Scours -- the livestock term for diarrhea -- often affects newborn lambs. It results from a variety of causes, so there's no one-size-fits-all way to prevent it. Good husbandry and management help control an outbreak, but scours can be fatal in sheep. It's the overwhelming cause of mortality in neonatal lambs.
If scours appears in newborn lambs in your flock, it's important to find out exactly what type of bacteria is behind the outbreak. Provide your vet fecal samples for analysis so she can track down the culprit and advise you on the best treatment. Take the lamb's temperature rectally to see if he has a fever. A temperature over 103 degrees Fahrenheit indicates fever; your vet might recommend antibiotics or medications to bring a fever down.
To help prevent scours, it's essential that a newborn lamb receive colostrum, the precious initial mother's milk containing protective antibodies. According to the Ontario Sheep News, every lamb should consume a minimum of 15 percent of his body weight within 12 hours after birth. The ewe produces colostrum for about 24 hours after lambing, when the content changes to basic sheep milk. If the lamb is orphaned, or the ewe doesn't produce sufficient milk, you must provide the newborn with colostrum. Have some frozen colostrum on hand if lambs are due. Your vet can obtain it for you or tell you about a local source. In a pinch, you can substitute bovine colostrum, which might be more readily available in farm supply stores.
Approximately one month before lambing, vaccinate the pregnant ewe for Clostridium perfringens type C, a common bacterial cause of scours in lambs. While the vaccination will prevent the fetus from coming down with particular bacterial infection, it doesn't mean another type of bacteria won't cause scours from occuring in the newborn lamb. While you should also vaccinate your ewe against E. coli bacteria and rotavirus, that only aids a lamb's immunity and doesn't completely prevent infection.
Keep your lambing area as clean as possible. The E. coli bacteria can cause scouring, and it's usually present in farms with poor sanitary conditions. Lambs suffering from E. coli can experience diarrhea as well as excessive salivation. In addition to antibiotics and anti-diarrheal medication, you might want to give lambs probiotics or plain yogurt to help restore good bacteria in the digestive tract. Always wear gloves when treating a lamb for scours, and wash your hands with a disinfectant soap afterwards. Some of the bacteria-causing bovine scours are transmissible to people.
If scouring develops in your flock, separate affected lambs with their mothers. Scouring lambs quickly become dehydrated, so it's important to get fluids into them as soon as possible. Use a commercial electrolyte solution mixed with warm water and administer it to the lamb according to product directions. Measure out the correct amount and give it to the lamb via a dosing gun down the throat.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.