Weather woes

This week’s torrential rainfall and drop in temperatures have intensified the challenges faced by mid-season lambing flocks.

Waterlogged soils and a resultant drop in grass utilisation is leaving ewes and their lambs much harder to settle and is making feeding more difficult, with swards easily becoming soiled with clay.

The dip in temperatures also means that keeping young lambs with a bare fleece outdoors is more challenging, not to mention greatly limiting opportunities to turn freshly lambed ewes outdoors.

There is no silver bullet, and all farmers can do is try their best to keep ewes well fed so that at least lambs with access to a good milk yield have a better chance of weathering the elements.

Supplementation rates will need to be increased to upwards of 0.8kg to 1kg daily where grass supplies are limited or utilisation is particularly challenging.

The drop in temperature and lower grass dry matter is also a stress factor that is increasing the risk of grass tetany.

Keeping concentrates containing cal mag in the diet will help to guard against tetany via supplementation of magnesium and increasing the dry matter content of the diet and slowing the rate of digestion of low dry matter grass.

Cal mag buckets should also be offered. It is important to place buckets in areas where sheep might congregate to enhance intake, and to position more than one bucket in large areas.

Hypothermia/chill in lambs

The severity of hypothermia varies greatly in young lambs. Mild hypothermia occurs where a lamb’s temperature is between 37°C and 39°C and is often seen where lambs are born into a cold environment or consume insufficient colostrum to generate heat.

The issue can usually be resolved by warming the lamb and ensuring colostrum/milk is available in sufficient quantities.

The more serious situation is where a lamb’s temperature drops below 37°C. Treatment options here depend on age and the degree of hypothermia.

Where newborn lambs are still alert and exhibit normal suckling behaviour, then the options described above for mild hypothermia should suffice.

However, where lambs are too weak to suckle, regardless of age, feeding should be delayed. The favoured solution here is getting a rapid source of energy into the lamb to enhance warmth and vigour.

This is usually best achieved by administering a glucose injection into the lamb’s abdominal cavity (stomach).

Veterinary advice is to administer 10ml of a 20% glucose injection per kg bodyweight (50ml for a 5kg lamb). Before administering, the solution should be warmed to body temperature.

If diluting then add recently boiled water which has cooled, or sterile water. The site to administer is one inch down and one inch to the right side of a lamb’s navel.

Insert the needle downwards at a 45 degree angle to ensure the solution is injected in to the abdominal cavity and not the gut of the lamb. A lamb can then be warmed and it will typically respond relatively quickly to feeding thereafter.

Drafting lambs/hoggets

Some procurement agents are cautioning farmers when drafting underweight and underfleshed hoggets/lambs.

Price cuts are currently being imposed, ranging anywhere from 50c/kg to €1/kg, with factories warning that with markets becoming more discerning on quality, there may be greater cuts enforced for sheep falling outside the desired specification.