A Practical Approach to Colostrum Feeding Lambs

 

 

 


In my last blog post I outlined our program for managing newborn multiples. The key to the program is being very routine in colostrum feeding within the first twelve hours of life. What I would like to do in this post is get a little more specific about the colostrum itself.

When Alyssa and I took over the sheep flock from Alyssa’s parents, we were milking ewes with extra colostrum and freezing it in icecube trays for those lambs that needed it. Anyone who has ever milked a sheep knows how labour intensive this can be. If you read a technical resource on neonatal lamb care they will give you the same spiel every time; that the best colostrum comes from the lambs mother, second best from another ewe in the flock, third best comes from a ewe from a different flock and so forth down to cow’s colostrum at the bottom. Now, this is not a technical document, this is intended to be one farmer giving hard learned advice to another farmer. I’m sure the vets and nutritionists are quite correct in their analysis of colostrum effectiveness, but they aren’t the ones squatting milking a ewe only to have her step in the pail, picking out the straw and freezing what’s left, running out of frozen colostrum one quarter of the way through the lambing season and being way beyond too tired to go milk another ewe.

The truth is, it is much better to feed lots of colostrum to your lambs that need it than to be a stickler for using colostrum milked from your own flock. That’s why we have started using dry cow colostrum from our local UFA. We have seen noticeable increases in our lamb survival since we started using it. It’s very easy to prepare and really not expensive at all considering the benefit you’ll receive.


Our first cautious step into using dried colostrum was to order a pail of LambGro/KidGro. I was quite pleased to be using what I thought was sheep colostrum. After all, sheep colostrum from another flock is ‘third best’, right? Part way through the pail, I actually read the label and realized that, despite the name, LambGro/KidGro, it is indeed dried cow colostrum. Well, that was it, I realized the colostrum actually labeled for calves was far less expensive to buy, and with the mixing instructions from the pail of LambGro I had all I needed.

Now, keep in mind, I’m no veterinarian. In fact, I haven’t even been to college, but sometimes good ideas don’t come from a textbook. All I can tell you is that I’m glad we made the switch to using cow colostrum.

Here’s a free printable version of the mixing instructions we use.

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colostrum mixing instructions

Keep in mind that birth size will affect the amount the lamb will consume. Newborn lambs are very good at knowing how much they want and have a strong suck reflex in the first few hours. That’s why we use a bottle instead of tube feeding. We find that it does them good to get the suck going and they can pull off when they’re full. If you think they quit too soon try to put them on again and if they refuse it they’re probably good. Of course, check their tummy for fullness, as that’s always the best indicator. But generally, what we mix up as ‘one feeding’ is pretty close to the right amount.


Colostrum is also much thicker than milk replacer. It can be tough to get all the lumps out especially when you’re mixing a small batch in a small container. A good whisk works well, but we discovered something that works even better. This is just a dollar store version of a piece of Tupperware that Alyssa uses in the kitchen for sauces. It just takes a few good shakes to get a nice smooth mix. I’d go for the Tupperware one next time. The markings wore off this one pretty quick and the lid leaks a little.

For more detailed information about which lambs need to be fed, and how often, check out this post about our jug flagging system.


All the best,

Miles

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Our Lambing Jug Flag System ~ Reduce Your Lamb Losses For Pennies


Running Rideau ewes means lots of multiple births. This is a big advantage, but you have to be prepared to manage the extra lambs. Everyone on the farm needs to be on the same page, knowing which lambs need extra attention. 

We’ve developed a system to monitor lambs that is very effective and very simple. All it requires is some carabiners, two different colors of flag tape and livestock marking paint. 


Here’s our protocol:
RULE ONE – Any ewe with triplets or more receives a pink flag on her jug. Put the flag on the fourth rung down on the panel. (You’ll have to adjust this step if you have different style panels.) Each lamb in these pens is supplemented with colostrum at this point.


RULE TWO – Feed colostrum to lambs in flagged pens every three hours. The goal is to have the lambs fed four times within the first twelve hours of life. Move the flag up one rung after each feeding. This way everybody knows what stage each pen is at. 


RULE THREE – At some point during the first twelve hours use the marking paint to mark the lamb or lambs that you select to be fostered onto milk replacer. (I usually look for the lamb that is the oddball ie. larger or smaller than the siblings. However, sometimes it makes more sense to choose the lambs that take the bottle most easily) Focus most of your colostrum feeding attention on the lambs selected for fostering. If a lambs belly looks full and the lamb refuses the bottle, don’t worry about forcing colostrum the lamb is doing fine. 


RULE FOUR – Any ewe who has poor milk is flagged with an orange flag. If she has no milk, we give her two orange flags. Lambs in these pens must be given a very high level of attention in order to get a healthy start. Follow the same colostrum feeding protocol in these pens. If you think the ewe will be able to handle one lamb, you can leave one on her. After the remainder are fostered, keep a very close eye on the one you have left behind for at least 24 hours. Mark these ewes down for culling. 


RULE FIVE – Once the first twelve hours are complete, the flag will be on the top rung and you can foster selected lambs into your milk feeding pen. It’s much easier to foster lambs before they are 24 hours old. Their suck reflex is much stronger. 


And that’s basically it. This system has reduced our lamb mortality significantly. It gives an instantaneous reference for each person who comes into the barn. It eliminates the need for checking paper records to find lambs that need help. And when things get really busy, it’s an excellent visual reminder not to forget about these pens. 


If you have any suggestions for how you would implement a protocol like this, or any questions, please share. 

And We’re Off!

Our first lambing of 2017 is now underway. Beautiful lambs so far, and the ewes are looking great!

There are going to be some fantastic ewe lambs out of this group. If you’re looking for Rideau ewe lambs contact us right away. Last year’s breeding stock disappeared very quickly.  

Throughout lambing we’re hoping to share a few posts on some of the new things that we are trying out this year. To kick things off, I thought I’d share this little video of one of our ewes with her new set of triplets from 4am today. Sorry it’s a little dark, the barn is a little darker through the night. 

An Inside Perspective: Ultrasound Pregnancy Scanning of Sheep


We have shared a little in the past about ultrasound pregnancy scanning our sheep. We were doing a group of 280 ewes last month and I wanted to post a little more information about it here. My goal is to share a little of my experience with you in the form of a few practical tips. If you are interested in learning to preg-check your own sheep, hopefully this is helpful to you.


Just a note on the situation here in Alberta to give context. In Alberta, only veterinarians can diagnose pregnancy in sheep professionally. However, because of the relatively small number of sheep in this part of the world, few vets are available to perform this service, and their fees would usually be too expensive. I have also never heard of a vet that can count fetuses. The result is that most sheep farms that are large enough are purchasing their own entry level ultrasound machines and simply checking for open ewes. That’s what I will be talking about in this post.


Though it would be great to be able to count lambs, there is significant enough benefit in preg checking alone to be worth the work and investment. For example, you have the benefit of being able to pull open ewes out of the group before expensive late gestation rations start. If you do multiple lambing groups you may be able to try re-breeding open ewes for a later lambing. It may also allow you to make a culling decision a few months earlier than you may have otherwise. It can be especially valuable in groups of ewe lambs which typically have lower conception rates.


Now for the practical tips.

1- Make sure the ewes are off feed 24 hours before scanning. A full gut makes it more difficult to see.


2- Your arm will be right between their back legs, so you’ll want some protective gear. A vet showed me this trick. OB glove for coverage with a latex glove overtop to make it easier to use your fingers.



3- Put your ultrasound gel into a dish. This way you can dip your probe rather than having to squirt some on the probe every time. This is much quicker and less wasteful. It doesn’t necessarily require much gel, so use it sparingly. Too much just makes a slippery mess.

4- Some kind of working chute is preferable for more than a few ewes. I’ve worked in a chute where I had to climb in behind each ewe and kneel in the chute. It worked, but it was hard on the knees, back and shoulder. Our Racewell sheep handler is ideal. It holds the ewe elevated above floor height, so that, when I’m sitting in a chair alongside, the ewe’s belly is right at a comfortable height. You’ll see in the photos how I catch the sheep far enough back in the squeeze so that her back end is exposed. I’ve seen some chutes were the technician has a space where they can reach through the side of the chute.



5- Place the probe on the ewes belly where you find the bare skin inside the left hind leg and beside the udder. I generally point the probe toward the spine and angled a bit forward. You’ll get the feel for where you need to be with a little practice.


6- Pregnancy is usually very easy to detect. Take a look at some of these screen shots to see what you are looking for. If you’re not getting a clear image try using a little extra gel. Sometimes there is a bit of buildup on the ewe’s skin that needs to be cleaned off first.


There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll leave it at that for now. If you have any questions just ask.

Thank You!

Thank you to all or our 2016 Alysheep breeding stock customers!  We were so happy to have such excellent ewe lambs and ram lambs available, and enjoyed being able to see them go to so many great people.  We saw quite a few first time producers this year, and it’s great to see new enthusiasm and fresh ideas coming to the lamb industry.  All the best to everyone who purchased breeding stock from us this year.  We wish you all the best with your new flocks!

We’ve been pleased to see lamb prices stay high this fall and it looks like there is lots of promise for 2017.  We’ve had a number of people contact us looking for breeding stock, and we are beginning to compile a list of those interested in buying ewe lambs in 2017.  If you are interested, please send us a message and we will add you to the list to be notified when our next ewe lambs become available.

-Miles, Alyssa & Family

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50 Ewe Lambs Available Now

These are the 50 best ewe lambs from our March/April 2016 lambing.  If you are looking for the right genetics to make your flock profitable, you’ve found them. Visit our Breeding Stock page for more info.

Alberta Style Sheep Drive


I wanted to share some pictures from running the ewes home last week. We had 250 ewes grazing a few miles down the road at Alyssa’s parent’s farm this summer. Since we only have a 16′ trailer, hauling 250 ewes home ends up being an all day job for a couple guys. The crops were off all along the highway, so we knew we wouldn’t risk damaging any crops by running the ewes down the ditch. 


We had two hired hands as well as myself on quads while Alyssa’s dad drive the side-by-side. Alyssa followed behind with the truck and trailer to help make us more visible, and also to transport any ewes that tired out along the way. 


All in all it went really well. Our road is fairly busy so we had to be pretty cautious. There were a few times the sheep wanted to start crossing the road, and we had to quickly move them off. The hardest part was actually going past one of our neighbours places on the opposite side of the road when their hound started baying at our sheep. The ewes were really curious about the noise and started trying to cross the road all at the same time. Thankfully the dog was fenced in. Otherwise that could have gotten really interesting. 


Thankfully all of us and all the sheep made it home safely. Only one ewe with a sore leg tired out and had to be lifted into the stock trailer. 


If it works out again in the future I think this is the way we will move ewes to and from pasture. It saves a lot of time, and it’s a lot more fun!