9 March 2001

Take steps to aid stranded sheep

By Marianne Curtis

WITH foot-and-mouth policy on movement of sheep for welfare reasons unclear as FW went to press, it seems inevitable that some producers face lambing ewes outdoors, sometimes many miles from holdings.

For ewes confined to grass keep, roots or arable by-products, feed may quickly run out and sourcing bulky feeds should be a priority, advises independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings.

"See what feed is available in the locality. Straw, cabbage waste and parsnips may be obtainable as bulky feeds. For ewes close to lambing, step up concentrate levels as normal and make any feed changes as gradual as possible."

Measures should be taken to keep ewes and lambs which have run out of feed and are stuck on muddy root fields as clean as possible, says MLC sheep scientist Jenny Anderson. "False floors constructed from three layers of plastic silage sheeting held down using concrete blocks, preferably on a slope to allow water to run off, can help. Sheep will lay on them.

"Placing pallets flat on the ground near feed troughs will also protect fleeces by removing sheep from mud while feeding and allowing muck and urine to fall through the holes."

As well as correct feeding, remember to vaccinate ewes against clostridial diseases, says Ms Stubbings. "Lambs born outside are likely to be under additional stress so ensure they receive colostrum containing sufficient antibodies to protect against disease by vaccinating ewes."

When ewes due to lamb are many miles from holdings, find someone with lambing experience to oversee them, she advises. "You may have been relying on someone without lambing skills to keep an eye on away-wintered sheep.

"Faced with lambing these sheep away from home, seek experienced labour as soon as possible, as there could be high demand. One experienced person supervising someone inexperienced is better than two people with half a clue."

Temporary structures can be erected to provide some shelter from the elements, but must have sufficient ventilation, roaming and feeding space, says senior ADAS consultant David Morris. Use big bales stacked two high and a simple sloping roof made from wooden planks or ropes covered with plastic sheets or tarpaulins, he says.

"Allow 12sq ft for each crossbred ewe and 10sq ft for hill breeds. Plenty of dry straw will keep stock dry and reduce disease risk. Double the area/ewe after lambing when stock are staying indoors."

Cumbrian Farmer Focus contributor, Gordon Capstick, has 500 of his 1200 Mule ewe flock stranded seven miles from home.

"We brought earliest lambers home before the movement restrictions and would normally have brought the rest home about now. But it looks as though we may have to lamb this group outside and are currently preparing for this." Dividing ewes into groups of 40-50 in separate paddocks will help to reduce mis-mothering, he says. "We do not intend to erect lambing pens outside and expect to lose more lambs this year. One of the reasons we switched to indoor lambing was to reduce losses resulting from crows and foxes."

Obtaining lambs from neighbours to foster on to ewes which have lost lambs will also be impossible, he says. "I expect we will see more barren ewes this year."

For producers using lambing pens outdoors, avoid penning ewes before they have bonded with lambs, advises Ms Stubbings. "Resist the temptation to dive in and interfere with lambing ewes unless there is a problem."

Identify ewes and lambs as soon as possible with a spray paint marker, she adds. "This will be important when you come to sort ewes and lambs into groups. Group them according to lamb age, as younger lambs are more susceptible to picking up disease from older lambs.

"Also, for this reason, once ewes and lambs are in a pen, keep them there."

Be more organised than usual, says Ms Stubbings. "Collect everything you need in a plastic box which is restocked every day. Avoid having to run back to the Land Rover for needles and castrator rings."

For situations where there are serious animal welfare concerns, contact your local vet, she advises. "Appraise your vet of the situation who should be able to verify to MAFF that there will be a welfare issue if animals are not moved. When in doubt, seek clarification from MAFF as advice can change from day to day."

MAFF has granted derogations for livestock grazing on set-aside to ease feeding crises linked to movement restrictions, according to NFU. Producers should notify their MAFF Regional Service Centre before grazing animals on set-aside.

Gordon Capstick switched to indoor lambing to reduce losses, but this year 500 ewes stranded seven miles away may need to be lambed outdoors.

STRANDED SHEEP

&#8226 Ensure adequate feeding.

&#8226 Prepare for outdoor lambing.

&#8226 Seek MAFF advice.