Looking after the mother during her pregnancy is a great first step toward ensuring your new lambs have a fighting chance, but it by itself is not enough. New born lambs tend to be rather large relative to their weight, which means they will feel the cold more and it will take its toll. A good supply of quality milk from the ewe will help its chances immeasurably, but a newborn still only has so much energy and it's important to ensure it has suitable shelter from inclement weather.
Just to make clear how warm you should keep a lamb, in its mother’s womb it is kept at a rather steady 39˚C. The sudden shock caused by the change in temperature does more than simply startle them; until their bodies acclimate they will consume more energy than usual in an attempt to maintain that body temperature. Shivering brought on first by shock and then by the cold will also eat up their low energy reserves.
Once you have ensured your lambs are warm and dry you then have to turn your attention toward making sure they do not succumb to illness. In part one we briefly mentioned the ewe’s rumen, a part of a sheep’s digestive system that gets impaired while the lamb is growing inside of the mother. They get their own back though, as animals with a rumen-based digestive system do not transfer antibodies to their young.
Essentially this means every lamb is born with a rather poor immune system and as if all this isn’t bad enough, in their first few days of life their digestive system is only just warming up, so everything runs very slowly. The results are any ingested bacteria or toxin will spend considerably longer in the lamb's body than they normally would do, giving them ample time to cause serious if not fatal damage.
The only way for lambs to get the antibodies they need is through colostrum, or mother’s milk as it is otherwise known. As well as antibodies, colostrum also contains high levels of energy that will allow lambs to keep themselves warm.
Stress is another major factor that you should be sure to address. Lambs will become stressed if they do not have enough access to space, light, drainage, water and of course, their mother. In the event that the mother dies whilst giving birth or is otherwise unable to care for her child, special attention should be paid to the lamb, and a foster ewe should be found. Supervision is required however as sadly fostering is accepted less than 60% of the time, and the ewe may attempt to aggressively deter the lamb from getting close.
If fostering is unsuccessful frozen colostrum may be used as can manufactured colostrum alternatives. Any and every option must be considered as we cannot stress enough how important colostrum is to a lamb's survival. If not fed with colostrum within the first 6 hours of life its chances of survival are severely diminished and around 50% will die, oppose to the 6-12% that will if they receive adequate feeding.
Hints and tips:
1. If you are concerned about any lamb’s health, take their temperature:
3. Some of the most common bacterial infections that affect lambs are E. coli (watery mouth), dysentery, pneumonia and septicaemia. Be sure to keep an eye out for them.