26 January 1996

Smart ways to give em a better start in life…

Some producers have finished lambing, others have only just taken the rams out. Our Lambing Special draws on a wealth of experience from vets, researchers and producers which, when heeded, will produce a bumper crop of lambs and a healthy flock of lactating ewes. Edited by Rebecca Austin

RESEARCH shows underfeeding in late pregnancy inhibits blood flow to the udder, thus depriving it of the necessary nutrients for optimum colostrum production. However, trials show low rumen-degradable protein sources, such as fishmeal, boost daily crude protein intake from 128g to 185g and colostrum production in the first three hours post lambing from 380g to 640g.

SHEPHERDS managing indoor flocks, or those lambed at high stocking densities outside, should spray navels with antibiotic or dip with tincture of iodine soon after birth to avoid subsequent joint-ill infections. Where dipping is common practice, the iodine solution, which should be contained to prevent evaporation, becomes contaminated when the same dip is used repeatedly. This way it is more likely infection will be promoted, rather than prevented.

A 0.5ml injection of oxytocin, the hormone which stimulates milk let down, also increases the quantity of colostrum that can be harvested and makes the ewe more amenable to hand milking. The rapid flow and ease of milking five minutes after the injection reduces the risk of bacterial contamination of colostrum, which in turn minimises the risk of infection after feeding.

DUE to its lower solids content, 30% more cows colostrum should be fed than ewe colostrum. It should therefore be fed more frequently. But colostrum from some cows can cause anaemia one or two weeks after it has been given to a newborn lamb. In the absence of a fully reliable laboratory test it is best to pool colostrum from a number of cows.

A pot of fresh natural yogurt should be kept in the fridge in case lambs succumb to rattle belly. This treatment should be used in tandem with recommended antibiotics. Administer 20cc to 40cc, depending on lamb size, by stomach tube to one- to two-day old lambs with distended stomachs. Yogurt stimulates the formation of a milk clot – which allows for sustained absorption of fat and protein – and provides required lactobacilli bacteria. They create an environment in the stomach that stops the multiplication of harmful E coli bacteria.

IN weaker lambs, poor mothering ability and the lack of anal licking by the ewe to encourage the expulsion of the meconium (first contents of the bowel) can lead to death. These lambs will be bloated and fail to achieve the rapid increase in flesh cover that occurs in the first 24 hours in healthy, well-nourished newborn lambs. An enema readily corrects the situation. Insert a stomach tube, attached to a syringe, about 3cm to 4cm (1in) into the rectum and gently administer 10ml to 20ml of soapy, luke-warm water. After a few minutes the dehydrated meconium is expelled.

HEAT production increases by 20% to 40% when lambs stand and even more when they move. As colostrum intake causes an increase in heat production, it is recommended producers ensure lambs receive 180mls to 210mls of colostrum per kg birthweight, depending on environmental conditions, to maintain heat production.

EXPOSING ewe lambs and young ewes that have yet to achieve mature body size to high-plane feeding regimes in mid-pregnancy reduces placental growth and lamb birthweight by up to 40%. An identical reduction in lamb viability can be seen in the same group of ewes due to reduced adult size, a depression in mammary gland development and colostrum production.

Scientists believe these ewes may not yet have the metabolic ability to distribute nutrients successfully between maternal and reproductive tissues and organs.