Outdoor lambing or grass-based lambing is often considered a low-cost, less intensive alternative to indoor lambing systems. In this article, as part of our spring lambing series, we look at the pros and cons of an outdoor lambing system. We also provide some top tips from our inhouse specialists here at Flockwatch to help you determine if this system is viable for your needs.


Research undertaken by Agri-food & Biocsiences Institute (AFBI) in Belfast over the last number of years has highlighted both the labour and system cost reduction of grass-based lambing systems. Based on this research, outdoor lambing is said to result in 30% less labour and 30% less feed costs. This is based on the inclusion of grazed grass or lambing to grass when compared to indoor lambing systems.

Outdoor lambing has several other benefits including:

The reduced risk of disease transmission: When sheep are kept in close quarters, there is an increased risk of disease transmission. Outdoor lambing allows the sheep to give birth in a more natural and open environment, reducing the risk of disease spread.

Improved animal welfare: Sheep are social animals that prefer to be in open spaces. Outdoor lambing allows the sheep to move around freely and engage in natural behaviours, which can improve their welfare.

Reduced requirement for lambing facilities: When ewes are lambing outdoors there is less space requirements for indoor facilities. This also results in reduced feed and bedding costs.


Ewe post lambing

However, outdoor lambing also has some challenges, such as the risk of predators, exposure to harsh weather conditions, and the need for careful monitoring of the lambs and ewes to ensure their health and safety. Therefore, farmers must be prepared to manage these challenges and take appropriate measures to protect their flock.

Predators such as foxes or dogs are indeed an issue, however there are some tools available to farmers to reduce fox- associated losses. These include Fox repellent oil or an LED light device (designed to give the impression of a person walking). Another alternative commonly passed down through the generations is the application of Stockholm tar to lambs as a deterrent.  

Lamb coats (either plastic or material) also serve a dual purpose, firstly to keep newborn lambs warm if temperatures drop. Secondly, the plastic is also said to act as a deterrent to foxes due to the noise it produces as lambs move.

Mismothering or lamb rejection is also an issue seen more frequently in an outdoor system vs indoors.

What do I need to consider for Outdoor Lambing?

It is recommended that farmers delay mating start date to reflect a lambing start date of about Mid-March to ensure adequate grass availability for ewes and less risk of adverse weather around lambing for vulnerable lambs.

Hardier breeds may also be more suited to outdoor lambing systems, so the breed of your ewes should also be considered before changing to this system.

Grass supplies need to be sufficient to support ewes at the point of lambing. But not in surplus as to have an impact on lamb growth towards the end of gestation i.e. too heavy lambs causing issues at lambing.

BCS at tupping and pre lambing also need to be more closely monitored. For example targets 2.5-3 for singles, 3 for twins, and 3.5 for triplets.

Be aware that if poor weather conditions persist, then ewes are more likely to require extra supplementation and lamb survivability may be negatively affected.

However, if you are looking to save labour, time and reduce overall costs then outdoor lambing should be a viable option for your sheep enterprise.

lamb newborn

How can Flockwatch Help with Spring Lambing

Use Flockwatch to record Lambing Details

To record a lambing follow these few steps.

Tap on the orange plus button (+).

Then tap on lambing record or use the search bar above to search for this option.

Tap on the ewe who’s lambed.

>Fill in the required details, Date of birth, season born, lambing number and how many lambs she had.

Tap the next button and this will bring you on to fill in the details of each lamb.

Once details are filled in for each lamb press the save button

If you have an EID reader the process is even easier as you can scan the new lambs tags in against the ewe, saving time and reducing the risk or error. 

In our next software update this month, farmers will also be able to view a lambing dashboard with information about the current lambing season including total of ewes lambed and average lambs/ewe.

Flockwatch screen

If this sounds like the solution for you, you too can join 18,000 other farmers reaping the benefits of hassle-free paperwork by downloading Flockwatch by Herdwatch today!