Students assist in birthing lambs

Stacy Stringer, senior in animal sciences and pre-vet, holds a lamb while Joseph Hubbard, sheep and meat goat unit manager, gives the lamb a shot for disease prevention at the Sheep and Meat Goat Unit on March 28, 2016. (Miranda Snyder | The Collegian)

K-State has several livestock birthing classes. Timothy Rozell, associate professor of animal sciences and industry, teaches the lambing class in which students develop a hands-on learning experience by helping female sheep give birth at the K-State Sheep and Meat Goat Center.

In Rozell’s lambing class, students help ewes, or female sheep, give birth to their lambs. His classes are relatively small, ranging from about 25-30 people, Rozell said. Students do their work in teams of three or four people.

Students learn the functions and parts of the sheep and how a ewe gives birth in the classroom portion of the class, Rozell said.

For the hands-on portion of the class, students are required to show up at the lambing unit for lambing watches, where the students assist in the lambing process, Rozell said. Timing can be an issue to see the lambs being born, and students sometimes miss the lambing due to how the shifts are scheduled.

Rozell’s class meets once a week on Mondays for an hour, according to Ashley Tercero, junior in agricultural communications. Students have to be at the Sheep and Meat Goat Center for at least five shifts. The evening shifts are four hours from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m., and the morning shifts are two hours from 6-8 a.m., Tercero said.

“They should hopefully get to see all of this play out in front of them, and that’s the main thing that we’re trying to accomplish,” Rozell said. “We want them and most of the learning to be as hands-on as possible working with the lambs and ewes both.”

The students handle the lambs once they are born to make sure they are breathing, nursing and are able to stand up, Rozell said. If they do not nurse within a certain amount of time, the students will put a feeding tube into them.

Tercero, originally from San Martin, California, runs her own small show sheep and club lamb operation with her sister, who has about 15 show ewes.

“You first have to glove up, lube up and then proceed to go inside of the ewe and find out what they can do to help,” Hubbard said.

She said she already understood what it takes to help a ewe give birth and the process that goes along with it before she came to K-State. Compared to her operation back home, K-State’s operation is more commercial, which means the lambs are bred lighter and are faster growing, Tercero said.

“You aren’t looking for the prettiness a lot of the times,” Tercero said. “You’re just looking for that end product.”

Tercero said she shows her sheep at local county fairs in California. Her show sheep are bred differently than the commercial sheep at K-state because show sheep are supposed to be “a little bit bigger and stockier for showing,” Tercero said.

“It’s been very interesting to see the other side of the industry for me personally and to see a larger operation since I have a small one,” Tercero said. “So it has been helpful and I have learned a lot.”

Joseph Hubbard, unit manager at the Sheep and Meat Goat Center and teaching associate, said he oversees the feeding, makes sure the property is cleaned and confirms that the animals are cared for properly. Hubbard also watches over the employees and students to make sure they are doing their chores correctly.

The Sheep and Meat Goat Center has had about 400 animals born in the last year, which is double what they usually have, and very few of them have needed assistance in the birthing process, Hubbard said.

“In the time that I have been here or known the place, this is probably the most lambs we’ve ever had come through here,” Hubbard said.

The center works with composite hair breeds, which are very good at lambing on their own and do not need much assistance, Hubbard said.

Employees and students at the center keep an eye on the sheep when they are close to lambing. If there is an issue, sometimes the staff and students will intervene, Hubbard said.

“You first have to glove up, lube up and then proceed to go inside of the ewe and find out what they can do to help,” Hubbard said.

Students are learning how to assess what is causing a problem when lambing and how it needs to be fixed, Hubbard said. There can be multiple issues when lambing, such as the lamb being born backward, the ewe not dilating or other complications.