19 January 2001

Too valuable

to lose any of them at all

Losing commercial lambs with a prime market value of

about £40 is bad enough, but top pedigree flocks cant

afford any losses when lambs could have the potential to

earn five figures. Jeremy Hunt reports

Routinely tubing lambs with colostrum within an hour of birth ensures that they receive an adequate amount, says Robyn Hulme.

ROUTINE colostrum tubing, frequent checking of ewes and lambs and keeping stock in small groups ensure minimum lamb losses on one Shropshire pedigree Suffolk unit.

Robyn Hulme runs the Crosemanor flock of 90 Suffolk ewes with his father Stan, at Crosemere Hall, Cockshutt, Ellesmere, Shropshire. His approach is clear: "Our main aim at lambing is not to lose any lambs at all. Any loss would be considered a disaster."

As one of the original co-owners of the famous Suffolk ram Pankymoor Prelude – the sire of progeny valued at over £1m – and having sold a ram lamb three years ago in the Edinburgh sale ring for 26,000gns, the Hulmes are well aware of the importance of keeping every lamb alive.

The entire Crosemanor flock, which includes 35 Merino ewes used for embryo transfer, is AId to lamb within a 10-day period starting on Jan 1. Lambing percentage is 165-170%.

"AI plays a major part in our approach to lambing and our aim is to keep every lamb alive. It means we can provide concentrated around-the-clock management and ensure that everything is done to deliver live lambs," says Robyn Hulme.

Close monitoring of ewes avoids losses during parturition. The Hulmes do not expect to cope with lamb deaths caused by preventable problems.

"If a lamb dies inside a ewe before lambing that is something that cant be avoided, but deaths caused by a ewe not receiving assistance when she needs it, or a lamb being born unattended and suffocating because it had birth membranes over its nose, are not acceptable to us.

"Whether in pedigree or commercial flocks, losses can be reduced if ewes are monitored around the clock. We try to ensure that all ewes are checked every one and a half hours. That means most difficulties can be dealt with before they become major problems."

But while dedicated shepherding is the key to producing live lambs, Mr Hulme is convinced that colostrum is essential for healthy lambs. All lambs receive colostrum within one hour of birth and are routinely given the appropriate amount via a stomach tube.

"We have healthy lambs that are more able to combat infection because they have had the correct amount of colostrum. We do not get problems like watery mouth or scouring because we are vigilant in ensuring correct colostrum intake through the stomach tube."

Lamb weights in the Crosemanor flock can range from 6-7kg for twins with singles weighing about 8kg.

"The birthing process can be traumatic for large lambs, which are often exhausted for the first hour after being born. It would be easy to assume that a newly born big lamb sitting quietly in the corner of a pen is doing all right when in fact he probably has not sucked the ewe and could end up with an empty stomach for several hours unless assistance is given."

Immediately after a difficult birth, a suction pump is used to clear the lambs mouth and air passages of mucus.

All ewes are injected with oxytocin to encourage milk let-down. Any lambs that do not start breathing naturally are treated with Dopram stimulant – given on the tongue – to kick-start breathing.

Stomach tubing is a routine practice for all lambs within an hour of being born using either the ewes own colostrum, that from another ewe or cow colostrum.

"An average sized lamb receives a minimum of four 60ml tubes of colostrum for its first feed. This is repeated at six-hourly intervals until the lamb is sucking naturally. A bigger lamb would have up to five or six 60ml tubes at six-hourly intervals.

"Another advantage of tubing lambs is that you have to draw colostrum off the ewe, so she is automatically being checked. If there are any obvious problems with the teats or udder you are immediately aware of them.

"Even if a lamb is seen to suck you can never be sure how much it has taken. Routine early tubing is the only way to ensure all lambs receive colostrum and it is surprising to see that within seconds of a lamb being tubed it will be keen to suck when put to the teat."

Regular checking

Mr Hulme says it is important to check lambs regularly: "It is vital that lambs get an instant feed of colostrum but it is also important that a lambs stomach is kept full, so we continue to check lambs each hour until they are moved from individual lambing pens."

Within two hours of birth, all lambs are injected with 1ml of a long-acting antibiotic that provides up to 72-hours of protection against infections such as joint-ill or bronchial problems.

After three to four days in individual pens, ewes and lambs are moved into small groups, says Mr Hulme. "We like to keep group sizes to about six ewes initially and then increase to about 20 ewes. You have far more chance of spotting a problem with small groups of ewes and there is less chance of bigger lambs robbing milk from other ewes."

LAMBING LESSONS

&#8226 Routine colostrum tubing.

&#8226 Round-the-clock monitoring.

&#8226 Small ewes and lambs.

LAMBING LESSONS

&#8226 Routine colostrum tubing.

&#8226 Round-the-clock monitoring.

&#8226 Small ewes and lambs.

Ewe management in late pregnancy is critical for strong lamb production.