Almost 50% of lamb losses occur in the first 48 hours of life, but there are things you can do to improve both lamb care and flock survival rates.
Why are newborn lambs so vulnerable?
- Unlike humans, there isn’t a transfer of antibodies from the mother, they are therefore born with no protection against diseases and because of this they are reliant on colostrum for passive immunity.
- New born lambs also have a very permeable gut lining which can allow for any ingested bacteria and toxins straight into the blood stream.
- They are born with a finite amount of brown fat. This is effectively their energy reserves from birth until they are able to feed.
- New born lambs have a very large surface area to body weight ratio which in turn makes them more susceptible to heat loss—especially when they are wet.
What do lambs need to thrive?
- All lambs need to be identified and well bonded with their mother as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter what breeds you have, there is always a possibility of rejection. Should this happen where the bond can’t be rekindled, intervention needs to quickly take place.
- Lambs are born wet, and often into both cold and wet conditions. With this environment and their large surface area to body weight ratio, they can often use up a lot of their finite energy levels just maintaining body temperature. By ensuring they are dry, they can save their energy.
- To minimise the chance of disease issues, the lamb’s navel should be treated with iodine as soon as possible after birth—ideally within 15 minutes.
- Make sure the lamb has suckled and ingested sufficient colostrum as soon as possible after birth—within 6 hours. This highly nutritious energy source will both help protect the lamb against disease, help with maintaining body temperature and, therefore, help it survive.
- Be sure to check the ewe has an adequate milk supply for her lamb(s). While it is preferable for the lamb to feed on ewe’s colostrum, if for any reason this is in short supply then it must be fed quickly from another source. This could be fresh or frozen from another ewe or if necessary, a high-quality natural alternative such as Volostrum.
- Try to avoid unnecessary interference. Ideally, assistance in lambing should only really occur if the ewe or the lamb’s life is at risk.
- Finally, be sure to ensure good hygiene at all times. As many as one in five lambs may die simply because of an unhygienic environment, and this can be prevented.
What are the 3Q rules of colostrum?
- QUICKLY: As mentioned, the gut wall is particularly permeable after birth—by ingesting colostrum quickly, it allows the large antibody molecules to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
- QUANTITY: We recommend 50ml/kg live weight per feed with a minimum 210ml/kg live weight within the first 24 hours. Don’t forget to increase the colostrum allowance by 15% to 20% for lambs reared outdoors.
- QUALITY: The quality will determine the level of antibodies present. This can be affected by the following:
- Ewe condition: good body condition and having been vaccinated against infectious abortion and clostridial disease
- Ewe parity: the number of previous lambings
- Ewe health: healthy well-nourished ewes are able to develop a healthy placenta which reaches its optimum size around day 90 of pregnancy
Whether for this season or looking forward to the next, we hope you have found our infographic series both informative and useful.
And incase you missed the others, take a look at 32 key points to help you prepare for a successful lambing season here and 4 Factors for Maintaining Ewe Health Pre-lambing here.