In Australia, lambing is usually timed to occur in mid-winter so that once the lambs are weaned the spring grass will be growing and the expense incurred by the farmers for feed will be reduced. The industry-driven demand for “Spring Lamb” also benefits from this artificial timing. Lambs are born into freezing conditions, often at night, resulting in the death of many. Sheep are selectively bred to have a greater number of lambs. When a sheep has 3 lambs the 3rd can be rejected by the mother who is sometimes unable to care for 3. There is often no shelter for the new born lambs even in the middle of winter. One of the reasons for winter shearing is to encourage the ewes to seek shelter for their lambs even if there is none. Lambs are often born during the night so on many occasions the lambs who are sick or abandoned are not discovered until early morning after they have died or when it is too late to save them. If orphaned or sick lambs are discovered alive, the majority of farmers are unwilling to spend the time or money on vet fees and hand raising them. They are killed, often with a blow to the head with a blunt object. This is perfectly legal with the method being recommended by Agriculture Victoria in their guidelines on sheep welfare.
In the first 48 hours of life 10 to 15 million lambs will lose their lives due to malnutrition and/or hypothermia. Approximately 22 million lambs were sent to slaughter in 2017. This total of 37 million lives per annum does not account for any of those lives lost between the first 48 hours and slaughter age (approximately 6-8 months of age).
It is not only the lambs who suffer and die but also the ewes. Ewes who have birthing difficulties are usually not monitored or given vet treatment. Many die without anyone being aware that they are in trouble.