As lambing progresses the challenges increase

AT this stage many of Northern Ireland’s mid season lambing flocks are well and truly in the midst of the lambing season.

Most farms will have facilities in tip top shape at the beginning of the lambing season but as lambing progresses and the work load builds it becomes harder to keep on top of everything.

The aim of the shepherd should be to attempt to save each lamb that will succumb to an avoidable cause. The payback for this is an extra £60 plus per lamb saved.

“I frequently have conversations with sheep farmers around lambing time during which the topic of lamb losses virtually always comes up,” Teagasc sheep specialist Michael Gottstein explained.

“Invariably the figures often quoted only include lambs born alive which subsequently die. Abortions, ewes that scanned in lamb but subsequently do not lamb, still births etc are often not counted. The target for most commercial flocks is to keep all lamb losses below 8% for low litter size flocks.

“Flocks with higher litter sizes should aim to keep losses below 12%. Yet I come across flocks every year that lose 20% and more Recording the number of losses and the causes of these losses is not only important from a benchmarking point of view but it also identifies areas where improvements need to be made in the future.

“Unfortunately this is something which is rarely done on sheep farms. As the lambing season progresses it becomes more difficult to keep lamb mortality below the targets mentioned above. The reason for this is that disease levels in the lambing area increase as lambing proceeds. Identifying what the biggest challenges are will allow steps to be taken to reduce the risks.

“By and large most problems in lambing sheds are scours (E Coli etc.) and infections such as navel and joint ill. The following are some key areas that should be considered when attempting to reduce losses at lambing time.

“Start by having the ewes as clean as possible at lambing time. Frequent bedding in straw bedded houses or freeing up slats is important to reduce soiled hindquarters/udders at lambing time. Ewes that are extremely soiled should be dagged at lambing time. If sheds are damp look at issues such as the dry matter of the feed (i.e. wet silage), ventilation and sort out leaking water bowls etc to reduce the humidity within the shed.

“Move ewes and newborn lambs to individual lambing pens as soon as possible after lambing. These pens should have soiled bedding removed and be disinfected after each ewe. Use lots of hydrated/cubicle lime and plenty of clean straw.”

Michael went on to point out that colostrum is the lamb’s best defence against infection. Flockowners should ensure that the lambs get adequate colostrum as soon as possible after birth. Each 5kg lamb needs to get 250ml (5% of bodyweight) in the first four hours and this needs to be repeated every six hours.

If ewes are short of colostrum at lambing time or the colostrum is very thick and sticky then there may be a nutritional shortfall. Increasing the protein level in ration by feeding additional Soya bean meal may alleviate the problem. Where lambs are unable to suckle the ewes shepherds should intervene and use a bottle and teat/stomach tube to ensure that the required intake of colostrum is achieved.

Michael Gottstein concluded: “Turning out ewes and lambs at the earliest opportunity will provide the lambs with an outdoor environment that is cleaner than indoors. Where the ewes are not turned out, due to poor weather or insufficient grass, then steps should be taken to keep the pens as clean as possible.

“Any items being used to feed lambs need to be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Washing them in warm soapy water and immersing them in a suitable disinfectant may do the trick. Once infected lambs are identified prompt intervention is required. Producers may only have a window of a few hours to save a lamb.

“Where lambs are dehydrated an electrolyte mix should also be given orally. Producers should consider giving lambs an oral or injectable antibiotic for the prevention of scours, navel ill etc, subject to veterinary prescription, where the above interventions are still not effective at stopping disease outbreaks.”


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