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25 September 2002

Media Release

Orphan lambs can be reared successfully

Lambs orphaned in the recent southerly blast can be profitably reared on-farm, according to a research report released today.

The report is based on a study carried out in Hawkes Bay last season by Paul Muir of AgResearch. Two large-scale rearing experiments were also undertaken by Southland farmers Anthony Sutherland and Paul Marshall.

"Lamb losses during storms, like the one this week, are heart-breaking for farmers and can have a big impact on the farm bottom-line," says Lew Willoughby, extension group leader for Meat & Wool Innovation Limited (MWI).

MWI is the new farm technology company being set up by Meat New Zealand and the NZ Wool Board. It is due to be formally launched on 1 October.

Mr Willoughby says orphan and unthrifty triplet lambs which otherwise would have died can be successfully reared on fortified cow colostrum and meal.

"The total cost is around $30/lamb (excluding labour). With prime lambs worth around $65/head, it is clearly economic to artificially rear these lambs."

He says the research looked at removing small triplet lambs from their mothers for rearing, but had shown this was uneconomic. If a ewe is capable of rearing its lambs it should be allowed to do so, he says.

Artificial rearing requires good animal husbandry skills, and careful attention to hygiene and animal health.

"Because cow milk has less fat and protein than ewe milk, it needs to be fortified for feeding to lambs. On the Southland farms in last year's trial, 70 g/l of lamb milk replacer powder was added to antibiotic-free cow colostrum.

"This worked well," Mr Willoughby says.

"From day 8, lambs can be reduced from three to two feeds a day. At the same time, they should start getting a meal supplement.

"At 22 days of age, many lambs will have reached 12 kg and will be ready to sample high quality clover-dominant pasture. Two days later they can be safely weaned from milk, but they should continue to get meal until day 77.

"Weaned lambs have the potential to grow at 200 – 300 g/day."

Mr Willoughby says sheep farmers have made greater use of high fecundity ewes in recent years. This has greatly increased farm efficiency.

"But as lambing percentages climb toward 200 per cent, more attention will need to be given to increasing the birth weights of twin and triplet lambs. In general, twins and triplets are smaller than singles and less able to cope with severe weather conditions.

"Ewe nutrition in early- to mid-pregnancy has a big influence on lamb birth weights. Also, the birth weights of twin lambs can be increased by shearing ewes in mid-pregnancy."

However, regardless of farmers' efforts, there will always be storms, he adds.

"With more twin and triplet lambs on the ground, it will pay to be prepared to artificially rear the orphans. We now know this can be done economically."

More information on rearing systems for orphan lambs is in a special edition of In The Paddock. A free copy of the leaflet is also available at freephone Meat & Wool Innovation on 0800 496 657.


For more information, contact

Lew Willoughby
Tel : 06-835 1888


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