Farm Ireland

Friday 18 January 2019

Prevention can keep the wolf (and vet) from the door this spring

Pens should be routinely cleaned and disinfected
Pens should be routinely cleaned and disinfected

Eamon O'Connell

While I was treating two lambs with joint ill, my client stated with a wry smile: "Once a vet gets into the yard in the spring, its impossible get rid of ye". Although said in jest, this is often the case as, routinely, we have to make multiple visits to the same flock to avoid significant lamb losses. Prevention is most definitely better than cure and it starts with the basics.

1. Colostrum

The first and most important line of defence against any disease in young lambs. Most lambs will nurse without intervention. Supplementation may be required after a difficult lambing or if the ewe is being particularly uncooperative. A lamb should get 20pc of its body weight in colostrum in the first 24 hrs, with half of that given in the first six hours. So, in the case of a 5kg lamb, it needs 250ml in the first six hours and a further 250ml over three feeds in the first 24 hours.

2. Hygiene

Diseases such as navel ill and scour can be prevented with strict hygiene. A veterinary approved disinfectant should be used after all houses and pens are power-washed. Once lambing is underway, individual pens should be routinely cleaned and disinfected.

3. Navel care

Lambs should have their navels dipped in either iodine or a chlorhexidine-based solution immediately after birth.

4. Straw

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Lambs must have a dry and warm bed. Use lots of straw and when you think you have enough, add a little more for good measure.

5. Observation

Early intervention leads to the best outcome. Observe the lamb for signs of watery mouth, scour or swollen navel or joints. Equally, observe the ewe. If she is full of milk and not sucked, this can be the first sign that her lamb is not well.

6. Vaccination

The ewe can be vaccinated against clostridial disease and in turn she will pass on antibodies to her lamb. Consult with your vet to put a vaccination plan in place specific to your flock.

Even when all these steps are taken, the vet may still have to be called. We may not be the most welcome visitor but remember, unlike the wolf, we are trying to keep lambs healthy and alive this spring.

Eamon O'Connell works with the Summerhill Veterinary Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

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