Spotlight on viability of the ‘small lamb’

Farmers often ask if small lambs at birth are viable, writes Darryl Boyd of CAFRE. The answer, of course, depends on why they are small.

In multiple births (especially triplets) foetal growth will reduce in pregnancy resulting in smaller lambs. This is natural and if the ewe is fed correctly these lambs could in fact be more viable than twins from a ewe underfed at the critical point before lambing.

In multiples, litter mates that died can affect the remaining lambs due to the number of cotyledons available, fewer of these result in low birth weights and viability. Avoiding stress at mating is the key factor in avoiding this problem.

Fluke – Regular dosing for fluke using a suitable product should be considered. Be aware of the stages of fluke the product you are using will control. Talk to your vet about an appropriate fluke drenching programme.

Ongoing fluke treatment (perhaps every six weeks) will be important this year due to the constant wet weather which has increased fluke incidence on many farms. As with worms, fluke resistance to treatment can be an issue. This can be difficult to determine by faecal egg counts but can be confirmed through post-mortem examination of ewes that have died.

Sheep tasks

q Assess your silage. If you have not done this yet, do it as soon as possible so supplementary feeding can be tailored to forage quality. Also assess how much there is as you might need more concentrates or alternative forage if silage is scarce.

q If feeding silage to housed ewes take the silage from the centre of the pit and don’t feed poor quality baled silage. Pregnant sheep require the best quality silage you have. Feeding good quality silage will also help prevent listeriosis.

q Remove waste silage regularly, especially in late pregnancy. Ad-lib silage means ad-lib quality silage!

q Ensure all sheep are able to eat concentrates equally.

q Check water troughs are not leaking. This will save on straw bedding.

q Ensure sheep cake has a high level of DUP, usually soya. Over 15 per cent soya is recommended in the last three weeks of pregnancy.

q Take veterinary advice on worming and fluke treatments and administer clostridial vaccine booster at the right time – four weeks pre-lambing.

q Use raddle marks for greater accuracy in vaccinating batches.

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