As I write this, we are in the midst of a busy few weeks of Spring lambing and calving. It’s been great to get on farm and see some immaculate calving pens, highly organised lambing sheds and keenly motivated teams. Hopefully things have mostly gone well, but there have been some challenges and difficulties and I am sure everyone can think of at least one area for improvement next year. As lambs are turned out to grass and calf growth rates start to fly, it is important to also reflect on the neonatal period while it is fresh in your mind. What did you do really well this year? What would you change? How many lambs or calves were expected, and how many were actually born alive? How many losses were there in the first 24 hours, or the first 3 weeks?
In the UK an average of 10% of lambs and 7% of calves don’t survive beyond 3 weeks. With narrow margins for profitability in beef and sheep, making small changes to improve neonatal survival can have huge economic benefits, as well improving animal welfare, not to mention increasing job satisfaction!
Any data you can record on the computer, or jot down, will help your vet to advise you when we come out to do your health plan review. Most of you will be familiar with the data collection forms we now ask you to complete prior to your health plan visit. How many calves were turned out to grass? How many lambs were there at the time of the first drench, or the 8 week-weighing session? What youngstock treatments were given and why? This sort of information can help us to know what areas are best to target for improvement. We can look at trends on your farm over the years and compare with similar herds and flocks at Synergy (anonymously of course) and your own specific targets.
Keeping good records also helps when it comes to selecting females for breeding – ewes or cows that have suffered vaginal prolapses should not be bred again; and avoid keeping replacements from females that required assistance at birth or failed to rear their young. Ease of calving/lambing, and litter size, are highly heritable traits that have a huge impact on survival. Likewise, rams and bulls should be selected to minimise dystocia and improve neonatal survival – estimated breeding values (EBVs) are invaluable for this. Next year’s success starts with appropriate breeding decisions this year.
Other important measures we can take throughout the production cycle to increase neonatal survival include vaccinations (particularly BVD, IBR and leptospirosis in cattle; toxoplasmosis and Enzootic abortion in sheep); liver fluke control; and ensuring optimum nutrition and body condition of breeding females throughout the year.
Synergy Farm Health was recently involved in a project with AHDB and University of Edinburgh to develop a Target Survival Plan for beef and sheep. The plan aims to help structure conversations around neonatal survival and identify key critical control points. Get in touch with any Team Beef or Team Sheep vet for more information, to share the data you have collated and to book your next health plan review.
Bella Lowis – Synergy Farm Health, Veterinary Surgeon