Farmers to conduct lamb post mortems to improve mortality rates

Giving farmers the skills to improve lamb mortality rates


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Sheep producer, Mick Reynolds, Toompang, Young with some of his ewes that have just started lambing.

Sheep producer, Mick Reynolds, Toompang, Young with some of his ewes that have just started lambing.

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Farmers set to find out exactly why lambs on their properties are dying.

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It's estimated that 15 to 30 per cent of lambs die within a week of being born.

But now, sheep producers are being offered the opportunity to address the main causes of lamb mortality on their own farm.

Riverina Local Land Services are conducting post mortem workshops to give producers the skills to identify the causes behind lamb deaths and trends on their property they can rectify through management processes or husbandry decisions.

Local Land Services district veterinarian Evie Duggan said the workshops aimed to change how producers viewed lamb mortality.

"It's such a huge point in our production system and we've got this really inefficient loss going on," Dr Duggan said.

"We tend to think about it as something we just sweep under the rug and we can't do anything about."

Sheep producer Mick Reynolds, Toompang, Young, agreed there was an element of accepted loss when it came to lamb deaths.

"As a sheep farmer, you see a dead lamb out in the paddock you think it's a bad mother or it must of been some bad weather," he told The Land.

70 per cent of lamb deaths can be avoided through changes to husbandry or environmental aspects. Photo supplied by LLS.

70 per cent of lamb deaths can be avoided through changes to husbandry or environmental aspects. Photo supplied by LLS.

Mr Reynolds said it was crucial the industry as a whole improved efficiency by getting more lambs out of less ewes.

"You always hear we've got a growing population and there's less breeding animals out there," Mr Reynolds said.

"That means there's going to be continued pressure put on sheep producers."

Dr Duggan said post mortem skills could be easily picked up by producers and would be particularly useful this season.

"It will be a good skill to have every year but I think this year there's going to be producers still supplementary feeding so we could expect higher losses," Dr Duggan said.

"It's going to be really significant to work out exactly what's caused these deaths."

Dr Duggan said 70 per cent of lamb deaths could be avoided through changes to husbandry or environmental aspects.

Despite making leaps and bounds in genetics, Dr Duggan said nutrition also played a major role in lamb mortality, particularly how much nutrition was taken in by ewes leading up to and during lambing.

"The most common reason for lambs to die is that they fail to ingest enough nutrients to survive their first few hours, or that first week," Dr Duggan said.

"There's a direct correlation between lower feed availability and high incidences of lamb mortality."

When conducting post-mortems, producers will be looking for key indicators such as whether the lamb has taken a breath or not, whether it's walked on its hooves and whether it's taken in any milk.

"One of the major things to look for to indicate age and cause of death is how much brown fat they've broken down, that's something you can visually see," Local Land Services district vet Evie Duggan said.

Dr Duggan said an example of how the post mortem could improve mortality would be if producers saw several lambs die due to a poor bond between ewe and lamb, feeding out practices could be changed to make it less likely for a ewe to rush to the feed trailer, leaving their lamb behind.

"A management practice is two to three weeks before lambing set up what you're going to be doing as a routine so the ewes are used to it and know they don't have to rush for a feed," she said.

She said three major factors led to a lamb failing to ingest enough nutrients.

"The three factors are, lamb birth weight, a difficult birth (dystocia) and the ewe, lamb bond not forming properly, all three factors are impacted by nutrition," she said.

These factors can also cause other issues. A lamb with a low birth weight is more likely to be affected by cold or wet weather.

The first workshop will be held at the Reynolds' property near Young on Monday, May 27.

LLS said more would follow in various areas if there was enough interest.

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