We are currently welcoming a rocketing trade for both ewes and lambs with prices here in the South West consistently reaching 3 figures. Scanning percentages going into this lambing season have seen an average increase of 10 – 15% following the effects of the tough spring and dry summer in 2018. It’s important that we are capitalising on potential margins; closing the gap between the number of lambs scanned and the number sold off the farm.
When thinking about reducing lamb mortality rates Colostrum is key. Your ewe’s colostrum not only provides essential antibodies specific to your farm, but it is also high in fat providing energy to help prevent hypothermia.
Lambs should receive colostrum as soon after birth as possible – ultimately within the first 6 hours. Lambs are born with a permeable gut wall to allow for the absorption of large antibody molecules. As time passes the permeability of the gut wall decreases allowing for less antibody uptake into the bloodstream. Colostrum quality within the ewe’s udder also reduces with time.
The lamb’s permeable gut wall also provides access to the opportunistic bacteria present in your lambing shed. Remember ewe faeces is a source of E. coli. It is therefore vital to provide plenty of clean bedding – this can be used alongside an antibacterial bedding powder. In cases where the lamb fails to suckle colostrum for itself ensure all equipment used for feeding is sterile.
How Much to Feed
New-born lambs should be receiving small and frequent feeds with a maximum of 50 ml/kg body weight fed per feed with a minimum of 210 ml/kg body weight being fed in the first 24 hours.
Colostrum intake in the first 24hrs:
Body Weight (kg)
|Maximum amount per feed (ml)||Minimum amount within 24hrs (ml)|
For lambs reared outdoors colostrum allowance can be increased by 15-20%.
Colostrum quality is measured by the mg of antibodies per ml of colostrum. The quality of colostrum can be influenced by feeding sufficient energy and protein prior to lambing. Remember antibodies are proteins. Much of this requirement can be met by good quality forage but in the last 3 weeks prior to lambing, the ewe’s protein demand increases and the room she has available for forage intake is greatly reduced. At this stage feeding rumen degradable (microbial) protein alone is not enough. Protein deficiency in the ewe will cause her own immune system to drop causing her to shed worm eggs and making her open to disease challenge. In order to prevent this protein deficiency, it is advisable to include a source of digestible undegradable protein (DUP) in pre-lambing rations.
Colostrum quantity has shown to be improved by giving ewes access to mannan-oligosaccharides (MOS) prior to lambing, these are often included in buckets and blocks.
Passive Immunity from Vaccinations
Clostridial diseases and Pasteurella are one of the most common causes of death in lambs. Vaccinating ewes and giving their booster 4 weeks before lambing allows for passive immunity via the colostrum. Some vaccines cover Pasteurella and Clostridial diseases whereas others differ in the number of Clostridial diseases they protect against. The passive immunity provided against Pasteurella only lasts for 3 weeks whereas against clostridial diseases it varies between 8 and 12 weeks depending on the product. Choosing the right product is farm specific; options that cover Pasteurella are more expensive so evaluate whether Pasteurella is a challenge on your farm. Also, dosing your lambs pre-weaning to continue their protection is vital when the passive immunity of the product you have chosen lapses.
Conclusively, some factors affecting lamb mortality are completely out of our control. It is important that we focus on the things we can control and giving every lamb the best possible chance with enough quality colostrum delivered quickly and cleanly containing antibodies against challenges specific to our farms is the best place to start.