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24 July 1998
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is urging farmers to remember the importance of good shelter in minimising stock losses in the event of a wintry storm at the wrong time.
In the aftermath of the drought, many newborn calves and lambs will be particularly susceptible to cold wet weather.
"In most years, farmers can ensure that their cows and ewes approach birth in good body condition, so their offspring will have good birth weights and be robust, and the dams will have a good colostrum supply to get their youngsters off to a flying start, even if they are born in bad weather," said Dr Marjorie Orr, of MAF Quality Management’s Animal Welfare Services Group, "but the present extraordinary weather conditions mean that, in spite of their best efforts, many farmers have stock in less than ideal body condition, and their offspring may well be smaller and less robust than usual, and less able to get a good feed of colostrum in the first vital 24 hours after birth."
This would be particularly true for lambs where two or more were produced, Dr Orr said. "If cold wet or windy weather hits after birth, the odds are stacked against them. The only option farmers have now to minimise losses is to use sheltered paddocks for calving and lambing."
Ironically an advantage of de-stocking is that on smaller farms, farmers may be able to put more time and effort into supervising calving and lambing. "Extra effort to ensure stock are sheltered at birth and that the newborns get a good feed of colostrum may well pay off, since these newborn animals will be vital replacements for lost stock."
Dr Orr said colostrum was rightly nicknamed ‘liquid gold’, because it provided not just the antibodies needed to protect newborns from disease, but was a high energy feed which provided inner warmth to help protect against cold. AColostrum substitutes given immediately after birth might be a good investment on some smaller farms, A she said. "However, there are bogus substitutes about, so be wary. To be effective colostrum substitutes must contain gammaglobulins prepared from sheep serum as well as glucose for instant energy."
Paddocks with natural shelter might be suitable for lambing if they were not too hilly. AThere are many different types of natural shelter and anything is better than a plain wire fence.
"Low dense shelter is best - scrub, toi toi, flax and even gorse. Big draughty trees are of little practical value," Dr Orr said.
"Another factor that is often overlooked is that the bulk of a woolly ewe can provide shelter for her lambs, especially when she lies down. So if ewes are shorn before lambing, there is a greater need for farmers to supply effective shelter."
"On smaller farms it may be possible to tie wind netting tightly to fences or to place old bales of straw or hay along the fence line or in the paddock- anything that reduces wind chill will help protect newborns."
Dr Marjorie Orr, MQM Animal Welfare Services Group
Invermay Animal Health Laboratory
Private Bag 50035
Ph: 03 489 3809 Fax: 03 489 7988