Are your newborn lambs getting enough colostrum?

Over the next few weeks, the bulk of the mid-season lambing flocks across the country will be lambing down.

During this time, the importance of making sure that lambs get sufficient amounts of colostrum is critical.

Good colostrum management is vital to prevent against disease and give the newborn lamb the best possible start in life.

Colostrum offers a number of benefits, which include:

  • It provides a dense source of energy and nutrients;
  • It acts as a source of maternally-derived antibodies that provide the lambs with passive immunity;
  • It acts as a laxative to help clean the digestive tract.

Lambs need to receive 50ml/kg within the first six hours of life and 200ml/kg within the first 24 hours of life.

Listed (below) is the recommended amount of colostrum that should be fed to a newborn lamb – depending on its birth weight.

If a situation arises that a ewe has insufficient colostrum to feed her newborn lambs, then an alternative must be used.

For instance, colostrum from ewes that have one lamb or that lost their lambs can be used, provided that it is stored correctly.

Otherwise, a substitute colostrum can be used; however, some of these products don’t have an antibody content. Therefore, if possible, it is best to use these products as a top-up.

Another alternative option is if you know of any local dairy farmers that might be able to supply you with some cow beastings.

According to Teagasc, if you plan on using colostrum from a cow, it is best practice to increase the feeding rate by 30%, as colostrum from a cow is more dilute than that of a ewe.

Care should be taken if you are freezing colostrum. Do not heat above 40° as temperatures above this will cause deterioration in the protein in the colostrum – which will destroy the antibodies present.

If a case arises where a lamb is unable to suckle its mother and is unable to get vital antibodies into its system, then action needs to be taken in the form of tube-feeding.

Weak and lethargic lambs are at serious risk of dying if they don’t get any or enough colostrum into their system. Therefore, tube-feeding lambs should be carried out to reduce the risk of this happening.