Webinars deliver support for sheep farmers

New research, new thinking, and practical tips to help maximise the number of lambs reared on farms are the focus of new webinars hosted by SAC Consulting

A new series of webinars, designed to assist sheep farmers maximise lamb performance from birth to weaning, has emphasised the importance of colostrum at lambing to reduce antimicrobial resistance on Scottish farms.

The series also highlighted new developments and techniques available for castration and tailing of lambs.

SAC Consulting, part of SRUC, hosted three webinars featuring the key stages of lamb growth from lambing to eight weeks and, finally, weaning which featured advice from researchers, vets, specialists and farmers,

The webinars attracted 300 viewers across the series, with the two key messages which followed in each virtual session, being, manage condition score of ewes throughout the year and only measure and record data that will make a positive impact on the flock.

Lamb losses from Scottish flocks between scanning and weaning is widely quoted as 15-20 per cent, meaning in a 500-ewe flock scanning at 170 per cent, typical losses are between 127-170 lambs per year.  The largest number of losses are often found at lambing, which can be reduced through targeted nutrition, condition score, health and management.

SRUC’s Veterinary Investigation Officer, Fiona Crowden, led the discussion on the webinar around a number of important issues, including reducing reliance on antibiotics during lambing.  She urged participants to avoid antibiotics when possible, and to look at animals on a case-by-case basis, rather than using prophylactic treatments on all animals.

While the use of antibiotics has reduced across the agricultural sector, the position has stalled in recent years, and the farmers on the webinar were advised that there are some ‘low hanging fruit’ they can take advantage of.

Among those were improving colostrum intake and good hygiene during lambing, which will reduce the risk of neonatal disease and reduce the amount of antibiotics which need to be used.  

Across the country there are farmers who blanket treat lambs with antibiotics, but it is felt there is a need to move away from this and look at examples of good practice on farms where the use of antibiotics has almost been eliminated.

Professor Cathy Dwyer, Animal Behaviour and Welfare Researcher at SRUC, looked at the latest research and developments around lamb castration and tail docking. This research was commissioned by DEFRA to assist the industry in mitigating the pain associated with the typical management practice. 

The study compared the pain-related behaviours in lambs for the first hour after treatment, to understand which method caused the least pain. 

The four methods used included a method available in Australia, where a local anaesthetic (Procaine) is given as the rubber ring is placed on the site, a Scottish developed clamp that desensitises and interrupts the nerves, rubber rings and the fourth was simply handling the lambs.  The clamp was used on young lambs less than seven days old, as well as older lambs.

“The results were promising, showing high effectiveness against pain for tailing lambs in the two newly developed methods. However, only one of the new methods was effective against pain for castrating the younger and older lambs,” added Prof Dwyer.

Senior Sheep and Beef Consultant at SAC Consulting, Kirsten Williams, said the webinars were designed to highlight new research, new thinking, and practical tips to help maximise the number of lambs reared on farms.

“With the rising costs of inputs associated with sheep production, the webinars are focusing on increasing efficiency and reducing waste on farms,” she said. 

“The management of the ewe throughout the year is essential to provide good quality and quantity of colostrum for the lamb, to help fight against bacteria and disease and minimise lamb losses.”

To listen back to the webinars please click here.

Posted by SRUC on 30/03/2023

Tags: Sheep and Goats, SAC Consulting
Categories: Research | Animal Welfare