R.M.Jones

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Lamb Survival Tips

Lamb survival

Waiting a year for the cash crop of a lamb to arrive makes it a critical part of enterprise profitability to keep the lamb alive.

The first 48 hours of a lambs life is critical.

70% of all lamb mortality occurring between birth and weaning.

Lamb survival is highly correlated with birthweight.

Ewes in better condition at lambing produce heavier lambs. A reduction of 1 unit in body condition score (BCS) can reduce live weight by 0.4 – 0.5 kg whether singles or twins, although a reduction of 0.5kg in lamb birthweight has a greater effect on lamb mortality in twin lambs than a singleton. (10-15% lower)

The birthweight of lambs is mainly affected by nutrition of the ewe in early pregnancy, when placental development takes place, and during the later stages of gestation (6 – 0 weeks) when 75% of foetal growth occurs.

BCS judgement is relative within a breed and by the scorer !

Typical BCS guideline values are that lowland ewes carrying singles should be in BCS 2.8 – 3.0 and ewes carrying twins should be in BCS 3.0 – 3.3. Lambs from ewes lambing in optimum BCS have greater survival expectations.

Poor nutrition and low BCS result in poor maternal and lamb behaviour resulting in greater lamb mortality.

After lambing the ewe and lamb should remain at the birth site for at least 6 hours. Stress reduction can have significant benefits for both the ewe and the lamb. Stressed ewes tend to have lower milk yields lower milk quality and poor milk let down. Lamb survival declines in a stressed flock. 

Ewes housed at lambing should be in conditions where there is a good airflow over the ewe but with a draught free lying area.

As foetal growth is very high during the last 6 weeks of gestation the demand for additional nutrients increases at a time when pressure from the growing lambs reduce effective rumen volume. Giving ewes sufficient space to consume the level of feed required is critical. Allow 15 cm per ewes on forage and 40 cm per ewe for concentrate feeding.

Having a lamb warmer box and infra-red lamps available is always good practice since not everyone has an Aga !

Colostrum is king but it needs to be fed within the first 6 hours ! It gives the lamb immunity, highly digestible nutrients and gets things moving in the gut.

Allowing the lambs to suckle early is a critical part of the bonding process, but if the ewe appears short of early milk then use colostrum from other ewes. A (pre-warmed) stomach tube is an effective way of getting the colostrum into a (strong and conscious) lamb.

Observation of early suckling is a key part of the shepherd’s role. Early standing and early suckling can be improved by feeding the ewe an elevated level of vitamin E and selenium during late gestation .

If the ewe has an inadequate milk supply then supplementation with a high quality milk replacer is an option.

Then add info on Milk replacer ……………………………

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