How to protect your lambs at lambing

The UK sheep industry still loses millions of lambs every lambing season and as many as one in five of the deaths could be down to poor hygiene.

It’s been estimated that anywhere between three and seven million lambs could be lost to the national sheep flock each year around lambing time.

And up to 20% could have died because of poor hygiene – basic management practice that’s easy to rectify, according to Business Unit Manager at hygiene specialist Progiene, Alison Clark.

She says: “Maintaining good hygiene in lambing pens is not difficult, need not be expensive and must be integral to any flock lambing plan.”

Plan ahead

Ms Clark says there should be at least one lambing pen for every eight to 10 ewes and a hospital area for any lambs needing attention.

“Well before lambing, start by pressure washing the sides and floors of pens with detergent, followed by disinfecting the same surfaces using a DEFRA-approved product such as Coxicur which is effective against TB, salmonella, E. coli, cryptosporidiosis and coccidiosis,” she advices.

“After application, this should be left to dry out before adding plenty of clean, dry straw bedding, though don’t make it so deep that lambs can’t move around.” She says once lambing is in full swing, on-going hygiene is crucial, adding: “Scrupulous hygiene is vital during lambing and the best place to start is to wear protective, disposable gloves when assisting any lambings. The best ones are the closely fitting surgical ones, which should be cleaned or discarded between lambing interventions.”

The incidence of diseases such as watery mouth, joint and navel ill, septic peritonitis - and those triggered by clostridial pathogens - can all be reduced by using a good hygiene regime before and during lambing. They are all related to contaminated housing conditions.

Ms Clark says: “Watery mouth is a disease caused by E. coli, a bacterium commonly seen in dirty, wet lambing pens. It’s also a disease that can escalate as lambing progresses. It usually affects lambs approximately 12 to 36 hours after birth when they have been compromised by unhygienic conditions.”

Progiene recommends after each ewe has lambed and been moved from the pen, a disinfectant and absorbent bedding powder. “This will help to absorb moisture and disinfect the pen before adding another ample layer of clean, dry bedding. Try to avoid liquid disinfectants in lambing pens as these can create wet, saturated conditions - an ideal breeding ground for bacteria following the initial impact of the disinfectant,” Ms Clark advises.

She added when moving between lambing pens and entering hospital pens, footwear should be disinfected with a DEFRA approved disinfectant like Coxicur to prevent the spread of pathogens.

Feeding equipment

Keeping feeding equipment clean is also crucially important. Ms Clark says: “The need to keep feeding kit clean can be overlooked when under pressure at lambing time.

“Taking the time to clean and disinfect teats, tubes, mixing buckets, utensils and feeding equipment will definitely pay dividends, but make sure you use a detergent to clean the equipment to maximise the effectiveness of the disinfectant, which doesn’t work on dirty surfaces.

“Also, ensure the disinfectant is thoroughly rinsed off feeding equipment to ensure no taint or residue is left behind.”

These simple hygiene tools will help to maximise lamb survival rates and improve returns…a win, win.

Lambing hygiene checklist

Do I have enough lambing pens?

Have I cleaned and disinfected prior to the start of lambing?

Have I applied ample clean and dry bedding?

Have I applied a disinfectant bedding powder now that the pen is to be re-used?

Have I cleaned and disinfected stomach tubes and other feeding equipment?