Secrets to successful calving and lambing

Farming  - lambs. Picture by Jane Coltman
Farming - lambs. Picture by Jane Coltman

Following on from colleague Edward Chinn’s theme in his recent article, ‘preparation of mares before foaling’, I thought it was only right to extend the same courtesy to our bovine and ovine patients.

A successful calving or lambing requires an attention to detail worthy of any high ranking army officer. Ensuring adequate staffing levels and organising your troops before battle commences is essential.

Correct nutrition is key – fat cows and ewes tend to lead to dystocia (birthing) problems, whereas thin mothers fail to milk well and suffer from metabolic diseases, such as milk fever in cows and twin lamb disease in ewes.

Many farmers will have already begun to feed their pregnant livestock an enhanced ration, based on the number of lambs and body condition. However, it is a delicate balance to get it just right.

Blood samples can be taken from ewes approximately three weeks prior to lambing in order to discover what the ewes think of the diet.

Liver fluke has been a major problem again this winter, which is not surprising given the mild conditions we had during the back end of 2016.

Migratory liver fluke larvae have been evident in January, which means that the product used to kill fluke needs careful consideration.

A full understanding of the farm is required in order to make the right decision as, with fluke, bespoke farm advice is necessary.

Completing vaccination courses before lambing and calving starts is also extremely important.

Some vaccinations must be given in the period before birth in order to work correctly.

Calf diarrhoea vaccination, such as Rotavec, must be given to the pregnant cow approximately a month before calving.

Likewise, clostridial and pasturella vaccines, for example Heptavac P plus, should be given approximately four to six weeks before lambing.

It is also important to complete any other treatments in this pre-calving and lambing period, such as trace element supplementation.

Working closely with your vet to fit all of the vaccines and treatments in is now commonplace, with most farms completing a health plan review.

Once lambing and calving starts, hygiene becomes vital. Newborn calves and lambs have developing immune systems and therefore need to be exposed to environmental challenges slowly.

Calving and lambing pens are best cleansed and disinfected between occupants, with a clean bed of straw providing a warm, draught-free environment.

Dirty buckets, bottles and other equipment provide an ideal environment for bacteria to grow therefore they need to be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected regularly.

It is useful to check your equipment now and repair or replace items before the busy period begins.

The importance of first milk (colostrum) cannot be underestimated in cattle and sheep.

Newborn lambs and calves should get on their feet and have a good feed of colostrum within the first few hours after parturition.

Colostrum quality is arguably as important as quantity.

Ewes and cows with poor colostrum quality, quantity, or both tend to lead to weak calves and lambs susceptible to infections.

So all things considered, they key to a successful calving and lambing is excellent organisation and an attention to detail.

Nutrition, preventive medicines, hygiene and colostrum all play their part, and for most, it’s not too late to make small changes, which can impact calf and lamb survival.

For further information please contact your local veterinary surgery.