Where colostrum is in short supply, or the lamb is weak or hungry, it should receive a colostrum feed via a stomach tube.
I have heard it said that if the lamb is stomach tubed, particularly if repeated a number of times in early life, then it will never suckle.
This is complete nonsense. If a lamb won't suckle, it means it is too weak, the ewe did not receive the correct levels of cobalt, selenium or iodine at the appropriate time or the lamb suffered some injury during birth.
For many years, lambs on experiment at Lyons have received three stomach tube feeds in the first 18 hours of life. These lambs are only allowed to suckle the ewes at 24 hours of age and we have never experienced problems of lambs 'forgetting how to suckle'.
A stomach tube is a key management tool at lambing time. However, it must be used correctly. It must be clean and sterilised between lambs, otherwise it becomes an ideal way to transfer disease.
For those not used to stomach tubing lambs, there can be a fear of drowning the lamb. If placed slowly and carefully it is almost impossible to put the stomach tube in the lungs.
It is very easy to feel the stomach tube go into the stomach. At the front of the lamb's neck there is a hard tube called the trachea.
This connects the lungs to the nose and mouth. Directly behind the trachea, is the oesophagus. This connects the stomach to the mouth.
The oesophagus is soft. If you place your fingers gently behind the trachea you can feel the stomach tube pass through the oesophagus.
The first few times you do this you will wish you had three hands, but it quickly becomes easier.
Healthy lambs should receive 50ml of colostrum per kilogramme birth weight in a single feed. So your average lamb should receive a quarter of a litre in a single feed.
This lamb can then survive for 8-10 hours without another feed.
If the lamb is weak, smaller and more frequent feeds should be offered. Indeed a very large feed to a very weak lamb could kill it.
If a ewe lambs without colostrum, the best option is to milk another freshly lambed ewe that has ample colostrum supplies.
Oxytocin is almost essential to aid milk let down to do this. Remember, oxytocin will only be of benefit when the ewe has milk. It will not stimulate milk production, but rather milk let down.
Failing this, cow colostrum can be used. There is a risk of haemolytic anaemia when using cow colostrum, though the incidence of this is unpredictable at best.
A range of colostrum replacements are available (such as Volostrum from Volac) and a supply of this should be kept on hand at lambing time.
Hardly any sign of deadly virus so far in 2014 season
JUST 12 months ago, the hot topic in sheep circles was the Schmallenberg virus. This year it has scarcely received a mention since lambing commenced.
At the recent Teagasc Sheep Conference, Damien Barret (DAFM) indicated that there is little evidence of the virus so far in 2014.
While this is good news, he did stress that it doesn't definitively mean the problem has gone away. For the time being the apparent absence of Schmallenberg is a good thing as there is enough on farmers' plates.