The key to a successful lambing

A successful lambing requires both healthy ewes and healthy lambs! Strong, fit lambs are produced from ewes that have been well looked after ahead of lambing and have been free from diseases and problems.

How do I know if my ewes are fit for lambing?

Ewes should be in the correct body condition score at key stages of the production cycle which depends on diligent management and appropriate nutrition throughout the year. As a rule of thumb, between tupping and lambing, ewes may lose up to half a body condition score, emphasising the need for correct nutrition during pregnancy. Ewes in a poorer body condition will have a lower lamb survival rates and will wean smaller lambs.

The last eight weeks of pregnancy are the most important, as the metabolic demands of the ewe increase dramatically. Foetal growth increases rapidly in the last 8 weeks of pregnancy, which requires an enormous amount of energy from the ewe. In addition to this, increased foetal growth reduces the rumen capacity, and therefore restricts the quantity of feed ewes can consume. As such, ewes in late pregnancy should receive an energy dense diet to accommodate for this. Colostrum and milk production also begins during late pregnancy. For high quality colostrum to be produced, ewes require an increased protein content in the diet. Remember, high quality colostrum is the essential first feed for the newborn lamb, so it is paramount that protein levels in the diet ahead of lambing is correct.

Tips for feeding ewes:

  • Ensure there is enough space for all ewes to feed
  • Forage should be fresh and palatable
  • Allow enough lying room for rumination to occur
  • ALWAYS provide fresh, clean water
  • Offer concentrates twice daily
  • Feed concentrates from the floor to prevent quick intakes
Ewe with twin lambs

How can I make sure my lambs get off to the best start in life?

The first 24 hours of a newborn lamb’s life is the most important. Infectious diseases of newborn lambs and hypothermia account for 50% of total neonatal lamb losses. Meticulous management and attentiveness to the newborn will help prevent losses from disease and hypothermia.

Care of the newborn lamb begins with appropriate navel treatment, ideally with an iodine-based spray or dip to prevent pathogens invading via the wet navel. Repeat treatments may be needed if ewes have licked the iodine off the navel, so it is important to check 2-3 hours after. Ewes should be checked for colostrum when they have been moved into an individual pen, and if little or no colostrum is present then alternative sources should be obtained. Lambs should receive 50ml/kg colostrum within the first 24 hours of life, ideally, within the first 6 hours of life. The passive transfer of antibodies from colostrum to the lamb has a time limit of 24 hours, as this is when the lamb is no longer able to absorb them in their gut.  Colostrum is essential for lamb survival as it contains antibodies from the ewe (in addition to vitamins and energy) which all play a vital role. This combination provides the perfect cocktail to help build a robust immunity, allowing lambs to fight off any infections from their environment that they may encounter. It is important to check lambs regularly to ensure sufficient intake. If assistance was required for lambing, the lamb(s) may be weak and may require suckling onto the ewe, or if they are too weak then some may require tube feeding.

A match made in heaven!

A combination of caring for the pregnant ewe and attentiveness of the newborn lamb is the perfect recipe for lambing success.

Remember…

  • Feed the ewe correctly
  • Colostrum is gold
  • Happy ewes leads to happy lambs!

Written by Mel Bexon BVMedSci (Hons) BVM BVS MRCVS