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How to prevent hypothermia and hypoglycaemia in young lambs

Starvation, hypothermia, and hypoglycaemia are amongst the highest causes of mortality in newborn lambs. Vet and veterinary pharmacologist Dr TB Barragry offers some advice.

image of newborn lambs

 From birth to six hours of age, the wet newborn lamb loses heat very rapidly and can quickly become hypothermic. This is more likely to occur in cold, wet, or windy conditions. Adequate colostrum and brown fat (a type of fat that the lamb is born with) help the lamb through this period by increasing heat production.

From six hours to three days after birth, starvation leads to a drop in heat production and the lamb becomes hypothermic. This can happen even in warm, sunny weather. All the lamb’s brown fat has been used by this time and it needs an adequate, good quality colostrum intake to stay warm. Newborn lambs have only minimal reserves of brown fat and are borderline in their blood glucose levels.

Hypothermia has many causes and can affect lambs at different ages. In newborn lambs less than five hours old, it often occurs due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.

Difficult or premature births can cause weak lambs which contributes to hypothermia, because these lambs do not get up and nurse warm colostrum as readily. Poor mothering can also lead to hypothermia if a ewe fails to thoroughly lick her lambs dry or if she abandons a lamb. If the ewe has poor body condition and there was a lack of adequate nutrition during gestation, the risk for hypothermia increases as lambs born from these ewes are often weak and colostrum production is decreased.

pie chart of causes of lamb deaths

Hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, often accompanies hypothermia in newborn lambs because they have not ingested colostrum, which is both a source of energy, immunity, and glucose.

Lambs are born with an almost sterile gut microbiome, and an exceptionally low inherent immunity. They are unable to defend themselves immunologically and are very susceptible to infections, especially gut infections. Thus, good quality colostrum is of critical importance. In addition, lambs are born with low levels of crucial vitamins, especially vitamins E and A – which, similar to antibodies, do not cross the placenta into the foetal lamb.

In an attempt to maintain temperature and to survive, the lamb may shiver and undergo multiple smooth muscle contractions. It burns glucose to release energy in an effort to keep warm, and it can very quickly run into hypoglycaemia, acidosis, coma, and death.

The lambs that are at the greatest risk of getting hypothermia and hypoglycaemia include:

  • Lambs from ewes in poor condition
  • Lambs from very old or very young ewes
  • Twins and especially triplets
  • Small and premature lambs
  • Lambs which are limp or weak at birth.

Giving lambs a jump start

Provita Jump Start is specially designed and formulated to prevent and treat hypothermia/hypoglycaemia in new lambs. It contains high levels of badly needed glucose and energy as well as fast and prolonged acting precursors of blood glucose such as propylene glycol. These act together to immediately boost the newborn lamb’s blood sugar and energy levels, and to prevent collapse from hypothermia and hypoglycaemia.

In addition, Jump Start contains high levels of unique IGY antibodies which help to combat E. coli infection. It supplies high quantities of selenium and vitamin E to stimulate the immune system, together with cobalt and vitamin B12 which accelerate the formation of greater numbers of red blood cells. This increased blood cell count ensures maximal oxygenation of vital tissues and organs and increased vigour and vitality in the young lamb.

Jump Start has been clearly demonstrated under field conditions to be a unique product for preventing and treating hypothermia/hypoglycaemia in young lambs.

table of causes of lamb mortality

Tackling E. coli and immunity

Provita Lamb Response is a beneficial bacteria based oral formulation which acts preventatively to augment the gut commensal population of the newborn lamb with protective bacteria, thereby generating gut health, and helping to prevent the establishment of E. coli by boosting local immunity.

Lamb Response contains a combination of four highly effective and unique ingredients, not present in other commercial products:

  • Beneficial bacteria: This naturally diminishes E. coli bacteria, enhances immunity, and ‘seals’ the newborn gut. It contains a potent strain of live organisms, which is one of the primary active ingredients of the first, EU-licensed probiotics (Provita Protect POM-VPS), which is clinically proven to prevent scour and has antibacterial activity against E. coli. This ultra-fast replicating beneficial bacteria will seed the gut expanding the young lamb’s gut microbiome, which is the basis of the overall immunity. In addition, tight junctions in the gut will be sealed, crowding out and neutralising E. coli pathogens preventing their establishment within the lamb.
  • Egg powder: This provides high concentrations of unique IgY proteins which are more potent against E. coli than usual colostral antibodies. These IgY antibodies have a higher binding affinity for E. coli antigens than do conventional colostral antibodies. Thus, the combination of beneficial bacteria plus IGY proteins provides a powerful immediate protection against E. coli, which has been established in scientific literature.
  • Vitamins: Lamb Response contains high levels of vitamins necessary for the young animal’s metabolism and supplies especially vitamin E, which stimulates the lymphocytes in the underdeveloped immune system, thus adding a further layer of protection.
  • High energy: Lastly, it supplies high energy to stimulate appetite, help prevent hypothermia (a very common fatality factor in young lambs) and to stimulate blood flow through vital organs.

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