Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Cold snap deadly for lambs

Farmers lose many newborn lambs in the cold, wet conditions.

LIBBY PRICE July 17, 2014 8:00am

The late winter cold snap on top of record autumn rain has killed many newborn lambs in the Benalla district.

One farmer who didn’t want to be named lost 12 per cent of his lambs from a mob of pregnant ewes he bought which lambed later than his other sheep.

Department of Environment and Primary Industries district veterinary officer John Ryan said ironically it was often the good farm managers with improved pastures who had the highest mortality rates in sheep.

‘‘The worst managers have the best success because there’s more rubbish around that stock won’t eat, which gives them protection — like tussocks and fallen trees.

‘‘It’s a matter of picking the paddocks for lambing ewes and sheep off shears. If they get wet and there’s wind they’ll lose up to 18 per cent of body heat fairly rapidly and start going into hypothermia, then comatose and then they die,’’ Dr Ryan said.

He said it helped to put sheep in a rough old paddock or on the leeward side of a hill.

‘‘Some farmers says shearing ewes prior to lambing encourages the mothers to find shelter for themselves, which helps save the newborn lambs. When they’re just born they’re drenched in amniotic fluid and you can lose them hand over fist, basically to exposure.’’

A study by the DEPI that looked at 200 lamb deaths in recent years concluded most died at birth or soon after. While many were found mutilated by foxes or crows, post mortems showed very few lambs were found to have been killed by predators.

Dr Ryan said lambs could be saved when they were at the comatose stage if their body temperature was quickly brought back to normal.

‘‘The old-fashioned remedy of popping the lamb into the Aga stove, obviously not in the hot oven, but to warm them up, or wrapping them up and putting them in front of the fire ... even dry them off with a hair dryer and give them some glucose (can help),’’ he said.

‘‘Feeding them infant formula will cause more problems than it solves.

‘‘Once they’re up bouncing around like a normal lamb, they have a better chance if you put them out with their mothers.’’

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