Good preparation after scanning will help you maximise the number of healthy newborn lambs you will have to finish this year.
Volac Technical Officer Abi Erian takes you through a seven-step ‘gear up’ plan to help you make the 2019 lambing season your best yet...
1. Get pregnant ewe nutrition right (and boost colostrum quality)
Ms Erian explains 70 per cent of foetal growth takes place in the last six weeks of pregnancy so paying extra attention to ewe nutrition at this time is key.
“Get it wrong and you may have to cope with poor lamb survival rates, low birth weights and inferior quality ewe colostrum.”
Ewe colostrum is the first feed for the newborn lamb and the key to its 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.
“Remember the 3Q rule: colostrum should be fed quickly, in sufficient quantity and be of the right suality. It should also be squeaky clean. Consequently, it makes sense to have some artificial colostrum available in case any ewe does not produce enough natural colostrum.”
Ms Erian advises grouping and feeding ewes according to scanning results and their condition score. This will optimise nutrition during the critical last few weeks of pregnancy.
“Getting the mineral balance right is important too, so ask your nutritionist for advice. Consider asking your vet to take blood samples from ewes four to six weeks pre-lambing just to make sure their diet is delivering the required energy and protein status,” she says.
2. Prepare your sheep housing
Sheds should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before ewes are brought inside (at least two weeks before lambing).
“Use plenty of clean, dry bedding to reduce the risk of spreading infectious bacteria, which cause lameness and other infections such as watery mouth, joint ill and coccidiosis. Good lighting is important too because it makes it so much easier to check stock without disturbing them too much.
Avoid overcrowding otherwise stress and disease issues can spiral out of control: a typical 70kg ewe needs 1.2sq.metre to 1.4sq.m of floor space and 45cm of trough space.”
3. Check your flock health plan
Remind yourself of the essential disease management interventions pre- and post-lambing.
“For example, do not forget to boost your ewes’ clostridial disease and pasteurellosis cover four to six weeks pre-lambing. Make sure any lame sheep are separated and treated well before housing.
4. Make sure you have a system in place for rearing surplus lambs
Ad lib milk feeding systems using performance-formulated ewe milk replacer will help you safeguard triplet-bearing ewe condition, save labour and secure better lamb growth rates.
“Why spend hours a day bottle feeding when you could be prioritising your time elsewhere during a hectic lambing period?”
5. Decide on staffing levels
Lambing is a time of year when an extra pair of hands can be invaluable. Have you got enough labour cover?
“Many flocks rely on students to help out, but it is important to evaluate the level of help you need. Students vary in their experience and knowledge, so be clear when advertising for staff what level of skills and experience you are looking for.
"Any new staff recruited need to know what is expected from them from the start and should be given clear management protocols so they know exactly what to do in any given situation.”
6. Stock up with the equipment and supplies you will need
Lambing is always hectic and once the season starts you may not have the time to keep dashing out for essential kit.
“You need to be focused on the job too. Get prepared and order well in advance materials such as disinfectant for pens, iodine for navels, castration rings, feeding tubes, marker sprays, sterilisation equipment, ewe milk replacer, colostrum replacer and any other lambing essentials.”
7. Set targets for reducing lamb losses
Good records are essential to benchmark performance and to help you identify any potential problem areas.
“Your recording system does not have to be sophisticated or complicated – the important thing is to do it well and if you do not record already, lambing time is a great time to start. You should be aiming for less than 15 per cent lamb losses, but top performing flocks are achieving closer to 10 per cent.”
Ms Erian says that if more than 2 per cent of ewes were barren at scanning it is well worth asking your vet for advice.
Targets for reducing lamb losses