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Perinatal mortality reduces the number of lambs sold per ewe and consequently impacts negatively on the economic sustainability of sheep farming. Figures quoted for the incidence of perinatal lamb mortality in UK flocks are mostly anecdotal, and need to be interpreted with caution, due to considerable variation within and between flocks, districts, seasons, sheep breeds, ewe age groups, farm management systems1 and record keeping. Any management practices which ensure correct nutrition of pregnant ewes, avoidance of dystocia, provision of energy and protective antibodies through colostrum, and a strong maternal bond will enhance the perinatal lamb survival rate.2 However, the relative importance and practicality of such practices differ between farms, and in the absence of accurate records or survey data,3 their impact is unclear.
Lambing is the critical time when the benefits of preparation throughout the year are realised. Careful shepherding is required to minimise disturbance of lambing ewes, thus enabling the establishment of a good ewe–lamb bond and enhancing the survival of newborn lambs.4 The need for careful skilled assistance of some lambing ewes is inevitable and a clear plan is required to avoid prolonged suffering. This includes preparation of lambing equipment in advance and guidelines about when to intervene or seek assistance. Provision must be made for the prevention of disease in newborn lambs and management of both ubiquitous problems and flock-specific diseases.
UK veterinary students must undertake periods of farm animal husbandry-focused …
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