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Reducing lambing losses in your flock

Maximising lambing success was the focus of a series of technical skills meetings organised by Eblex across the uplands. Chloe Palmer reports from one of the meetings held at Bakewell.

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The first 72 hours after lambing is the most crucial period for survival, according to vet Douglas Ross of Bakewell Veterinary Clinic.


Starvation and hypothermia account for more than one-third of all lambing losses and many can be avoided if prompt and correct action is taken.


“Treatment and prognosis is dependent on the temperature and the age of the lamb, so always have a thermometer to hand,” he said.


“The normal rectal temperature of a lamb is between 39degC and 40degC. If the temperature falls to 37degC, the lamb is moderately hypothermic and requires warming. Below this temperature, it is severely hypothermic and likely to die if nothing is done,” said Mr Ross.


“Knowing the age of the lamb allows for correct treatment. If less than five hours old, it will have some of its brown fat reserves remaining, so will have an energy source.


“If the lamb is older than this, it requires nutrition urgently, but if its temperature has dropped below 37degC, tubing colostrum or milk replacer will be difficult.

Glucose levels

“Dry all hypothermic lambs to prevent further heat loss from evaporation, but if severely hypothermic and more than five hours old, it is essential the glucose level is corrected before the lamb is warmed up. If this is not done, the sudden increase in temperature will lead to increased cerebral metabolism and the lamb may succumb to a coma.


“Stomach tubing will not work in a severely hypothermic collapsed lamb because, at best, the lamb is likely to regurgitate it. At worst, it could enter the lungs and cause pneumonia.


“Peritoneal glucose injections are a lifesaver. If you are nervous about injecting into the abdomen, consider if you do not do this, the lamb will probably die anyway. Ask your vet how to do this,” said Mr Ross.


He said pregnant women are at risk from sheep abortion diseases and should be kept away from lambing areas. He also recommended precautions should be taken to avoid cross-infection between ewes.


“Not all abortions are the result of infections, but it is better to assume they are. Separate the ewe off and remove dirty bedding and material,” said Mr Ross.


When a ewe has received assistance during lambing, it is possible soft tissue damage has occurred and there is an increased likelihood of a uterine infection.


“I recommend giving her a shot of long-acting oxytetracycline antibiotic and a dose of anti-inflammatories will also help as she will be sore and this will reduce the chances of a prolapse happening.”


Mr Ross highlighted the importance of recording lambing losses, but added ‘it is only worth recording if you are going to do something with the information.’


“You can compare your own figures to the available benchmarking data. This is a useful way of seeing where there is room for improvement.”

Intraperitoneal glucose

  • Use 20 per cent glucose (effectively half total volume as 40 per cent and rest as boiling water). Allow to cool.
  • Give 10ml/kg (about 50ml for single, 40ml for twin, 30ml for triplets
  • Spray area to be injected with terramycin or iodine
  • Injection site is 2.5cm (1in) below and 1cm (0.4in) to the side of the navel
  • Use a sterile 19g, 2.5cm (1in) needle and sterile 50ml syringe
  • Give a covering antibiotic injection under skin

Watery mouth/diarrhoeic lambs

  • Will become dehydrated so replace fluids with electrolytes, not colostrum or milk
  • If tubing for two to three days, lambs will become hypoglycaemic if there is not enough glucose
  • Use 10 per cent glucose solution - may need to supplement up to 10g per 100ml

Stomach tubes

  • Ensure tube is in stomach, not lungs. If lamb struggles, take out and reposition
  • Use colostrum for first day, made up sachets will ensure the quality delivered.
  • Give about 50ml/kg three to five times daily
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