Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ensuring the best start for your lamb crop

Lis King, AHDB Sheep Scientist, gives some top tips around best lambing practices and focuses on
the importance of hygiene at lambing.

Lambing is probably one of your busiest periods so spending some time now to get organised and set yourself a lambing routine will play dividends when you’re tired. Your lambing plan should ensure two things:

  • Lambs must receive the right quantity of quality colostrum quickly (the three Qs of colostrum) 
  • Good hygiene, which becomes more important as lambing progresses due to the build-up of bacteria

If you incorporate these two points into your plan it will reduce the risk of watery mouth, joint ill, navel ill, mastitis and metritis (uterus infections) and other generalised infections, maximise the chance of survival, reduce mortality and make good business sense. It also reduces the need for antibiotic treatment, helping to prevent antibiotic resistance developing on your farm.

Bacteria in the environment can enter lambs through several routes including the mouth, the navel and ear tags to potentially cause disease. While bacteria enter the lamb within the first few hours after birth, infection may not develop immediately. This delay means farmers don’t always associate the two (e.g. joint ill). Ensuring lambs suckle a sufficient quantity of quality colostrum within 24 hours of birth is essential, as it provides the antibodies necessary to protect lambs from disease. Lambs need to consume 50ml/kg of colostrum in the first two hours and 200ml/kg in the first 24 hours, so a 5kg lamb would need to consume 250ml within 2 hours and 1 litre within 24 hours of birth. Colostrum quality can easily be checked using a brix refractometer. There are also a number of simple good hygiene practices you can adopt to help protect ewes and lambs further.

If the flock is lambing indoors, lambing pens should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected prior to bringing the ewes into lamb. Housing should be well-ventilated but draft free and the floor dry, with plenty of fresh bedding in both group and individual pens. Keep bedding as clean and dry as possible. Clean out individual pens between ewes and lambs if possible, or spread disinfectant or lime before re-bedding. Take special care of popular areas for giving birth (e.g. the back or corner of the housing) and remove any obvious wet bedding and afterbirth. The AHDB bedding materials directory is useful if you are looking for alternatives to straw following the drought last year.

Wear disposable gloves for lambing assists and have facilities handy to enable washing of hands regularly, remember to keep all lambing and equipment clean and to disinfect between each use. Lambing can be a stressful time so it is important that equipment is ready beforehand.

Treat lambs’ navels within 15 minutes of birth with strong iodine solution (10 percent) and preferably alcohol based. The alcohol helps to dry the navel. The treatment needs to be repeated at least once, at around two to four hours later, ensure the entire navel is covered. Either a spray or dip can be used, but if using dips, change the solution and clean the cup regularly to prevent spreading disease. The repeat application can be built into a routine and applied when you go back to check the lamb has received adequate colostrum. 

Finally, place ear tags in surgical spirit prior to application, this will disinfect the tags and help reduce the chance of introducing infection.

I hope my top tips will give your lamb crop the best start, reduce the number of animals you need to treat with antibiotics and most importantly increase your flock performance. Happy lambing!

For more information refer to the Better Returns Programme manuals including Reducing lamb losses for Better Returns, Using medicines correctly for Better Returns and Targeting lamb management for Better Returns

You can also watch our AHDB webinars, on our YouTube channel; Reducing lamb losses and Lambing success - responsible use of antibiotics at lambing time

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