Sheep conference: What are the causes of lamb mortality in the first week of life?

Speaking at the Teagasc National Sheep Conference earlier tonight (Tuesday, January 29) in the Tullamore Court Hotel, Teagasc’s Tim Keady gave a detailed presentation on SheepNet and its objectives.

SheepNet – a network involving the six main sheep-producing countries in Europe – aims to improve sheep productivity through the exchange of scientific, technical and practical knowledge between all levels of stakeholders in the sheep industry.

SheepNet has compiled many solutions to the needs/challenges to improving ewe productivity and tips and tricks to aid implementation.

During his presentation, he touched on the causes of lamb mortality in the first week of life – neonatal mortality.

Referring to research carried out in Athenry, he said: “52% of neonatal mortality occurs prior to or at birth. In other words, half of your lambs are dead by the time they hit the ground.

“Another 21% will die within 24 hours and 27% of neonatal mortality occurs between 24 hours and seven days-of-age,” he added.

  • Accidental: 8%;
  • Dystocia: 15%;
  • Infection: 38%;
  • Other causes: 8%;
  • Non-diagnosable: 28%.

“With proper management, a lot of lamb mortality is potentially preventable,” Tim highlighted.

“A recent survey outlined that 23% of farmers do not clean or do not clean and disinfect their pens; infection is going to build as the lambing season progresses. 15% only clean them out and do not disinfect and 11% disinfect and do not clean them out.”

Touching on colostrum, he said: “We all know that colostrum is very important. But, if there is dirt or bacteria in the colostrum, the young lamb will absorb it bringing you back to infection.

“Therefore, when collecting colostrum use clean containers and, if you are stomach tubing, make sure hygiene is of the upmost.

69% of farmers in Ireland today use artificial colostrum and 9% of farmers only use artificial colostrum as a source; they won’t milk a ewe or freeze or store cows’ colostrum.

“68% of farmers scan their sheep and they can pen them by litter size, but do they know when they will lamb? Probably not, because only 58% of farmers use a raddle.

“Lamb mortality can be very costly. Before you put in control measures to reduce mortality on your farm, you have to know the level of lamb mortality. By recording information, you will be able to develop a health plan for years going forward.”

More from Tim’s presentation and other speakers at the conference will be published over the coming days.