Welfare of sheep: code of practice

The aim of this code is to help people responsible for sheep to look after these animals properly.

Pregnancy and lambing

72 The nutritional management of pregnant ewes is particularly important. Both condition scoring and scanning can be of benefit.

73 Pregnant and nursing ewes should receive adequate food to ensure the development of healthy lambs and to maintain the health and bodily condition of the ewe.

74 Scanning can be a valuable aid to management. However, scanning is an addition to good husbandry not a replacement. The scanning procedure allows barren, single, twin and triplet bearing ewes to be managed as separate groups. A combination of scanning and condition scoring allows ewes carrying more than one lamb and thin ewes to be separated for special feeding and supervision. Equipment should be properly cleansed and disinfected between flocks.

75 Heavily pregnant ewes should be handled with care to avoid distress and injury which may precipitate premature lambing. However, if a heavily pregnant ewe requires treatment, e.g. for lameness, she should receive appropriate treatment as soon as possible and not be left untreated until after lambing.

76 A large proportion of ewe mortalities occur during the period around lambing so particular skill and expertise are required at this time. Severe damage can be caused through inexperience when assisting a ewe in difficulties. Shepherds should therefore be experienced and competent before having responsibility for a flock at lambing time. Where necessary, they should receive training.

77 Shepherds should pay particular attention to cleanliness and hygiene of equipment and pens during pregnancy and lambing. Personal cleanliness is essential when assisting ewes to lamb. Attention to cleanliness and hygiene is also important in the lambing area and pens used in treating or assisting lambing ewes. Lambing pens, sufficent in number and size, should be easily accessible and on a dry, well drained site. Each pen should be provided with a hay rack, feed trough and water bucket. If the pens are outdoors their tops should be covered.

78 There may be times when even a proficient shepherd experiences difficulty in delivering a lamb single handed. In such cases assistance should be called immediately.

79 Any ewe with a prolapse should be treated immediately using an appropriate technique and where necessary veterinary advice should be sought.

80 Embryotomy, the dissection and removal of a foetus which cannot be delivered naturally, should be carried out on dead lambs only. It should never be used to remove a live lamb.

81 Every effort should be made to prevent the build-up and spread of infection by ensuring that lambing pens are provided with adequate, clean bedding and are regularly cleansed. It is particularly important to ensure that dead lambs and afterbirth are removed and disposed of in a suitable manner without delay.

Regulation (EC) 1069/2009 laying down rules as regards animal by-products and derived products not intended for human consumption, requires that fallen stock are disposed of by:

  • despatch to a knacker's yard, hunt kennel or similar premises
  • incineration
  • rendering in approved premises
  • in certain designated remote areas, burial in such a way that carnivorous animals cannot gain access to the carcase, or burning

This provision applies to the disposal of still-born or unborn lambs, as well as to older sheep.

82 Shepherds should be able to recognise lambs in need of resuscitation and be familiar with resuscitation techniques and survival aids such as feeding by stomach tube and use of a warmer box. A DEFRA booklet on improving lamb survival gives further information (see Appendix).

83 It is vital that every newly-born lamb receives colostrum from its dam, or from another source, as soon as possible and in any case within three hours of birth. Adequate supplies of colostrum should always be available for use in emergencies, when a ewe lambs with poor milk supplies.

84 A source of heat (e.g. a warmer box) should be available to revive weakly lambs but care should be taken to avoid overheating.

85 Where lambing takes place out-of-doors some form of shelter or windbreak should be available.

86 The problem of mis-mothering, which occurs particularly during gathering, handling, transport or dipping of ewes and lambs should be reduced by keeping group size to a minimum. Identifying lambs and mothers is also beneficial, using non-toxic colour markers.

87 Wherever possible, young lambs, other than with their mothers, should not be sold at market. Arrangements for the direct transfer of orphan lambs from farm-to-farm, rather than through a market, should be encouraged in order to minimise disease risk. The law forbids the transport and the sale at market of lambs with an unhealed navel.

Paragraph 2 of Chapter I of Annex I of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations states that:

Animals that are injured or that present physiological weaknesses or pathological process shall not be considered fit for transport and in particular if:

  • they are new-born mammals in which the navel has not completely healed
  • they are lambs of less than one week, unless they are transported less than 100km

Under Article 5A of the Welfare of Animals at Markets Order 1990 (S.I. 1990 No. 2627), as amended by the Welfare of Animals at Markets Order 1993 (S.I. 1993 No.3085), no person shall bring to a market, or allow to be exposed for sale in a market a lamb with an unhealed navel.


Email: Pam Kennedy

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