Lambing Preparations: Part 3

pregnant sheep beg for bagels
Pregnant ewes beg for bagels

As lambing time draws ever closer, we feel good about the steps we have taken to get ready. Our shearing date is booked and the supplies are ordered.  The last step is to construct lambing jugs.

A “jug” is a small pen that you put the newborn lambs and ewe into for the first 24-72 hours after birth.  Closed quarters help the ewe bond with her lambs, provide shelter from cold and weather, and also protect the newborns from being kicked or stepped on by other members of the flock while they are learning to stand and walk.  The jug also ensures that the ewe’s udder is within easy reach at all times.

As I mentioned in Part 2, you can buy jug panels from your local farm supply or a national store, or you can build your own out of scrap wood.  We opted to build our own jugs both to save money and build to the exact dimensions that work in our barn.  The design is for a two-sided panel that can be fitted into a corner of the barn, in our case the corner between the hay feeder and the back wall.  The feeder acts as one wall of the jug and also allows us to provide hay to the ewe without setting up a special feeder for her. The back of the barn acts as the second wall, and the two walls of the jug complete the 4×4 foot enclosure.  (Jug sizes typically range from 4×4 feet to 6×6 feet, depending on the size of the breed, likelihood of multiple births, and available space.)

These instructions can be modified to fit your preferred jug size and placement. For example, if you can not attach your jug to your hay feeder, you can use a corner of the barn as two walls of the enclosure. Or build a 3-sided jug and attach it to one wall of the barn.

constructing lambing pens
Step 1: Attach Hinges

This design folds flat for easy storage in the off-season, and is small enough that one person can lift and carry it.  We built two sets of jug panels to accommodate two ewes birthing at the same time. You should build one additional jug for every 8 ewes in your flock.

Materials

  • Two 4-foot x 8-foot 5/8″ plywood sheets, or comparable product of similar weight and strength
  • Six 4-inch strap hinges with wood screws
  • Eight 3-inch hook-and-eye latches

Directions

building lambing pen
Step 2: Mark latch location

1.  Cut the two sheets of plywood in half to make four 4×4-foot panels.  Lay two panels on a flat work surface so that the edges abut. Secure three hinges spaced equally along the common edge.

2.  Place the jug in the barn at the desired location, and mark locations for the hooks and eyes for the latches. For added stability and security, place two latches on each side, at the top and bottom of each jug panel.

3.  Affix the hooks to the jug panels and the eyes to the barn wall or feeder. Repeat the process using the remaining panels and hardware to build a second jug.

You must also make feed and water available to the ewe while she is in the jug with her lambs. Because we use our feeder as one side of the pen, delivering hay is easy.  How you set up the water is very important. You want it easily accessible to the ewe, so that she will drink enough to produce a steady milk supply.

building lambing pen
Step 3: Install latches

However, you don’t want the water too low, or the lambs could climb into the container and drown.  A high-sided bucket is one option, although there is a risk that the ewe could knock it over accidentally.  We decided to purchase some inexpensive bucket holders from an online livestock supplier, in order to hang the smaller buckets that we get for free from a local business.

To accommodate the hanger, we cut a slit in one wall of the pen and slid the hanger through the opening.  There are other options for watering that may be better suited to your setup.

A few days before your first possible lambing date, clean the barn thoroughly and set up one of the jugs. This will keep the inside of the pen clean, so that the space is ready to go as soon as the first lambs are born.

lambing pen construction
Completed jug with feeder and water bucket

Allow the ewe to complete her labor outside of the pen, and wait until all of the lambs are born. Then move the ewe and her newborn(s) into the pen and lock them in. Add a little molasses to the ewe’s water to entice her to drink it, and make sure she has a constant supply of hay available. Leave the new family in the jug for at least 24 hours, or longer for a first-time mom, or lambs that seem to be on the weaker side. If it is very cold, you can suspend a heat lamp over one corner of the jug to help the lambs stay warm.

Published by Sarah Scully

Sarah is the owner/operator of Vermont Natural Sheepskins. She is an avid knitter and knitwear designer. She also enjoys cooking and gardening.

2 Comments

  • Pam

    February 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Okay, here’s an obvious question. Why are the pens called jugs?

  • Sarah

    February 25, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    An obvious question, for which I do not have an answer! I’ll ask my shepherding friends, maybe they’ll know.