark they will go to sleep.  When they wake up,
          having spent the night together, everyone's scent has mingled.  Now we are one big
  happy family of rams again.  We have kept as many as twenty-five rams together like
  this with no incidents. 



         We hope you will find this information helpful and that it will clarify any erroneous
          information that has been floating around in cyber space.  If you have questions,
contact Becky.  Call (936) 372-3332 or email


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Barbados Blackberry Sheep