Lambing special 2010: Managing triplets

It is nothing new that triplets require additional management, particularly when labour is already stretched. But, which lamb to remove from the ewe and introduce to a surplus rearing system is the big question.

Farmers will instinctively choose the smallest or weakest lamb, according to findings from a national survey of sheep producers carried out by Volac, when they should be thinking the opposite, according to XL Vets’ Neil Laing, Clyde Vet Group.

“Remove the strongest lamb from the litter because the strongest one will be best able to deal with this stressful upheaval.”

The survey of 145 sheep farmers found triplets – or even bigger litters – accounted for more than half of lambs destined for rearing away from the ewe. Furthermore, 50% of producers said they would opt for taking away the weakest, smallest or a ewe lamb, while only 13% said they would take away the strongest, biggest, or a ram lamb.

“Leaving a ewe with her entire set of triplets is not an option as this typically results in high mortality or one or all of the lambs under performing,” says Volac technical specialist Maggie Gould. “By introducing the strongest from the litter to a well-managed rearing system and leaving a balanced pair on the ewe, you have the potential to rear three quality lambs and achieve an acceptable return on investment.

“The cost of rearing surplus lambs to 18kg deadweight and grading within the specification can appear relatively high. However, respectable margins should be achieved, particularly since the 2010 UK lamb market is destined to remain firm, according to EBLEX.”

While these third or surplus lambs can sometimes be mothered on to another ewe, most commonly some will need to be reared off the ewe using lamb milk replacer, says Mr Laing.

“Firstly, it is essential these lambs obtain colostrum from their mothers before removing them from the litter, so it is best to leave them for 24 hours and ensure they suckle the ewe before removal. When the mother has died before the lamb has had a chance to suckle her, or when she has insufficient colostrum available, you must feed colostrum from another source, either fresh from another ewe or an alternative such as cows’ colostrum, frozen ewes’ colostrum, or reliable high-quality replacers.

“For the best health protection and energy, a lamb needs 50ml/kg liveweight of a high-quality colostrum or alternative,” he says.

The choice of rearing system is based on the number of lambs to be reared and available labour – from teat on a bottle to automated systems that mix and maintain the temperature of the milk.

“The most common system features a bucket with a heating element to maintain the milk’s temperature after mixing; it is superior to using a bottle and teat as it allows the lambs to drink little and often, which helps to avoid some gastro intestinal problems. When you choose an automated system, remember it’s not a replacement for a human operator and lambs must still be regularly observed to ensure they are getting enough to drink and are in good health,” says Mr Laing.


Stuart Davies, Bucknell, Shropshire

Stuart Davies, farms 740 crossbred ewes and 70 pedigree Suffolks at Jay Farm, Bedstone, Bucknell, Shropshire. He believes in taking away the strongest triplet lamb from the flock, this year scanning 190% between them with 140 triplets.

stuart-davies“We used to pull away the smallest lamb at a few days old. But it would either stand away from the rest at the feeder or scour, so we reversed things and removed the strongest lamb. It makes common sense,” he says.

“After 24 hours on the ewe, the strongest tends to be getting hungry, we take that lamb away to an automatic feeder or a foster ewe, it starts sucking immediately, looks after itself and will be among the first to reach target finishing weight. Meanwhile, the remaining litter are left with the best opportunity.”

See more