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Apr 20, 2021

Planning ahead key to weaning success

Apr 20, 2021

As seen in NSA Sheep Farmer April/May 2021

Weaning might be a while away for some, however sheep farmers are being encouraged to start planning early to maintain health and minimise potential growth checks.

Weaning can be a very stressful time for lambs and careful planning and management is required to reduce the risk of problems and ensure lambs continue to thrive.

According to Csaba Adamik, of Lallemand Animal Nutrition, getting the diet transition right can be the difference between a healthy fast-growing lamb and one that really struggles.

“If the rumen isn’t prepared for an increase in concentrate feed intake at this time, then rumen microbiota can be affected causing health implications and a reduction in growth.

“In order for lambs to grow and minimise any post weaning dip in performance, you need to develop the rumen effectively to utilise this new diet,” explains Csaba.

He advises farmers to start preparing lambs by introducing a creep feed well in advance of weaning.

“If you have high volumes of grass available, it can be tempting to avoid introducing creep feed until the point of weaning to keep costs down. However, if prior to this point they have only received milk and grass, the rumen will not be adequately developed to digest concentrate feed.

“To develop the rumen, you need the presence of starch to produce a large enough amount of volatile fatty acid. This facilitates a chemical message to the rumen wall to develop the papillae, which play a pivotal role in nutrient absorption in the rumen.”

Csaba adds that this transition can be further supported by supplementing a probiotic live yeast within the concentrate.

“Adding a rumen specific live yeast like Levucell SC, will help develop the rumen microbiota during and after weaning. It scavenges oxygen within the rumen creating an environment that is more favourable for beneficial microflora establishment.

“Rumen development is essential for the lamb to increase concentrate intake and digest its total diet successfully, supporting growth and performance.”

Coccidiosis

Highlighting the wider impact of rumen health, Csaba says lambs suffering digestive issues will be more sensitive to parasitic disease such as coccidiosis.

“There is a correlation between digestive disturbances and coccidiosis infection and farmers should be alert to a heightened risk around weaning.”

Parasitic infection with coccidiosis causes damage to the lining of the gut but can often be subclinical with reduced weight gain the only tell-tale sign.

Csaba says it’s important not to blanket treat lambs for coccidiosis without confirmation of a problem, due to the build of drug resistance.

“A faecal egg count (FEC) is the best way to assess the risk of exposure to coccidiosis, as well as other parasitic worms which can be a challenge while at grass.”

Feed and water access

Although simple, having adequate feed space is an important consideration, particularly if housing lambs post weaning.

“If they don’t have enough space to access feed freely, they’re going to feed very quickly and so will be more likely to develop digestive disturbances like bloat. The way that you are feeding the lambs is almost as important as what you are feeding them,” he says.

 

While it goes without saying that water access is also crucial, Csaba encourages farmers to be particularly mindful of ensuring water troughs are clean and easily accessible for lambs, and that there are enough of them.

“You want to encourage lambs to drink as freely as possible because water intake encourages concentrate intake and vice versa,” says Csaba.

“As well as reducing feed intakes, insufficient water can also disturb the rumen. In combination, this can really limit daily liveweight gain.”

Csaba also notes the benefit of providing free access salt blocks to lambs.

“Salt will help them to regulate their appetite and intake of water and can prove very beneficial in supporting lambs on post weaning diets.”

There are many factors to consider when weaning lambs, but by planning the process carefully and well in advance, farmers can be more confident that health and growth rates will be maintained post weaning.