How much colostrum does a newborn lamb require?

At a recent pre-lambing workshop, considerable attention was placed on good management practices and the importance of feeding adequate amounts of colostrum to newborn lambs.

The workshop took place on the farm of Aidan and Peter Kehoe, in Ballycarney, Co. Wexford.

James Doran, the local Teagasc advisor in the region, opened the workshop and outlined the importance of good management practices at lambing and how to reduce lamb mortality.

Good hygiene, feeding lambs adequate amounts of colostrum and knowing when your ewes are going to lamb can reduce mortality rates during the lambing season.

Colostrum

Colostrum is the single most important feed a lamb will consume in the first few hours of life. Colostrum offers a number of health benefits, and performs three very important roles in newborn lambs.

These include:

  • It provides an easily digestible source of energy and nutrients;
  • It provides antibodies which will form the newborn lamb’s passive immune system until it has a chance to develop its own active immune system;
  • It acts as a laxative to clean out the digestive tract of the newborn lamb.

A newborn lamb requires 50ml/kg of colostrum in the first six hours of life. Therefore, a lamb weighing 5kg requires 250ml of colostrum every six hours.

Ideally, a ewe needs to be producing 1L per lamb in the first 24 hours.

In the case of a twin or triplet-bearing ewe who may have an inadequate amount of colostrum to feed her lambs, it is best practice to milk what colostrum the ewe has and divide it up equally among her lambs.

Substitute colostrum should only be used as a top-up and not as alternative to colostrum from a ewe.

Weak lambs that are unable to suckle their mother should be tube fed colostrum. The quicker lambs get these antibodies the better chance they have of surviving.

In the case of hypothermic lambs, it is best practice to administer a glucose injection.