A few simple steps could save ranchers 7.5 lambs or kids out of every 100 born, said David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“At $1 per pound for lambs and $2 for kids, producers could pocket an extra $700-$800 per year,” Fernandez said.
Lambs and kids are most likely to die during the first eight days of life, the perinatal period. About 84 percent of lamb deaths occurred between birth and the eighth day of life, according to a Wisconsin study over a nine-year period, said Fernandez. Although no similar data is available for goats, it would not be surprising to find the data is similar, he says. This means that goat and sheep producers should do everything possible to reduce losses during the perinatal period.
In the Wisconsin study, 44 percent of the lambs lost at birth were stillborn. Usually this is caused by an infection, such as toxoplasmosis, chalmydiosis or leptospirosis, which is often the result of poor hygiene.
“Make sure the paddock where you keep your females is clean and free of excessive manure build-up. Make sure your flock or herd is properly vaccinated about 60 days before lambing or kidding begins,” said Fernandez.
Another reason for a high number of stillborns could be pregnancy toxemia or ketosis, which is most common in overconditioned ewes and does, but it can also be a problem in thin ones. Ewes and does should have a body condition score of 2.5 to 3 on a 5 point scale or 5 to 6 on a 9 point scale.
Nearly 9 percent of lamb deaths resulted from a difficult birth. Kids and lambs undergoing a difficult birth may not receive enough oxygen while they are being born, may get fluid in their lungs or may be exhausted. Exhausted newborns don’t have the energy to keep themselves warm or to get up and nurse, said Fernandez. Be ready to assist ewes or does within an hour after the birth process begins. Be sure to have all needed equipment and that it is clean before the lambing or kidding season begins.
Do not breed smaller females to larger framed males as larger fetuses have more trouble being born than smaller ones. “Lambs over 13 pounds tend to have more trouble being born, so this is another reason to avoid overfeeding your animals,” he says.
The Wisconsin study reported that 5.8 percent of the lambs suffocated because the amniotic sac did not break. Being prepared and available when birth is imminent can help reduce losses.
Exposure is another major cause of perinatal losses. Nearly as many newborns (8.4 percent) died of exposure as died after a difficult birth. Newborn lambs and kids are wet and don’t have a heavy layer of fat and hair or wool to keep them warm on cold, wet days. Putting does or ewes in a simple shelter that will keep newborns dry can be enough to alleviate these losses, says Dr. Fernandez.
“If you know an animal will give birth soon, put it in the shelter if the weather is expected to be wet or extremely cold,” Fernandez said.
Some causes cannot be avoided. For example, lambs born in larger litters had higher death losses. Ewes lambing for the first time had higher lamb losses. Knowing this, plan to keep a closer eye on these animals.
More on body condition scoring, feeding ewes for reproductive success, and the basics of goat reproduction and managing the kidding season can be found on the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension website http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/default.asp.