Ewe and twin lambsMany sheep producers could cut neonatal lamb losses significantly with well-organised lambing routines and better colostrum management. And with falling lamb prices and potential Schmallenberg virus implications piling even more pressure on beleaguered flockmasters, attention to detail in these crucial areas will be more important than ever this lambing season.

“Producers face a battle over the next few weeks and can ill afford to lose any healthy born lambs to the usual causes of lamb deaths in the UK,” warns Nia Williams, technical manager with lamb nutrition and sheep husbandry specialist Nettex.

According to research by HCC, nearly half of all lamb losses occur during the first 48 hours of life, but many of these could be avoided Nettex maintains.

“The major causes of lamb loss are abortion and stillbirths, congenital defects, predators and misadventure, infectious diseases, and exposure and starvation. But with good stockmanship and best practice routines around lambing, and a clear focus on quality colostrum intake, many producers could save a lot more lambs – particularly those early life losses caused by by disease, exposure and starvation.”

Nia Williams explains that newborn lambs have limited energy reserves and need rapid access to quality colostrum to survive and thrive.

“There are three golden rules to colostrum feeding: quality, quantity and quickly,” she says. “Quality depends on the ewe being adequately fed and supplemented in late pregnancy. In terms of quantity, SAC research has shown that for disease prevention lambs need about 60ml per kg of birthweight as the first protein feed after birth, with another 60ml within six hours. But to prevent hypothermia, twin lambs born outside would need an additional 210ml/kg in the first 18 hours. That adds up to just over 1100ml in total for a 4kg twin lamb reared outside.”

If colostrum is in short supply, nutritionists suggest producers try to provide all lambs with some and use a high quality colostrum substitute to ‘top up’ what newborns can get from the ewe.

“But remember when it comes to colostrum alternatives you get what you pay for,” Nia Williams says. “A good quality product will contain a high level of digestible fat for energy and protection from hypothermia, protein and – although manufacturers cannot claim their products reduce disease, as they are not licensed medicines – some will contain dried bovine colostrum and the higher the immunoglobulin (IgG) content the better.  Some products also contain pre and probiotics to encourage healthy gut colonisation and development. These are the products you should be looking to purchase.  Good colostrum alternatives will complement maternal colostrum.”

Nettex has published a five-point guide to what to look for in a quality colostrum supplement this lambing season and is urging sheep producers to challenge their supplier:

Five-point flockmaster guide to high quality artificial lamb colostrums:

  • A high digestible fat content
  • Contain egg protein
  • Include pre and probiotics
  • Easy to mix into a smooth, creamy and stable end product
  • Consistent in colour (brown, not white)