In just a few short months, we’ll be welcoming our next arrival of lambs on the farm. We lamb pretty early in the spring, usually March or April (although occasionally there is the odd ewe here and there that waits until May to lamb!).
We’re fortunate to have access to a 30×96’ hoop house, which is where our pregnant ewes and breeding rams stay all winter until the ewes are ready to lamb. It’s nice and warm and keeps everybody out of the elements so we don’t have to worry about inclement weather when the day for lambs arrives.
Last year, we built lambing jugs that would allow our lambs and ewes to bond after the lambing process had finished. My enterprising husband came up with a unique design for the jugs that meant the panels could be used for other purposes later on.
In addition to using our lambing jugs for lambing, we also used them to quarantine sick and injured sheep later on in the season. They’re great for trimming hooves and administering medication, as it makes it far easier to handle flighty sheep.
We also used them to make loading chutes when it was time to move the flock to new pastures and to load the market lambs into the stock trailer.
I’ll tell you all about how we built them in a little bit – and give you detailed plans to follow so you can make them for yourself – but in the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about lambing jugs.
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What Are Lambing Jugs?
Lambing jugs are simply small pens that are meant to house ewes and their lambs during and after lambing. A jug is a small, separate space where a mother and her lambs can bond yet still remain close to the flock.
Why Do You Need Lambing Jugs?
Using lambing jugs is the best way to strengthen the ewe-lamb connection while keeping everyone safe.
If you’ve ever lambed with a large flock of sheep before, you are probably already aware of the fact that other sheep can be downright nosy (and irritating to a laboring ewe!) during the lambing process and shortly after. Although we haven’t dealt with this before, I’ve also read about dry ewes or those that have lost their babies trying to “kidnap” freshly-born lambs from their mothers!
This is why giving everybody some space during lambing is so essential.
Also, you’ve got to remember that new lambs are tiny, sopping wet babies that have left a warm, nourishing environment for a harsh life outdoors. It needs to work hard to maintain its overall body temperature and to get some colostrum – those need to be its primary (and only) concerns. This can be stressful if it has a hard time keeping up with Mama as she ambles around the barn. A lambing jug can keep everyone confined during those so-important first few days.
Now, when it comes to lambing jugs, you have a few different options. You can use cut hog panels (or cattle panels) to create a temporary pen. You can also build separate stalls in a barn where lambs and ewes can go to rest.
For us, building panels out of wood made the most sense. We wanted a semi-permanent solution that could be used for other purposes, helping to justify its overall expense. The lambing jugs I’ll teach you how to make also can be disassembled and stored flat in separate segments, reducing a lot of the space and hassle that would otherwise be required.
How Many Lambing Jugs Should I Build?
Ideally, you should have one lambing jug for every seven to ten ewes in the flock. The closer in date your lambs are scheduled to be born, the more conservative I would be with that number – shoot for one jug for every seven ewes rather than every ten.
Your jugs should be around 4×4 feet but ideally larger.
You may hear talk of “nursery” pens as opposed to lambing jugs. Of course, you don’t necessarily need both lambing jugs and nursery pens. You can always use one system for both purposes provided that the pen is much larger, since they’ll be in there for much longer.
Some people also use mixing pens when it comes time to lamb, too. If you’re housing everyone in a smaller barn, I don’t think these are quite as necessary – particularly not for smaller (less than 100-head) sized flocks. The idea of a mixing pen is to get groups combined into more manageable groups as they leave the lambing shed. Again, probably not a necessity if you don’t have an extremely large flock.
Where to Buy Lambing Jugs
You can purchase lambing panels from some of the following websites:
Of course, you can always just buy cattle or hog panels like these and build a makeshift pen, too, if necessary, as a stop gap solution.
How to Build Your Own Lambing Jugs
We found that building our own lambing jugs was far easier (and less expensive) than trying to fabricate them out of hog panels or purchase premade ones from the store.
I will give you instructions on how to build these below but I do have a few recommendations before we get started.
The instructions I’ll give you below call for eye bolts to hold the rods of steel in place. If you want to save some money, you can use pipe hangers (or pipe straps). This is significantly less expensive but does pose a few challenges. For instance, using eye bolts will allow you to make lateral adjustments for the corners. If things don’t happen to line up, you can push the bolt in and out. Eye bolts are also better suited for uneven or rocky ground where these kinds of situations are more common.
However, on level ground, pipe hanger or pipe straps might be quicker. Just a thought that you’ll want to mull over before deciding.
Also – don’t go cheap on the steel. Use cold rolled steel rather than rebar. Rebar could work in a pinch, but it is going to bend easier and isn’t quite as rigid. It also has ribs on it that will get caught when you’re trying to move the panels. You can still use it but it’s going to slow you down – and when you’re dealing with a lambing ewe, that’s really not something you want to have to deal with.
These lambing jugs are meant to be assembled on soft ground. Do not attempt to set them up on concrete or any other hard floor – the plans don’t work since the idea here is to drive the steel into the ground to anchor the jugs in place.
Finally, all dimensions for these instructions are given using rough cut lumber – it’s a true dimension. If you use planned lumber you will need to adjust the measurements accordingly.
- Approximately 80 lineal feet 1″x4″
- 22 feet of 2″x4″
- 12 feet of ½” cold rolled steel
- 2” exterior deck screws
- 24 1/2 inch by 4 inch eye bolts
- Circular saw or chop saw
- Table saw
- Cordless drill
Time to Build:
- 45 minutes
Cost to Build:
- Around $50
- These instructions are to make 1 6″x4″ lambing pen. You’ll repeat this process based on the number of pens you want to make (we have several). To start, cut the 2″x4″ into 32-inch lengths (you’ll need 8 of these pieces total). You can do this using a circular saw or chop saw. Four of these 32-inch pieces you will keep as 2″x4″s. The other four you will need to rip in half with a table saw to make 2″x2″s. These 2″x2″s will serve as the corners (or end pieces) of the 4 ft panels. They will also serve as centerpieces – each panel will have a 2″x2″ in the center to stop the sheep from flexing the sides when they push out on the panels.
- Cut the 1″x4″s. You will need 10 boards at 6 ft and 10 at 4 ft for a 6ft panel.
- Lay the 2″x4″s out on the ground. Position them so that there are two of them six feet apart with a 2″x2″ in the center.
- Screw your 6 ft 1x4s. One will go across the top and one will go across the bottom of the laid-out 2″x4″s.
- Check to make sure you are square.
- Space out the other three 6 ft 1x4s, equally spaced between the two you already attached. They should be about 3.5 inches apart. Why 3.5 inches? We found this was the best measurement to prevent young lambs from crawling through the gaps and Mama from sticking her head between the boards.
- Repeat this process to build another six-foot panel. You’ll repeat the process again for four-foot panels except the end pieces will be made out of 2″x2″s instead of 2″x4″s.
- Next, take all of your panels and on the 2″x2″s, drill a ¼ inch hole through the center of the end piece. You’ll drill three holes in total – one at the top, one in the middle, and one at the bottom. These are pilot holes for your eye bolts.
- Repeat this process on your six-foot panels.
- Insert the eye bolts.
- When you set the panels up, refer to the pictures I’ve included for an idea of how to position them. Essentially, you’ll use the 2″x2″ and 2″x4″ to make a corner and the eyebolts from both panels will overlap each other. Drive your rods through the eye bolts and hammer them into the ground.
- If you are assembling multiple jugs, you can drill extra holes in the 6 ft panels and put other eyebolts in, facing the opposite direction. This panel can be hooked to another panel of an adjacent jug so you don’t have to build a whole separate panel. Plus, we found that hooking multiple hugs together made the whole unit stronger.
- We finished assembling our lambing jugs with these watering buckets – they fit nicely on the corners. We built our own feeding troughs but these are some good options if you’d rather just go the quick route.
Here are some photos to give you an idea of the process:
Lambing Jugs vs. Grafting Crates
When you start researching lambing jugs, you might hear the term “grafting crates” used interchangeably.
They are more or less the same thing, although grafting technically refers to a different process. Grafting is the process of bonding ewes to lambs that are not their own (usually lambs that have been orphaned or rejected by their own mother).
A crate or jug can prove to be useful in this scenario as you will likely need to halter the ewe or otherwise restrain her to get the lamb to nurse.
How to Use Your Lambing Jugs
Whether you buy lambing jugs or build them according to the instructions above, I highly recommend that you choose a portable option.
The reason for this is that sheep can be unpredictable. It’s hard to tell where, exactly, an ewe will decide to lamb – and while we’ve always been able to usher an ewe and her lamb into a jug after lambing, it’s not a bad idea to have a system in place in case that is not possible.
You can set up your lambing jugs inside an existing barn, along a fenceline, or even along an outdoor wall or free-standing, if you trust in the weather conditions when you go to the lamb.
Otherwise, usher your ewe into the jug when she’s getting close, enticing her with fresh water, bedding, hay, and if necessary, grain. Monitor her while she’s in the jug and provide lambing assistance as needed.
After the lambs are born, you should leave the mother and her young in the jug for three or four days. We always wait until the lambs are a few days old so that we can also administer CDT vaccines, trim Mama’s hooves, and band males all at the same time, too. Otherwise, it can be a nightmare trying to chase them down.
What Other Equipment Do I Need for Lambing?
Other than the lambing jugs mentioned above, you’ll probably want to shear your ewes at least two weeks prior to lambing. Whether you choose to just crutch them (shearing around their udders and reproductive organs) or fully shear them is up to you, but it’s a good idea from a management and sanitation standpoint.
Worming is also a good idea before lambing, but make sure the product you use is safe for pregnant ewes. The same goes for administering CDT boosters.
I also recommend having the following items on hand in case you need to assist with lambing as well as for caring for young lambs immediately after they are born:
- Latex gloves/plastic breeder sleeves
- Castration bands and banding gun (if you choose to do this)
- Syringes and needles
- Surgical scissors
- OB lube
- Colostrum, milk replacer, and bottles (just in case)
- Feeding troughs – this is a good option and so is this one
- Water buckets
Beyond that, everything you need for lambing is what you already have – an ewe with good motherly instincts.
Good luck, and happy lambing season!
What has your lambing experience looked like so far? Let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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