Dr Jenny Hull, farm vet and partner at Black Sheep Farm Health, Rothbury, Northumberland, offers some advice on colostrum management.
Colostrum management of lambs at birth is essential for the prevention of disease and giving lambs the best start in life.
Dr Hull says: “Good colostrum management, along with good lambing hygiene, should not only increase lamb vitality, but reduce the need for antibiotics against problems such as watery mouth.
“The farming industry is committed to reducing its antibiotic usage and selecting only at-risk lambs for treatment with antibiotics is one way of reducing usage.”
Quickness: Both quality of colostrum and ability of lambs to absorb antibodies declines rapidly in the first 24 hours after lambing; the sooner the lamb gets its quota of colostrum the better
Quantity: Lambs need 50ml/kg of good quality colostrum as soon as possible and 200ml/kg within the first 24 hours; for an average 4kg lamb, this equates to 200ml for its first feed; small lambs, and those lambed outside, require more colostrum to keep warm
Quality: Concentration of antibodies and fat content is essential when looking at the quality of colostrum; quality of ewe’s colostrum can be affected by nutrition, vaccination of ewes, number of lambs carried, disease in the ewe and breed, for example, Suffolk colostrum has a lower fat percentage than Blackface colostrum.
Production of good quality colostrum in ewes is centred around protein intake in the two weeks before lambing; a rough feeding guide is for ewes to receive 100g/foetus/day of digestible undegraded protein, such as soya, for two weeks prior lambing
When a ewe’s colostrum is unavailable or inadequate, surplus colostrum from another ewe on-farm is the gold standard.
Dr Hull says: “Avoid ewes which have aborted their lambs to limit potential spread of disease. Harvest as soon as possible after lambing and hygienically; ideally wear gloves, use clean containers and avoid harvesting straw and muck at the same time. This can either be refrigerated for up to one week, or frozen at -18degC for up to a year.
“Do not microwave frozen colostrum to reheat it, as this breaks down proteins, including vital antibodies. Any donor animals should be from the same farm and vaccinated for clostridial disease.
“It is not advisable to use cow colostrum, as it risks introducing Johne’s disease to the flock. In addition, a proportion of cows produce milk which is toxic to lambs. It is also not as dense in protein or energy.
“The next best substitute is artificial colostrum. Recent independent work by Murray Corke and students at the University of Cambridge assessed the concentration of antibodies and fat content of 14 commercial colostrum supplements, relative to ewe colostrum.
“Fat content compared favourably in most products. However, all fell short of ewe colostrum in terms of antibody concentration. They ranged from about 10-67 per cent of the concentration in natural ewe colostrum.”
The campaign #ColostrumIsGold aims to get all livestock farmers maximising the benefits of colostrum.
This may seem obvious, as any shepherd knows colostrum is the foundation of a good lambing season.
However, there are means of managing your colostrum supply so lambs which would otherwise go hungry get their fair share.