More 'star gazers' as lambs hit by blindness

There is little chance for the straw to be baled
There is little chance for the straw to be baled
John Large

John Large

We are now just five weeks away from the start of our breeding season and the ewes have been divided into three groups.

The heaviest ewes that do not need to put on much weight are cleaning out paddocks after the lambs. These paddocks get some fertiliser either in the form of cattle slurry or a bag of nitrogen after they are well grazed off.

The next lot of ewes are on good grass as they need to put on some more weight before mating.

We also have a small group of thin ewes who have a condition score of about 2.5 - this lot are being grazed with the ewe lambs to give them every chance to reach a condition score of 3 before they are put in lamb.

Any ewe in this group that is still too light before breeding will be culled. These ewes are mostly hoggets that reared lambs or older ewes that are in their last breeding year.

All the ewes received a mineral vitamin dose this week. The product we used was Twin Plus from Natural Stockcare. They got 15ml each by oral administration.

The ewe lambs got a mineral bolus made up of cobalt, selenium and copper. They were also shorn and got a dose for stomach worms.

After the sudden drop in wool prices, the ewe lambs produced almost enough wool to cover the cost of shearing. The bonus we find is the ewe lamb will thrive better after being shorn and more of them will get to the weight required for mating in their first year.

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You may ask why I gave them a mineral bolus. Since most of our land is in a cobalt deficient area, we have to supplement with Cobalt B12 to keep lambs thriving over the summer and autumn.


The symptoms of cobalt deficiency to look out for are lambs not putting on weight, poor quality wool and lambs with flaky scaly skin on their ears.

The problem seems to occur in lambs on good after-grass with clover levels dropping to less than 20pc of the total grass. We give Cobalt B12 before weaning and monthly thereafter.

This year we had more problems with lambs going blind than we have had for a long time.

The problem was diagnosed as CCN. When herding, you would find a lamb partially-blind and isolated from the rest, just standing looking into space.

This is why these lambs are sometimes referred to as 'star gazers'.

The treatment is to inject with vitamin B1 for four days, giving two injections 12 hours apart on the first day.

This seems to get the best response, with the lamb generally eating again after a day. But it may not get its sight back for nearly a week. So you will be busy pulling them out of the sheep wire for a few days.

All of these lambs came from fields with perennial ryegrass swarths. Our poor summer may be the problem with very limited sunlight and low volumes of clover available to the lambs.

The weather is also affecting my efforts to sow fodder rape after spring barley. Most of the corn is cut but the straw is still on the ground, with little chance for it to be baled.

If I cannot get the straw baled and moved off before early September it will be too late to sow the fodder rape and I will have to put out creep- feeders to the lighter lambs to get them finished before December.

Forage crops are very useful for finishing off the last of the lambs.

You can move the lambs from grass fields that you need for the ewes and after you give them a dose for worms they are moved onto clean ground. With the worm burden greatly reduced, this will give them a good chance to finish quickly.

John Large is a sheep farmer in Tipperary

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