15 June 2001

Vitamin E bolus to get lambs suckling quicker

By Jeremy Hunt

North-west correspondent

LAMBS born to ewes treated with a vitamin E supplement showed increased vigour in a trial using a closed-circuit TV camera to monitor activity on a Lancs sheep unit.

Myerscough College student Christopher Burrow, of Slyne, Lancaster, undertook the trial in which lambs from ewes treated with vitamin E were suckling at least 17 minutes before lambs from untreated mothers.

The trial intended to investigate the impact of vitamin E treatment on the colleges hill flock, but movement restrictions imposed during the foot-and-mouth crisis forced the trial to be switched to a housed flock of 50 North of England Mules.

Previously published trial work, investigating vitamin E supplementation, has been based on adding the vitamin to the ration of in-lamb ewes. In these trials, lambs from ewes which had received 100g/day of vitamin E via the feed suckled 25 minutes faster than lambs from untreated sheep.

Mr Burrow used two vitamin E bolus treatments which were administered to the ewes three and six weeks before lambing. Treated ewes were managed alongside an untreated group.

Although there was no difference in lamb mortality, birthweights, one-day weights and five-day weights between the two groups, lamb vigour was significantly improved in lambs from treated ewes.

"A 24-hour CCTV system was used in the lambing pens to provide an exact recording of the length of time it took for lambs to suckle. The time was recorded from the moment each lamb was dropped to the time it suckled," says Mr Burrow.

It has not yet been possible to detect any effect of the treatment on colostrum quality because F&M has prevented samples being sent to Roche Laboratories in Switzerland.

"Samples will be eventually sent for analysis, but there are still many unanswered questions about the reasons for increased vigour of lambs bred from ewes treated with vitamin E.

"While tests on the colostrum from treated ewes would probably have confirmed the benefits of vitamin E supplementation, its important to remember that the improved vigour was achieved even before the lambs had taken any milk."

Mr Burrows trial did, however, show that results using vitamin boluses are not as significant as those achieved when ewes are fed a supplement via feed in other studies. "It may be necessary to develop a bolus which will provide a constant supply of vitamin E throughout the later stages of pregnancy. This would be a great benefit to hill flocks where daily intake of vitamin E via the feed is more difficult to administer." &#42

VITAMINE

&#8226 Gets lambs suckling quickly.

&#8226 In feed addition best.

&#8226 Boluses could be developed.

Giving ewes a vitamin E bolus can improve the speed at which lambs start to suckle.