By Debbie James

Ensuring every newborn lamb receives adequate colostrum is a priority at a Pembrokeshire sheep farm.

David Lewis runs a large-scale flock of commercial and pedigree ewes, lambing at three points in the year to maximise the returns from the fat lamb and breeding markets he supplies.

Two hundred and fifty commercial ewes lamb from mid-February and 400 pedigree Dorset and Ryeland ewes in September and December.

David often runs his lambing shed at Llangwathen Farm, near Narberth, single-handedly and this can present challenges when lambs that have not suckled their mothers needed life-saving colostrum.

A lack of colostrum is one of the biggest killer of lambs so having a simple system for ensuring every lamb receives sufficient quantities is important, says David.

He had been using a tube with a syringe attached but this approach was difficult when no-one was on hand to help.

“You needed one hand to hold the syringe and another to hold the lamb, I could have done with a third hand to pour the colostrum into the syringe,’’ he recalls.

Last year he spotted a device on sale at his local agricultural supply store that consists of a 240ml vial into which milk/colostrum from ewes/nanny goats can be milked directly. The vial has a handle to make it easy to hold one-handed, and a flat base so it will remain upright when placed on a level surface.

It has made the job of administering colostrum very straightforward, reports David, who is well-known on the show circuit where he has had some major wins.

“Nine times out of ten I am in the sheep shed on my own but now it is a job I can do myself without any problems, it is just a two-minute job,’’ he says.

“If a lamb looks poorly and I can’t get it to suck on a teat it has to be tubed quickly. Once they have had colostrum you know they are going to be OK.’’

Colostrum is the main source of energy for lambs – it is high in fat, sugar and protein.

Vet Helen Scott, of the Carmarthen Veterinary Centre, recommends checking that lambs have been suckling within two hours of birth – the ewe’s teats should be wet from saliva deposits if a lamb has suckled.

If colostrum needs to be supplemented, ewe colostrum should be the priority – draw milk from the ewe, Ms Scott advises.

But if this is not possible opt for dairy cow colostrum from a Johnes-free herd, she says, with powder colostrum the final option; if using this, aim for a product with the highest level of immunoglobulins (IgG).

A lamb should receive 50ml of colostrum in the first two hours of birth and 200ml in the first 24 hours. “I’m of the opinion that you can’t give lambs enough colostrum,’’ says Ms Scott.

If heating colostrum to feed to a lamb don’t do so in a microwave as this action destroys the protein content.