26 January 1996

Quick assessments can save many lives

NEWBORN lambs should be assessed soon after birth or when moved to mothering-up pens. It can be done when navels are dressed and, though it takes only a few minutes, can save a lambs life.

"Does the lamb shake its head and sit up quickly?" asks Dr Winter. "If it doesnt it could have brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation or a haemorrhage after a difficult delivery, severe swayback, daft-lamb disease or border disease."

She says these are the type of questions which should be going through any shepherds mind as they handle newborn lambs.

Lack of animation in the lamb may be due to a premature birth. A prompt examination of the ewe is necessary. She could be ill or undernourished. Other observations which should be made as a matter of course include:

lIs the lamb breathing properly? If it isnt that, too, could indicate brain damage or damage (fractures) to the ribs through an awkward lambing. Check the lambs chest, gently feel the ribs and make sure the chest does not have a "caved-in" appearance.

&#8226 Mouths should be checked for obvious deformities which will prevent lambs sucking correctly.

&#8226 Check the lamb will suck. Make sure it is lively and positioning itself close to the ewes udder. Ensure it takes plenty of colostrum from the ewe. If in doubt dont wait several hours to see if the lamb will suck. Administer 100-150ml of good colostrum by stomach tube. If concerned about the ewes colostrum quality or volume, or you feel the lamb is suspect in any way, or triplets have been born, consider a colostrum replacer.

lNavels should be checked for excessive bleeding or the possibility of intestines prolapsing through the navel. This is caused by the ewe pulling the umbilical cord as she cleans the newborn lamb and needs urgent veterinary treatment.

lCheck lambs legs. Make sure they can stand and are straight with no deformities. Bowed legs or contracted tendons can usually be easily corrected at this stage with splints made of split plastic piping – carefully padded, of course. &#42

Checklist for older lambs

&#8226 Stretching on standing signals all is well. Repeated shaking could indicate a premature lamb. If showing a persistent tremor it may be suffering from Border disease. Lambs unable to stand may be affected by white muscle disease which is vitamin E and selenium deficiency.

&#8226 Normal temperature is 39C to 40C (102F to 104F). Above this suggests infection; below, hypothermia. Check for scouring or even absence of anus.

&#8226 Breathing difficulties may indicate rib damage caused during birth or by a clumsy ewe.

&#8226 A full stomach may be filled with gas and not milk. Tap or shake lamb very gently to ascertain if it is well fed; gas sounds like a drum and will rattle. Watery mouth or rattle belly may the problem. Excessive salivation around the mouth also indicates watery mouth.

&#8226 Keep a close watch for orf blisters.

&#8226 Wetness or thickening around the navel would suggest navel ill.

&#8226 Swollen joints may be caused by joint ill.

&#8226 Check legs for fractures and look at the claws of the feet. Abscesses in-between the claws are quite common and need antibiotic treatment. Lambs finding it difficult to stand could be victims of swayback or have a spinal abscess. White muscle disease causes several limbs to be affected.

Quick, routine checks on newborn lambs can save many lives.