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Handy hints: Top 10 tips to help keep lambs alive


Farmers Guardian’s first monthly handy hints guide focuses on making sure every lamb gets off to a flying start. Louise Hartley gets 10 top tips from vets in Devon and Scotland.


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1. Colostrum

Timing, quantity and quality are critical, says Katie Scooter of St Davids farm practice in Devon.


She says: “Two feeds in the first six hours are crucial as the first helps the second to be absorbed better.


“In terms of quantity, lambs need to suck half a litre in the first six hours. A normal feed rate is 50ml per kg.


“Quality is affected by ewe nutrition in late pregnancy. If quality is poor, it does not matter if you get the timing and quantity correct, the lamb will still be lacking.”

2. Navel Dip

2. Navel Dip

Jamie Moffat of Merlin veterinary group, Kelso, says: “The navel of every newborn lamb should be dipped in 10 per cent iodine solution as soon as possible after birth, and certainly within 15 minutes. Ideally, each navel should be dipped for a second time about four hours after birth.


“To prevent any areas being missed, tip lambs back to allow full coverage of the navel and surrounding skin rather than spraying.


“Every lamb will contaminate the iodine solution to some degree, so use a small container which is regularly discarded and filled with clean solution.”


3. Hygiene – Preventing watery mouth

Mr Moffat says: “Watery mouth is seen in one- to three-day-old lambs, with signs such as bloat, lethargy, a wet lower jaw from excessive salivation and an unwillingness to suckle.


“It is initially picked up from an unhygienic lambing environment, or from ewes with excessive faecal staining of the wool and vaginal area. The disease is exacerbated with a delayed or inadequate colostrum intake.


“Treatment is only likely to be effective in early cases and should include warm oral dextrose and rehydration solution by stomach tube, at a rate of 50ml per kg, four times a day, and a broad spectrum antibiotic such as amoxicillin or oxytetracycline intramuscularly.


“Oral antibiotics such as spectinomycin may be effective in very early cases and should be given within 15 minutes of birth. Due to retention of early faeces in cases of watery mouth, soapy water enemas may also be used.”

4. Hygiene – Preventing joint ill

Mr Moffat continues: “Bacteria spreads through the bloodstream, arising from the gut, poorly treated navels, or from the respiratory tract, and settle in the joints, causing lameness in lambs from five to 10 days old.


“Where joint ill is suspected, with painful hot swollen joints, intramuscular injections of penicillin, once daily for five to seven days gives the best chance of recovery.


“Although the infection may be controlled by this treatment in early cases, there will be inflammatory material and damage within the joint space and so a long lasting mild lameness may result.


“The emphasis should be placed on prevention, through ensuring each lamb receives adequate colostrum, either naturally or by stomach tube, and a clean well bedded lambing area and individual pens which can be disinfected between ewes.”


5. Heat lamps/warming boxes

5. Heat lamps/warming boxes

Miss Scooter says: “It is important to know how old and how cold the lamb is. The normal temperature is 39degC.


“If the lamb is between 37degC and 39degC, feed the lamb warm colostrum by stomach tube and return to its mother in a sheltered, well-bedded pen.


“If less than 37degC and less than six hours old, warm the lamb first to 37degC before feeding and returning to the ewe.


“If more than six hours old and less than 37degC, do not warm the lamb before giving intraperitoneal glucose.”

6. Intraperitoneal glucose

Miss Scooter says: “If less than six hours old, the lamb has enough brown fat in its body reserves to provide energy without feeding. If more than six hours old, these reserves are gone and the lamb will start to burn muscle and produce ketones which can cause brain damage.


“If less than 37degC and more than six hours old, lambs must be given energy before they are warmed to stop this happening. If fed colostrum it will sit in the abomasum, not be absorbed and cook under the heat lamp.


“An injection of warmed glucose can be given directly into the abdomen of the hypothermic lamb where it is rapidly absorbed.”


Mr Moffat says: “The lamb is held by the front legs, slightly tipped back and 25ml of a 20 per cent glucose solution can be injected through the body wall in an area about 3cm behind the level of the umbilicus, and about 2-3cm away from the midline of the abdomen.


“A 19-gauge 25mm needle, aimed roughly towards the rump or tail head region is best for the procedure.


“A fresh needle should be used when carrying out this technique to avoid introducing bacteria into the abdomen. The lamb should then be warmed and tubed with colostrum.”


Intraperitoneal glucose injections can be tricky, and carry risk of peritonitis. It is advisable to ask your vet for a demonstration.

7. Supplementary feeding

Stomach tubes are an essential piece of kit, says Miss Scooter.


“Only use a stomach tube if a lamb is able to hold up its head and able to swallow and remember to clean and disinfect bottles, teats and stomach tubes between uses to avoid spreading diseases such as watery mouth.”

8. Ewe examination

Once lambed, give ewes a quick once over to ensure they will be fit to raise their lambs.


Miss Scooter says: “We often focus all our attention on the lambs and forget ewes need to be examined to pick up problems early.


“Check teeth, eyes, body condition score, vagina, udders and feet.”



9. Vaccination

9. Vaccination

It may be wise to investigate the cost benefit of specific vaccines for your flock with your vet, says Miss Scooter.


“Keep good records to see if investigation is warranted. If more than 15 per cent of ewes are barren or more than two per cent of ewes abort, blood sampling to investigate the cause is advised and vaccination may be required.”

10. Faecal egg counting

Faecal egg counting can be used to make sure lambs stay healthy when out at grass.


“One of the biggest causes of loss of lambs and production at pasture is gastrointestinal worms,” says Miss Scooter.


“It takes about three weeks for roundworms to cycle from egg to adult at pasture, and lambs usually start picking at grass and accumulating an egg burden from three weeks old – so start sampling at six weeks.


“Sample either 10 per cent or 10 individuals in each group [whichever is the greatest number]. Take samples from each group every two to three weeks throughout the grazing season to map changes in the pasture burden and to advise timing of worming.”



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