What are the dangers associated with buying in foster ewes and pet lambs?

As we enter into the busy mid-season lambing period, like any other year, a number of problems are more than likely going to arise.

Such problems include: mismothering issues; ewes not taking to their lambs; lamb losses; hard lambings; ewes prolapsing; twin-lamb disease; and a host of other issues.

A lot of these issues (above) are related to on-farm management practices. However, on the flip side, problems can arise when buying in stock, especially at lambing time.

At this time of the year, many farmers are on the lookout for foster ewes and pet lambs. There are many reasons for this. A foster ewe is likely to be a ewe that has lost her lamb and, if she has milk, will have a good chance of rearing one if not two lambs.

This allows farmers to foster lambs that they would initially have had to rear artificially, and if the fostering process goes well, it will save the farmer time having to feed those lambs individually with a bottle.

It is the same idea when it comes to pet lambs; they either lost their mother at birth or were a triplet or quadruplet lamb that had to be taken off their mother.

In this case, farmers may look to buy pet lambs to foster onto a ewe that lost her lambs.

Either way, if the fostering process goes well, it can end up saving the farmer a lot of time feeding lambs individually and also make use of a ewe that lost her lamb – for whatever reason – but still has the opportunity to rear a lamb or two.

However, even though it may seem like a good idea and save some hardship during the lambing period to buy in a foster ewe or a pet lamb, it can also be a health risk to your flock as well.

Buying in stock at this time of the year – especially if they are going to be introduced into the lambing shed to the rest flock – is a major health risk.

Extra care should be taken when buying in stock. Ewes or lambs – depending on what you are looking for – should be examined thoroughly for any health defects.

When buying in ewes and lambs, there a number of issues to keep an eye out for.

These include: 

Ewes:

  • Metritis:
  • Lameness;
  • Mastitis.

Lambs:

  • Scour;
  • Watery mouth;
  • Watery eye;
  • Infected navel.

If farmers can avoid buying in any of the issues listed (above) then the risk of introducing animal health issues to the flock are greatly reduced.

Another cause of concern of late has been the poor weather conditions. The fact that the weather has been so bad, it has been hard for farmers to get ewes and their lambs out to grass.

This, in turn, means the chances of a bought-in ewe and lamb being kept in the lambing shed for a lengthy period is increased.

Therefore, to reduce the amount of contact a bought-in animal has with the rest of the flock, it is best practice to quarantine them – just to be safe.

In the case of buying in a ewe that you plan to foster lambs onto. It would be best to keep her in a separate shed or in an area away from the rest of the flock.

The same can be said with buying in pet lambs; keeping them away from the rest of the newly born lambs is best to prevent the spread of any infection or disease that they may be carrying.

If at all possible, if a situation arises where a farmer needs a foster ewe or a pet lamb, it is best if that animal can be bought from a known source.