Volume 5 Issue 4
Susan Kerr, WSU NW Regional Livestock and Dairy Extension Specialist
Lambing and kidding are well under way. It is essential that sheep and goat producers learn how to tube feed young animals. This simple procedure can often save a young animal’s life, thereby increasing lambing and kidding crop rates and enhancing profitability. With a brief amount of instruction and a little practice, even children can perform this crucial task quickly, safely and effectively.
When is tube feeding necessary? If an animal is too weak or otherwise unable to nurse, it needs to be tube fed. Other situations include maternal factors (lack of milk production, lack of mothering, mastitis, death) and management decisions to control various diseases (C.A.E., O.P.P., Johne’s disease, etc.). If the lamb or kid will drink from a bottle, this is always preferable to tube feeding.
Importance of Colostrum
Colostrum is the first milk of a mother’s lactation period. It is produced by the udder in the last weeks of pregnancy and lasts for a few days after delivery, decreasing in quality as the mother’s milk comes in. It is usually thicker and more yellow than milk. It contains high levels of fat, protein, vitamins and special proteins called antibodies. These antibodies are produced by the dam’s immune system to protect her against various diseases such as tetanus, enterotoxemia, E. coli and other diseases she was vaccinated against or experienced naturally in her life. Giving dams a booster vaccination three to four weeks before kidding or lambing helps ensure high levels of antibodies in colostrum.
Newborn animals must ingest colostrum within a few hours of birth. A newborn’s intestinal tract is not very selective in the first hours of life; antibodies can be absorbed whole, which is essential for their function. After 12 hours of age or so, antibodies and other proteins are digested into amino acids and then absorbed; they can be used as a source of nutrition but no longer have any systemic disease-fighting ability. The 12-hour time limit should be considered an absolute maximum—producers should strive to ensure adequate colostral intake as soon as possible after birth.
Sources of colostrum in decreasing preference include the neonate’s own dam, another dam of the same species and disease status in the herd, frozen colostrum from the same herd, and commercial colostrum replacer. Commercial colostrum supplements are available to boost the quality of poor quality colostrum. Each year, producers should harvest surplus early colostrum from high-producing animals and freeze it in case of emergency; update frozen colostrum reserves every year. Freezing colostrum in two-ounce portions simplifies future use and reduces waste.
Laboratory tests can confirm the quality of a sample of colostrum by measuring its antibody concentration. Blood tests in neonates over 24 hours old can confirm whether or not they have absorbed sufficient levels of antibodies. The lack of a protective level of circulating antibodies is called failure of passive transfer (FPT). FPT makes a young animal very susceptible to disease; many animals with FPT die of scours or pneumonia within two weeks of birth. After the first 12 to 24 hours of life, the gut is “closed” and can no longer absorb intact antibodies, so the only treatment for FPT is a costly intravenous transfusion of plasma antibodies.
The diagrams below depict a simplified cross section of an animal’s head. The “Swallowing” diagram shows the structures of the throat area during swallowing and the “Breathing” diagram shows the same structures during breathing. During swallowing, food and liquids are funneled down the esophagus instead of into the airway by the automatic function of protective flaps of tissue.