Torch Farm Vets newsletter – February 2021

Torch Farm Vets newsletter – February 2021


Text only version:


Real colostrum is a superfood rich in fats, protein and growth factors. Colostrum replacer should be as close as possible to the real thing. Calves and lambs depend on the antibodies they get in the colostrum to fight disease for the first few months of life.

Colostrum also provides fat to burn for warmth. A dose of poor quality artificial colostrum will make a lamb/calf feel full, meaning they won’t suckle as much of the dam’s colostrum. This can result in overall reduced intake of antibodies and fat, and increased susceptibility to hypothermia and neonatal infections.

We can see from figure 1 that no powdered colostrum comes close to ewe colostrum’s 50 g/L antibody level. Some are very poor indeed. Many of the inexpensive colostrum powders have their protein levels bumped up with whey or egg protein powder. This is no substitute for actual antibodies.

Figure 2 shows the ingredient lists of 2 colostrum powders. They are available for both lambs and calves. Looking at the ingredients of your colostrum powder can give an indication of quality. They are listed by order of inclusion. We can see that product A is made mostly from real colostrum. Product B is mainly whey protein.For lambs, product A comes in a 500g pot, costing £30. Product B comes in 10 sachets, costing £26. Product B is seen as the more affordable product. Yet it is far more expensive per dose and per gram of antibody it delivers. It is also very lacking in fat to keep the lamb warm. Please see the longer version of this article on our website for a table comparing the price per gram of antibody delivered to the newborn from a range of powdered colostrums.

How much total colostrum does a newborn need? For newborns not receiving any colostrum from their dam, the rule of thumb is 10% of body weight within the first 8-12 hours. Give
half the dose in the first 1-2 hours after birth,  followed by a second dose  4-6 hours later.

A 4kg lamb needs 400ml
A 40kg calf should have
      4 litres.
  If we are just ‘topping up’ at risk animals, half of this is likely to be sufficient. Absorption of antibody
depends on two main  factors:

1) The age of the newborn: their ability to properly absorb the antibody molecule starts to fall after
  the first meal, dwindling to zero by 24 hours of age.

2) The concentration of antibodies: the stronger the solution, the better the absorption. The second point tells us that doubling the amount given of a cheap colostrum still doesn’t do the same job as a dose of the real thing (figure 4). Making the powder mix too strong also risks dehydrating the lamb/calf by causing an osmotic scour. Every effort should be made to top up the lamb/calf with real colostrum.

What is the best way to supplement?
Gold standard:
supplement at risk animals with real colostrum, sucked from a teat. Suckling ensures the colostrum ends up in the right part of the stomach for digestion. The quality of colostrum is highest in the first 12-24 hours, so select a donor who has only just given birth.
Real world: Stomach tube lambs with 150-200 mls of colostrum, calves with 1.5-2 litres.

If you are using powdered, pay for a good quality product. Filling up the stomach with a low quality product will mean they suckle less of the real thing from the dam. If you can use real colostrum, do so.

Please speak to your vet to discuss your plans for colostrum supplementation this season.


The nutrition provided to ewes in the last few months of pregnancy can have a significant impact on health and production around lambing time. Underfed ewes are more likely to suffer from conditions such as pregnancy toxaemia, have a lower lamb birth weight and survival rates as well as reduced colostrum and milk yields – leading to poor lamb growth and health.

However overfed ewes can also encounter problems around the lambing period including prolapses and difficult lambings due to oversized lambs. Lambing difficulties can also delay the onset of lactation and large lambs may lack vigour. Overfeeding ewes also increases feed costs unnecessarily. Factors to consider  when formulating a ration for ewes include:
Forage type and quality
Forage should be available at all times to ewes to maintain stable rumen function. If ewes are housed; turning over or pushing up forage regularly encourages sheep to come to feed and increases intake.
Frequency and timing of feeding
Erratic feeding times, particularly with concentrates, can destabilise rumen microflora and function. When feeding concentrates (especially over 0.5kg per head per day), this should be divided into two feeds and fed at the same times every day.
Body condition score and litter size
Condition scoring and knowing litter sizes can help to group ewes according to their nutritional needs so that they can be fed accordingly. Target BCS for ewes at lambing time are as follows:

Lowland ewe (60-80kg):  3.0-3.5

Hill ewe (40-60kg): 2.5

Ewe lambs: 3.0

Presentation of feeds
Feed should be of high quality, fresh and free from mould and contamination. Troughs and feeders should be cleaned out regularly to avoid the build-up of stale, unpalatable food. If feeding outdoors, troughs should be moved regularly or be on a dry standing
Access and feeding space
Ewes should have adequate feed space to ensure they each get their fair share. Consider feeding ewe lambs/shearlings separately to older ewes.

We offer a ration analysis service to help you formulate the best feeding plan for your ewes this season. The basic analysis package


Which concentrate to purchase based on available forage analysis

Mixing proportions for blends

Which forage to use if more than one is available

Feeding rates to the point of parturition

Costings – calculate cost per ewe

We can also offer assistance with body

condition scoring and assessment of feeding
Our metabolic profiling service involves blood

sampling a number of ewes around 3 weeks before lambing is due to begin. It allows us to check how the ration is working – in time to make changes if necessary before lambing.


With the recent change in weather we have had a lot of calls regarding pneumonia in calves.

Pneumonia is a complex disease, which results in inflammation and damage to the lungs – the effect of which can last a lifetime.

Not only is calf pneumonia the biggest cause of mortality in calves 1 month to 1 year old, it also affects the calves’ growth rates and has been shown to reduce milk yields by 4% in their first lactation and 8% in the second lactation.We regularly see calves with pneumonia that don’t put on any weight for some weeks or whose growth rates are restricted compared to peers.  This has knock on effects for conception and age at first calving.

The causes of pneumonia are multi-factorial with contributing interaction from the different disease-causing pathogens, the animal’s environment and its health status.

Each of these factors can cause a reduction in productivity on its own but a combination can lead to clinical disease as well. When preventing a pneumonia outbreak we need to consider how we can decrease the challenge to calves or increase their immunity to fight off infection.

It is important when looking at prevention to consider colostrum management, environment and management including

how periods of stress such as weaning or disbudding are conducted.
If everything is being managed as effectively as possible then immunity can be enhanced in the form of vaccination but because of the wide variety of pathogens that can contribute to a pneumonia outbreak it is key to work out what pathogens you have, to work out what may be most effective. This means that just because a vaccine works for your neighbour it may not work for you. We can take swabs from calves sick now to see what pathogens are currently on farm or take bloods from calves that have had pneumonia to see what they have been exposed to (we can take bloods whilst they are sick then three weeks later to see what’s changed as well).

Remember too that the mix of pathogens can change over time, so re-testing is very important.

Red Tractor asks farmers to help shape future standards

The UK’s leading farm assurance body, Red Tractor, is urging farmers to engage in a consultation on how its farm standards should evolve.

A consultation has opened with proposals put forward on how the standards should look across the scheme’s six sectors: beef and lamb, poultry, pigs, dairy, fresh produce and combinable crops and sugar beet.

Red Tractor is seeking input from across the industry before finalising its proposition of what the schemes standards will be from November 2021. The consultation and review closes on 5 March 2021. For more information, visit:
and to have your say, go to:


Please be aware that our Holsworthy branch is now closed between 12:30 – 13:30 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to allow for a staff lunch break. It remains open all day on Wednesdays.

If you need to visit us at that time to collect medicines, please call us to  let us know on 01409 331007 and we will leave it in our secure collections box, just outside the surgery, which is accessible 24 hrs a day.