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Lambing Consideration: Environment impacts animal health

As sheep producers begin to see lambs on the ground, Pipestone, Minn. Veterinarian J.L. Goelz encouraged producers to take steps to improve potential for healthy lambs.

Goelz also covered nutrition and lamb health in his presentation at the Northern Plains Sheep Symposium.

Producers can control when and where the ewe lambs, and the environment that lambs are born into, said Goelz. 

Lambing environments

“Consider that when the lamb is born, it is leaving a sterile, water-filled environment that is 102 degrees where it passively absorbs nutrients,” he explained. “Then, it arrives wet into your lambing barn, shed or pasture. Ask yourself, is it cold and drafty? Is it clean? Do the ewes have enough space, or are they crowded?”

If a lamb stays wet and gets chilled after birth, it can be detrimental to its health and make it more susceptible to disease. 

The size of the pen is also important. 

Strong offspring

Producers also need lambs that can aggressively seek out the udder, find the teat on their own, have strong vigor after birth, and are not compromised by abortion pathogens. 

“The major causes of lamb mortality the first three weeks after birth are starvation and hypothermia, scours and pneumonia,” the veterinarian said. “Most people say a sick sheep is a dead sheep, but what really happens is a sheep that dies was not detected as sick and treated early enough to have a reasonable shot at treatment success.”

“Sheep are a prey species. If they show pain, discomfort or signs of sickness, they are coyote bait,” he added. 

Lamb health

Goelz told producers they should never be afraid to tube feed lambs to get them started if they aren’t nursing. 

“It is the best $4.96 you will ever spend,” he stated. “People think the tube is too rigid, but it is that way for a reason. Its rigidity keeps it from going into the trachea.”

To properly tube lambs, Goelz said, “Measure the end of the tube to the stomach of the lamb. Put a piece of tape around that mark. When you stick the tube down the lamb’s throat, if you don’t get it to the mark, you have it in the wrong pipe and will need to start over. If it goes to the mark, it is in the stomach.”

“If it doesn’t, it is in the trachea, and the lamb will probably be coughing,” he explained.

If you bottle-fed the lambs, Goelz continued, by two feedings the lamb will not consciously recognize where its nutrition comes from. 

“It will think you are mom,” he said. 

Instead, he recommends tube feeding the lamb twice, eight to 10 hours apart. By then, it should pick up and be able to nurse on its own, he said.

Deworming

Deworming is also important at lambing. 

“As the ewe approaches lambing, the parasites come out of hibernation because it’s mating time and will be easier to kill,” he said. “Deworming at that point also prevents or delays infections in lambs. The only place they pick up parasites is in their environment. If you can deworm them, it can delay the infections much longer.”

Lambs should also receive a Clostridia Type C and D vaccination at three and six weeks, or at four and seven weeks, depending upon the operation and whether the lambs are being creep fed. 

“I would give it as soon as possible to prevent lambs from dying,” he said. 

Other medical concerns

Goelz also encouraged producers to send in a sample if lambs are scouring. 

“We used to have a good vaccine for scours, but we don’t anymore,” he said. “It is important to take a sample and send it in right away so the diagnostician can tell us which drug to use to treat it.” 

Producers can use drugs like LA200, tetracycline, NuFlor and Draxin to treat pneumonia, if it is caught early, he said. 

“Most of the time, if a lamb dies from pneumonia, 80 percent of their lungs will be shot,” he said. 

Lastly, Goelz encouraged producers to cut open dead lambs and send pictures by phone or email to their veterinarian. 

“With all the new technology, veterinarians can usually look at a photo and tell you if a lamb died from scours or pneumonia,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to get help, so you don’t get in over your head.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..