Lamb survival and dystocia - Elders Rural Services

Lamb survival and dystocia

Lamb survival is a hot topic among producers and researchers alike. Elders livestock production advisor Emma Shattock has the latest on how to lift lamb survival rates.

Research has proven time and time again that dystocia (difficult birth) is the biggest contributor to neonatal lamb mortalities in Australian flocks (up to 49 per cent on average). The most obvious forms of dystocia are high birthweight lambs getting stuck or malpresentation, but dystocia is not only a ‘high-birthweight’ problem, nor is it immediately fatal for lambs.

It is thought that nutritional complications such as hypocalcaemia and pregnancy toxaemia also lead to a slower or more difficult birth. In many of these cases, lambs may survive the dystocia event but end up with a birth injury that leads to death due to starvation or mis-mothering even a week later.

Research is ongoing but the following strategies are thought to best minimise the risks and associated effects of dystocia:

Scan for twins and singles and manage these ewes separately.

Not only does this allow for a better use of resources, it is much easier to prevent ewes from reaching lambing either too fat or too skinny. Aim for a condition score of 3 to 3.5 leading into lambing and allocate the better feed to the twins. Try to match energy intake to requirements as per the curve below.

If you would like help with this, please don’t hesitate to give your local Elders advisor a call

Concentrate on mineral nutrition

Maintaining a good mineral balance requires early preparation. If the lambs are already dropping, it is too late. For those on cereal-based diets (which are notoriously low in calcium), be sure to feed a supplement with calcium as a minimum throughout pregnancy. As we move into the last month before lambing, look to use a more balanced or specialty loose lick that is high in calcium and magnesium as well as the other critical vitamins and minerals. Some good examples are ProgenX, Grazemax and MidMag.

Other tips include reducing mob sizes for lambing, particularly for twin bearing ewes and maidens and providing shelter during lambing.

Don’t forget your health treatments such as a booster vaccination or pre-lambing drench to make sure you are getting the most out of your lambing program.

If you would like any more information about any of the above topics, or a tailored lambing program for your farm, please give your local Elders livestock production advisor a call.

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