Before the chaos of lambing begins, now is a good time to stock up on the vital supplies you’ll need.
We all know that the foundation for good animal health is a constant commitment to practices year round such as good nutrition, vaccinating and parasite control. The focus of this article is to identify a few immediate bits of equipment you may need during lambing (especially with our unpredictable weather) to set you up for a good year.
Spraying the navel cord of newborn lambs with iodine helps to prevent navel infections (also known as navel-ill) which can cause arthritis, liver or lung abscesses and ultimately, death. The bugs responsible for these infections live in the soil, so lambs born into wet/muddy environments are especially susceptible. Spraying the navels before moving lambs and again when entering the mothering pen is recommended. Preventing navel infections is much easier and cheaper than treating the infections, so make sure to do this. Keeping a spray bottle on the bike is an easy habit.
Use of disinfectant before and during lambing in your rearing boxes, lambing pens and trailer will reduce the risk of lamb infections. Multiple diseases such as navel-ill, arthritis, diarrhoea and watery mouth can all be minimised by good hygiene practice. Even the best fed lambs will struggle if you expose them to a lot of bacteria, parasites and viruses – prevention is the best form of treatment.
Lambs born into wet or cold weather become hypothermic and weak, especially if little colostrum has been drunk. The best option to improve survival rates is an intra-abdominal injection of 40% dextrose (THIS MUST BE DILUTED 50:50 WITH STERILE OR BOILED WATER) to make 20% dextrose (10ml/kg). E.g. a 4kg lamb needs a 40mL treatment consisting of 20mL of 40% dextrose and 20mL of sterile water.
Technique: Hold the lamb upright between your knees and locate the injection site (1cm up from the navel towards the head, and 1cm to either side of the navel). Spray with iodine and then inject using a sterile 18G ⅜ inch needle directly into the abdomen at a slight angle, not under the skin. Always do this BEFORE you warm the lamb to prevent low sugar fits. Read the ‘Reviving Newborn Lambs’ from Beef + Lamb NZ or contact your KeyVet to discuss techniques.
Anti-inflammatories/Pain Relief (e.g. Metacam)
The routine use of Metacam is becoming common among our sheep clients. It can be used alongside your usual treatments for bearings, difficult lambings, lameness, mastitis, down ewes etc. Effective pain relief can get ewes up more quickly and eating again and therefore also increase lamb survivability too. It is a one off shot that is injected under the skin.
Lamb coverings have been shown to improve lamb survival by 5%. This is particularly important down south where our unpredictable weather can suddenly challenge your flock. Be prepared by having enough woolovers for at least 10% of your total lamb drop, as acting fast can save your lambs and improve your productivity. Ewes seem to accept lambs more easily with wool covers compared to other cover options. Always check that the ewe accepts the lamb with the cover on regardless.
Tube Feeders and Colostrum
Colostrum is the essential first milk that lambs need to build an immune system and thrive. The highest lamb mortality (deaths) is usually within the first 24 hours of life, so tube feeding can be used to ensure that your lambs are receiving the nutrients and energy they require to survive. Newborn lambs should be fed every 2-4 hours with warm colostrum for 1-2 days. After this, a normal milk replacer can be used. A good start to life is key to a productive lamb in the future.
Don’t forget about the ewe!
Lambing period demands a lot of energy from your ewe, from lambing, lactating and chasing the runaway lambs. Make sure you have also stocked up on metabolic treatment (e.g. glucophos bags and ketol) to hand in case your ewe looks like she needs a pick me up. Having bearing harnesses on hand also means that swift intervention can be taken, increasing the chances of resolution.
Time to pack your lambing kit! Remember that swift intervention and good hygiene practices are essential to keep your lambs healthy. This is your opportunity to set up for a successful spring period. If you have any questions, please feel free to chat with one of our vets.