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Lamb Nutrition Research Could Lead to Improved Survival Rate

27 April 2015

Research on the effects of body condition score and level of protein supply on ewe and lamb performance could lead to improved lamb survival rates and financial benefits for farmers.

A study from Harper Adams agriculture students is looking at the effects on the yield and composition of colostrum and milk and the effects on colostrum IgG concentration and absorption by lambs.

During the 10-week trial, 48 twin-bearing ewes were housed in four different treatment groups – high body condition score (BCS) and low protein, high BCS and high protein, low BCS and low protein, and low BSC and high protein.

Throughout the trial, ewes were housed individually from six weeks pre-lambing to four weeks post-lambing, and fed ad-lib straw and an iso-energetic concentrate formulated to supply different levels of digestible undegradable protein (DUP) supply.

Effects on milk yield

Student Verity Hyland from Yorkshire has researched how the different treatments affect the yield and composition of colostrum and milk.

She said: “We milked the ewes at 12 and 16 hours after lambing and also at 21 days to measure the colostrum and milk yields. We also took samples for compositional analysis. During the trial, blood and faecal samples were also taken and lamb weights were monitored and recorded weekly.

Previous research has shown higher levels of protein and energy are required during the later stages of pregnancy to allow for lamb growth, udder development and colostrum production.

Ms Hyland thinks the results will show that ewes will respond to additional protein supply above currently accepted requirements, and that this response may vary depending on the ewes initial BCS.

She added: “Potentially this could help sheep farmers to have an improved understanding of how much protein is required during this key nutritional period. This could then lead to improved lamb survival rate as well as improved efficiencies and cost savings.”

Effects on lamb immunity

Gina Lamb, another student from Northumberland, has been investigating the effect of the different treatments on the Immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentrate of colostrum and the efficiency of absorption by lambs.

Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is the major immunoglobulin in the body and it is important that it is passed from the ewe to a new born lamb via colostrum, the first milk from the ewe.

Immunoglobins are also known as antibodies and are used by the lamb to fight the bacteria and viruses that cause infection and disease.

She said: “Research has shown that IgG absorption by lambs is dependent on both the quantity of colostrum consumed by lambs and the amount of IgG within the colostrum.

“At 16 hours and 21 days after lambing, colostrum and milk quality were tested, as well as blood samples taken to assess the IgG concentration.

“Higher levels of IgG in the lambs will improve their immunity, decreasing their chances of disease and give them a real fighting start.

“This research could help farmers to know how much protein to feed to optimise lamb output and colostrum quality, leading to potential savings within lamb survival, higher weaning percentage and protein use.”

This trial is part of an on-going research project conducted at Harper Adams University on behalf of EBLEX – the beef and lamb division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

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