29 March 2002

Lack of colostrum puts young lambs at risk of joint-ill

CLEANLINESS in the lambing shed can prevent multiple cases of joint-ill in young lambs, a painful infection which hinders growth.

Lambs are most at risk from joint-ill during the first six weeks, says independent vet consultant Tony Andrews. "A wide range of bacteria are responsible and they circulate in the blood stream, entering either via the tonsils or navel. During the first stage of blood poisoning, the lamb will go off colour and have a raised temperature."

Either a few days or weeks later, bacteria will end up in the joint, causing lameness, inflammation and pain. "Some bacteria start eating into the cartilage, which is extremely hard to treat," he adds.

Dr Andrews advises calling in a vet to diagnose cases because symptoms could be confused with vitamin E/selenium deficiency – muscular dystrophy. Joint-ill is treated by injecting antibiotics into the infected joint, but Dr Andrews warns the type of antibiotic and quantity used is crucial.

Bacteria are more likely to take hold when lambs have poor immunity due to lack of colostrum. "Make sure ewes are in good condition at lambing to ensure colostrum production. The second lamb of twins is usually the one to get joint-ill."

Although not all bacteria enter through the navel, it is essential to dip the navel with tincture of iodine, rather than spray. "This will ensure coverage of antiseptic and will dry up the navel rapidly."

Joint-ill is most likely to occur as lambing progresses and bacteria levels increase. "Ensure the lambing area is as clean as possible, but once one lamb becomes infected try and lamb ewes elsewhere," says Dr Andrews. &#42