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Recognizing a Difficult Lambing

Nature brings most lambs from the womb into this world with ease, filling lambing pens with new life. Ewes care for their young, bonding with them, loving them, and nourishing them. On occasion though, what should be straight forward and simple becomes entangled, even backwards at times, with lambs choosing new ways to enter the world. There are a few things you can look for to recognize difficult lambing situations.

Signs of an Abnormal Birth Position

  1. The ewe shows signs of being in labor, isolating herself from the flock and pawing the ground, but her bag of water does not present itself.
  2. The ewe strains and pushes with no progress.
  3. The laboring ewe has become exhausted and can no longer push.
  4. You do not see two front hooves and a nose but rather see back feet or a tail.
Normal Lambing Birth-presentation
Normal Lambing Presentation

Normal Lambing Presentations

Mother nature would like the lambs to arrive front feet first, almost as though they are diving head first into the world. The nose follows the two extended front feet. This position allows mom to push the lamb out on her own with ease.


Abnormal Lambing Presentations

There are a handful of abnormal positions that lambs may end up in. Some are easily detected and visible without doing an internal exam. Others require that you lube up and go in to determine what position the lamb is in. (It is always helpful to have a mentor with you when doing your first internal check.) On our farm, we have only had a few lambs that chose to enter the world back feet first, and a couple that entered with one front leg back and one forward. We were able to assist in these situations, gently pulling to help the lamb come into the world. We have yet to experience any of the more complicated presentations. I have found it helpful to have these diagrams on my barn wall as I puzzle through those difficult births.

Lambing Birth-presentations


This time of year, with our first ewe due to deliver in 6 weeks, I like to review these lambing positions. It helps me to be familiar with what normal births look like so that I can recognize those that are abnormal. But no matter how “ready” I feel at the start of lambing, when it has drawn to a close, I am astounded at the learning curve each year brings. I take note of each birth, each detail, the symptoms, the process, the work we did. At the end of each lambing season, my knowledge has grown, my instincts have become refined and sharpened, and I realize that I can do more than I ever thought possible. I can hold death in my arms and I can sit back and bask in the glory of the delicate miracle of birth at the same time.

I leave you today with this video I recently found on lamb positions. I found it particularly helpful in understanding how to manipulate lambs when they are in some more challenging positions. For all of you shepherds, I hope you bask in the glory and miracle of birth on your farms this year!


Illustrations found in google search.


One Response

  1. thecrazysheeplady

    Excellent post and a great find on the video!