At this stage some people will have all but finished lambing, some will be part or most of the way through and others will only be getting prepared. Whatever your stage in the lambing season, preventing new born lamb losses is a key focus area for each and every system with current figures suggesting lamb deaths between birth and three days old ranging from 10-25%.
Various infectious diseases and management issues affect young lambs of this age. In this article Matt Hylands aims to describe the issues we most commonly see and the reasons behind them as well as explain what to do with that critical, hypothermic lamb.
Navel ill – wet navels become infected with environmental bacteria that can track upwards to the liver. Treating navels with strong iodine and/or an iodine-alcohol mixture immediately after birth encourages them to dry up and shrivel away.
Joint ill – dull lambs with one or more swollen, painful joints. Caused by infection following entry of bacteria either via ingestion, navel ill or open wounds (e.g. tagging, docking, castration).
Watery mouth – lambs stop feeding, have abdominal pain and are wet around the mouth. Caused by lambs ingesting bacteria from the environment; E.coli being the most commonly isolated pathogen. Ensuring adequate colostrum intake forms the mainstay of prevention alongside good pen hygiene.
Scours – diarrhoea can be caused by a number of reasons, not least nutritional changes, bacteria, viruses and parasites. A fresh muck sample is a good starting place for an investigation on farm.
Insufficient colostrum intake – lambs need to receive 50ml/kg of colostrum within the first 6hrs of life. In their first 24hrs a lamb must ingest 200ml/kg of bodyweight in colostrum (e.g. a 5kg lamb needs 1L of colostrum in its first day). Sufficient colostrum is vital in order to provide essential immunoglobulins that protect against numerous peri-parturient diseases as well as provide energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Exposure and starvation – exposure can lead to hypothermia, which is when a lamb cannot produce enough heat to make up for the heat lost though an unlicked, wet fleece in cold weather. Starvation can also lead to hypothermia because they have no energy from which to produce heat. This happens when they are greater than 6hrs old and so have no brown internal fat with which they were born and no colostrum in their stomach. More often than not this is due to mis-mothering which happens when ewes are disturbed during lambing; have had a difficult lambing due to sub-optimal birth weights reflecting inaccurate pre-lambing nutrition; or they were turned out too early.
Warming a lamb – normal rectal temperature is 39-40oC, below this indicates some degree of hypothermia, less than 37oC indicates severe hypothermia. If this is the case and if the lamb is more than 5-6hrs old then it is not going to have sufficient stores of brown fat left to produce energy from itself so it’s important to provide energy either via glucose injections or milk BEFORE warming it up. Dry with a towel first then use either infra-red lamps (caution: avoid over-heating) or warming boxes. Take rectal temperatures every 30 minutes and when over 37oC, remove and give milk via stomach tube or glucose via injection.
Stomach tubing – do not tube weak or unconscious lambs and always use a clean, sterilised stomach tube. Sitting with lamb on your lap gently introduce the tube via the left side of the mouth. If the lamb shows signs of distress remove and try again. It should go in as far as to reach from tip of nose to behind shoulder, take care not to advance any further. When tube is in place gently administer colostrum/milk over 20 seconds.
Glucose injection – “we can inject with Glucose, but we recommend speaking to your vet first.”