Tips to ensure ewe and lamb survival in bad weather



Tips to ensure ewe and lamb survival in bad weather

Tips to ensure ewe and lamb survival in bad weather

After ‘the beast from the east’ arriving in the UK last year, it is essential to ensure your pregnant and lactating ewes have adequate protection from the elements. They also need the right nutrition for foetal development and milk production to ensure newborn lambs have the best start possible.

Three top cold weather tips for pregnant and lactating ewes:

1.Get your feeding right

Table 1: approximate forage quantities required by 300, 70kg ewes for three months

Forage type


Quantity (t) for 300 ewes




Big bale silage (40% dry matter)



Clamp silage (30% dry matter)



Good quality forage analysing out at 11.5-12MJ/kg DM or more is capable of supplying the majority of nutrients needed by a ewe until the last 2 weeks prior to lambing. Poor quality forage (less than 10.5MJ/kg DM), will need supplementing with concentrates much earlier. If you have several types of forage available, then always save the best quality for close to lambing to help cut down on bought in concentrates.

Ensure that all ewes, whether outside or inside, have access to a suitable energy source alongside forage, as during the later stages of pregnancy foetal size growth can limit rumen capacity. This could come in the form of a feed such as Megalac, a rumen protected fat, which helps to reduce the effect of low appetite on energy intake, or in the form of energy buckets placed around fields or in sheds.

2. Check ration trace element status

Make sure the ewes’ diet is adequate in trace elements, particularly selenium and iodin. Thees two trace elements are important in mobilising brown fat in the newborn. Lambs born to well fed ewes are generally born with a good supply of brown adipose tissue, which is their instant energy source for the first few hours of life. If brown fat reserves are low, then hypothermia is a very high risk.

3. Assess the conditions before rushing to make decisions

As soon as the weather forecast gets worse it can be tempting to rush to get all the ewes housed as quickly as possible. If your ewes are outside in a sheltered field that can be accessed easily for feeding, then resist the urge to house ewes for too long before lambing. The longer ewes are housed the more chance there is for disease to build up, and you’ll also be increasing your bedding and feed costs. Overstocking sheds to ensure as many ewes as possible are housed may also be a false economy. Overstocking will increase stress in the ewes and make it harder to ensure a clean, dry environment for newborn lambs.

Two top tips to ensure lamb survival:

1.Prevent hypothermia

To maintain its body temperature the newborn lamb must produce as much heat as it is losing to the environment. If the lamb cannot do this, its body temperature will start to fall. Hypothermia (chilling) is a condition where the lamb's body temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and body function (below 38.5°C). If not remedied, it can lead to death. In newborn lambs hypothermia usually results from exposure. In lambs over 24 hours old hypothermia is usually a result of starvation.

If a lamb is hypothermic, try and warm it up before giving it food. First dry it with a towel and then put it in a warming box with warm air fans set at 35-37°C (avoid infra-red lamps because lambs can overheat under these). Keep an eye on the hypothermic lambs and once its body temperature reaches 37°C, take it out of the box and feed it milk via a stomach tube. If the hypothermia is severe lambs can often be revived with a glucose solution. Ask your vet for advice, if necessary.

2. Ensure adequate colostrum intake

Colostrum is the first feed for newborn lambs and the key to survival. It is a highly nutritious energy source that helps the lamb to maintain body temperature and survive. It also contains antibodies that are vital to help protect the newborn lamb against disease. Ensuring sufficient good quality colostrum has been ingested immediately after birth will reduce losses from both hypothermia and disease. If ewe’s colostrum is not immediately available, a good quality alternative artificial colostrum such as Volac Lamlac Volostrum may be used.

Newborn lambs should always receive colostrum as soon as possible after birth, preferably within the first 6 hours of life. This should be continued for the first 24 hours. The newborn lamb should receive a minimum of 210ml/kg bodyweight of colostrum within the first 24 hours (e.g. a 4kg lamb should receive 840ml). For lambs reared outdoors, increase the colostrum allowance by 15% to 20%.

Colostrum should be fed warm (39°C) and should be warmed by standing in a bowl of warm water. Do not microwave colostrum or heat it directly. Temperatures above 45°C can damage the sensitive proteins within colostrum.