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High quality colostrum for your lambs

Seasonal challenge Seasonal challenge25-2-2020

With the lambing season underway, nutrition needs to be a priority to ensure that lambs are provided with high quality colostrum and milk in the crucial first few weeks of life.

Due to the structure of a lamb’s placenta, no passive transfer of immunity occurs in the uterus and lambs are therefore dependant on colostrum to obtain protective antibodies. Providing lambs with enough high quality colostrum at birth is vital if they are to develop immunity from disease, grow well and thrive.

An average ewe will produce about two litres of colostrum in the first 18 hours post-partum and getting this colostrum into the lamb quickly is important. Lambs need to absorb immunoglobulins (IgG) within two hours of birth, as their ability to absorb it reduces sharply over time. While the IgG content of colostrum varies between breed, the quantity and quality of sheep colostrum is predominantly driven by the amount of energy and protein she receives in the last three weeks of pregnancy.

Some new born lambs, particularly twins or triplets, are at risk of not receiving sufficient colostrum. When checking lambs pay attention to see if they look ‘lively’ and have a full belly. If you feel a lamb has been deprived of its mother’s colostrum, artificial colostrum should be fed immediately.

High quality colostrum for happy, healthy lambs

Hygiene

Whether lambing indoors or outdoors, hygiene is imperative. When indoors, lambing pens should be cleaned out regularly and topped up with straw to prevent ewes and lambs ingesting faeces, urine and afterbirth fluids.

Plenty of water must be provided and should be kept clean, as well as frequently changed. It is essential that the environment into which lambs are born are not contaminated, as their immunity at birth is low.

Nutritional demand

Twelve hours after birth, if all is well with the ewe and lamb, they can be turned out to pasture. Ewes in early lactation have significant energy and protein requirement to meet the nutritional demand of their lambs. Ewes rearing two lambs are producing 3kg of milk per day, requiring over 32MJ of energy per day, if they are to maintain body condition. Essentially a ewe’s energy requirement doubles overnight at lambing. Fortunately, giving birth reduces the pressure on the rumen and a ewe’s appetite increases by 50%.

As much of their diet will be forage based, variability in the quality of forage available will be one of the biggest factors affecting the amount of additional energy ewes require from concentrates. Think about having forages analysed prior to lambing and developing a nutritional plan to help meet the requirements of both ewe and lamb.

Vitamins and minerals

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Vitamins, minerals and trace elements shouldn’t be overlooked during the lambing period either, with several supplements playing an important role in supporting ewe health and performance.

Vitamin E and Selenium have both been shown to have a positive influence on lamb vigour and survival rates. To help reduce the risk of hypothermia, supplement ewes with iodine and use zinc to stop ewes developing mastitis and lameness problems.

Cobalt can also encourage lambs to stand and suckle, which helps with early milk/colostrum intakes and therefore promotes early lamb growth gains.

The lambing period is a challenging time for a ewe, but by managing her nutritional requirements correctly, sheep farmers can support ewes through this difficult period and enable them to produce healthy, vibrant lambs with good growth potential. 

More information

ForFarmers have a full product range that will take lambs from birth to slaughter. Target feeding lambs will improve efficiency and margin by helping to achieve the correct liveweight gains or carcass weights for a desired market.

For more information on our range of Ewbol products or our sheep minerals, please contact your local account manager or call us on 0330 678 0982