What are some of the problems with newborns?


The three primary causes of death of lambs/kids around lambing/kidding time are dystocia, starvation, and hypothermia. Hypothermia and starvation usually go hand-in-hand. Other common problems include scours, pneumonia, dysentery, navel ill, joint ill, and floppy kid syndrome. Most losses occur in the first few days.

Lambs/kids are susceptable to hypothermia because of their small size and body weight relative to surface area. Goats and smaller lambs are most susceptible. The basis of treatment for a hypothermic lamb/kid is to warm it up and provide it source of energy.

The only accurate way to recognize hypothermia is to take the lamb/kids' temperature. Treatment varies by the degree of hypothermia. Lambs/kids with mild hypothermia (more than 99°F) can be dried (if necessary), moved to a warm place, and tube fed colostrum. Lambs/kids with severe hypothermia (less than 99°F) should be given an intraperitoneal injection of dextrose (20 percent) before being warmed. Once/if the lamb/kid can swallow, it can be tube fed colostrum. Lambs/kids need to be slowly warmed to restore body temperature. The best method is to use a warming box. After body temperature has been restored, the lamb/kid should be returned it its dam or put in the orphan pen (if necessary). If the lamb/kid remains weak, you should continue to tube feed it and keep it in a warm environment.

It's important to keep a watchful eye on lambs/kids for the first few days after they are born to make sure they are nursing and getting enough to eat. Lambs/kids that are not vigorous or active often aren't getting enough to eat. Starving lambs/kids often stand hunched up. They don't stretch when the get up. They are sometimes noisy because they are hungry. The primary cause of starvation is the ewe/doe doesn't have enough milk. There can be many reasons for this, but mastitis is the most common. OPP/CAE* can be another reason for little to no milk in otherwise perfectly formed udders. Females with these chronic diseases should be removed from the flock/herd.

Sometimes, the ewe/doe is not a good mother. She may not allow her lambs/kids to nurse. If the ewe/doe doesn't have enough milk or won't let her offspring nurse, you will need to cross-foster her offspring onto another ewe/doe or remove it (them) for artificial rearing. Sometimes, keeping her in a head stanchion for a few days will "convince" her to let her offspring nurse. Ewes/does that reject their offspring may not do it the next year, but some producers will cull the offending ewe/doe to keep it from happening again. The reasons a ewe/doe rejects her offspring are not fully understood, though it is uncommon in well-managed flocks/herds.

Scours can be due to e. coli, salmonella, or clostridium perfringins type C. E. coli scours (watery mouth, rattle belly) is an opportunistic disease that is associated with sloppy conditions. The lamb/kid often dies from dehydration. Affected lambs need electrolyte therapy. Oral antibiotics may help in the early phase of the disease. Disease outbreaks are prevented with good hygienne and adequate consumption of colostrum.

While most producers are more focused on classic enterotoxemia or "overeating disease" (clostridium perfringins type D), enteroxtemia caused by clostridium perfringins type C is more likely to affect very young lambs/kids. It is called dysentery and is characterized by diarrhea. Death can be rapid. Some die with no signs. Type C enterotoxemia can be prevented with vaccination of the ewe/doe in the last month of pregnancy. The antiserum can be used in the face of an outbreak.

Lambs/kids that have not consumed enough colostrum are also at higher risk for developing pneumonia. The cause is usually the bacterium Pasteurella. Affected lambs/kids appear gaunt and lethargic. They may not nurse. They'll have a fever. Housing is a contributing factor to baby lamb/kid pneumonia. Poor ventilation is usually the culprit. Overcrowding exacerbates the problem. If you can't provide a dry, draft-free place for lambing/kidding, you should delay your lambing/kidding until warmer weather. Pneumonia is more common in housed animals that those that are raised on pasture. Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics.

Navel ill is an umbilical infection. It is caused by bacteria entering through the umbilical cord. Unhygienic conditions are usually the reason. Umbilical infections can remain localized or invade the body cavity. Treatment is often not rewarding, especially with the latter. Dipping or spraying umbilical cords with an iodine solution soon after birth is a good preventative measure.

Joint ill is caused by bacteria that gain entry orally, via the navel or via wounds from tagging, castrating, and docking. The result is arthritis and lameness. One or more joints may be affected. Penicillin is the drug of choice for treatment. It may be effective if adminstered early in the course of the disease. Prevention is the same as for most neonatal diseases: good sanitation and adequate consumption of colostrum.

Kids that develop floppy kid syndrome are usually born healthy. The develop symptoms when they are 3 to 10 days of age: weakness, lethargy, and flaccid paralysis. While the disease is not fully understood, it believed to be the result of overconsumption of milk, along with the proliferation of some infectious agent in the gut. Kids have low blood pH (metabolic acidosis). They seem to respond to treatments with sodium bicarbonate solution and may need supportive care.

Some lambs/kids are too "stupid" to nurse. Some are too weak. Sometimes, a ewe/doe's teats are too large, they're too nasty, or they hang too low. In each of these situations, you may need to help the lambs/kids get started. You may have to help them nurse or bottle or tube feed them. Some lambs/kids are born with skeletal issues, e.g., weak or splayed legs. They often grown out of these problems, but need help getting started. Sometimes, lambs/kids are born with deformities that they cannot overcome, in which case they should probably be humanely destroyed.

*OPP - ovine progressive pneumonia, CAE - caprine arthritic encephalitis


Additional reading

Treating hypothermia (chilling) and hypoglycemia (starvation) in very young lambs
Hypothermia in newborn lambs - Ontario, Canada
Critical control points for lamb survival - Michigan State University
Floppy kid syndrome - Texas A&M
Floppy kid syndrome (fading kid syndrome) - Louisiana State University