Neonatal Survival Research Crucial to a Successful Lambing Season

Recent research looking at neonatal survival in lambs has added to the evidence that the nutritional status of ewes is crucial to a successful lambing season.

Poor body condition and energy balance in ewes in late pregnancy is known to affect new born lamb survival, however the impact of ewe protein status on lamb survival is less well studied. Initial findings from the research project ‘Development of an Integrated Neonatal Survival and Sustainable Antibiotic Plan’ has shown that blood albumin in ewes, a measure of long-term protein balance, is an important indicator of lamb health and survival.

As part of a larger study examining neonatal survival, a metabolic profile was conducted on every ewe in a well-run flock. Whilst energy balance across the flock was good, long term protein balance, as measured by blood albumin, was variable.

Ewes that lost one or more lambs between scanning and 24 hours old had lower blood albumin levels than those that did not lose a lamb, indicating that poor long-term protein status is an important factor for new-born lamb survival. Furthermore, lambs that needed help with colostrum feeding also came from ewes with lower blood albumin concentrations, suggesting that the effects of ewe protein status were not just confined to mortality during pregnancy and birth.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is funding this research in collaboration with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). The work is led by the University of Edinburgh and partners include University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham, Bangor University and Synergy Farm Vets.

The aim of the project is to benchmark, define the risk factors for and propose an integrated control plan to improve survival and reduce morbidity and antibiotic use in neonatal lambs and suckler calves in Great Britain, and this work will be achieved in collaboration with vet practices and industry advisers.

Results from the 1st year of research project can be found on the HCC website: https://meatpromotion.wales/en/industry-resources/animal-health-and-welfare/research/neonatal-survival

“Colostrum and hygiene are vital for a successful lambing,” explains Dr. Rebekah Stuart, HCC’s Flock and Herd Health Executive who leads on HCC’s Stoc+ project which forms one part of the three-strand, five-year Welsh Government and European Union funded Red Meat Development Programme (RMDP).

“Lambs need a sufficient quantity of good quality colostrum within the first few hours of life. In order to provide this, ewes require a diet which meets their nutritional requirements in the final weeks before lambing.

The best ration may not attain results if ewes do not have enough feed space. Insufficient feed space can provoke hierarchical behaviour which could restrict dry matter intake. Sheep recognise others in their social group and prefer to be in groups of less than 50, where group size is higher it is recommended to increase feed space, to allow social groups to form and ease stress.

Dr. Rebekah Stuart, HCC’s Flock and Herd Health Executive

The RMDP is being funded by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and Welsh Government.