Watery mouth or ‘rattle belly’ can plague lambing time if we do not take steps to prevent it. The condition is caused by e-coli bacteria in the small intestine which multiply rapidly and release toxins. New-born lambs have no immunity, so bacteria multiplication is fast, causing clinical signs and often mortality within the first few days of life. Initial infection is due to high environmental challenge from dirty, wet conditions in lambing sheds and pens. Colonisation of the gut and rapid bacterial growth is facilitated by inadequate or delayed colostrum intake.

To compound the issue this season, there is limited availability of the only product used to both prevent and treat this condition. So now, more than ever, prevention is crucial.

Colostrum management is the corner stone for prevention. Good-quality colostrum is vital to provide lambs with immunity. Aim for intakes of 50ml/kg immediately after birth, and 200ml/kg in the first 24 hrs. Quality of colostrum can be checked using a refractometer – ask your vet about how to go about this. Remember that twins or triplets may need supplementing if the ewe has insufficient colostrum for all her lambs, or if the birth was difficult or the ewe is unwell.

Gazette & Herald: Use a milking device to efficiently harvest colostrum from ewesUse a milking device to efficiently harvest colostrum from ewes

Make sure everyone involved with lambing time knows what your farm protocol is for ensuring good colostrum intakes. Using a ‘lamb boost’ supplement to get lambs up and sucking is a useful product to have on hand. The window of opportunity is tight to get your lambs the best start so be proactive.

Hygiene is the other area which requires close attention. Keep pens well-bedded and change regularly. Fresh air and ventilation is also key to keeping the beds dry and removing excess moisture from the environment. Equipment used for stomach tubing etc must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between use. Don’t forget yourself – wear gloves and keep a small bottle of hand-sanitiser in your pocket – not just useful for Covid 19!

Finally, make sure any affected lambs are isolated from the group with the ewe and that treatment of poorly lambs is prompt and aggressive.

Take the time to discuss prevention strategies with your flock vet, as always, prevention is better than cure.

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