Abomasal Bloat in Lambs: what causes it and some ways to reduce the risk
Despite the prevalence of abomasal bloat in artificially reared lambs, this complex and unpleasant condition is still not well understood. The rapid onset and high mortality rate have left many a rearer feeling helpless and searching for answers regarding the cause.
While it is evident that excessive gas production in the abomasum is responsible for the physical symptoms, which are often fatal if left untreated, the multifactorial nature of the condition makes identifying a specific cause more challenging.
Proliferation of undesirable bacteria in the abomasum is thought to be one potential cause of abomasal bloat. Several different bacteria, including Sarcinia ventriculi, Clostridia sordellii, Clostridia fallax and even Salmonella typhimurium, have been found in the abomasum of animals suffering from abomasal bloat.
Although there is still debate around whether these bacteria are the cause, maintaining a high standard of hygiene helps to reduce the risk of abomasal bloat.
Feeding management also plays an important role. Research suggests that when milk feeds remain in the abomasum for an extended period, the risk of abomasal bloat increases. Feeding large volumes in a single feed, rapid consumption of milk or milk replacer and the osmolality of the milk solution being fed are all factors which will reduce the rate of abomasal emptying.
Practical farm management tips to help reduce the risk of abomasal bloat
Invest in and take the time to maintain feeding equipment. Regularly check the condition of teats - large holes or damaged teats can result in gorging.
Take time to check the mixing rates on the label, then measure out milk replacer and water correctly. Incorrect mixing rates can affect abomasal out flow rates and increase the risk of abomasal bloat.
Feed smaller volumes more frequently. This can be time consuming but is a worthwhile investment in healthier, more productive lambs. If larger numbers of lambs are being reared, consider an automatic feeder.
Be consistent. This includes mixing milk replacer properly, feeding at the same time, always using the same types of feeding equipment and ensuring that, when group feeding, all lambs consume the same amount.
Check the quality of the water used to mix your milk replacer or offered ad lib to young lambs, as this can be a significant source of bacteria. It is worth checking the microbiological quality of the water prior to the start of lambing and, if there is any risk of contamination, implementing an appropriate treatment strategy.
Choice of milk replacer can also help to reduce the risk of abomasal bloat
Milk replacer osmolality affects abomasal emptying rate – in general, the higher the osmolality the longer the milk replacer spends in the abomasum, increasing the risk of abomasal bloat.
High levels of lactose in milk replacers can increase the risk of abomasal bloat. Although lactose is an important energy source in whole milk and milk replacers, unnecessarily high levels of lactose can increase the osmolality of a milk replacer, providing a rich source of fermentable carbohydrates which supports the proliferation of undesirable gas forming bacteria.
This is one of the reasons why specialist lamb milk replacers such as Sprayfo Primo Lamb are formulated with higher levels of fat than typical lamb milk replacers. The fat provides a valuable source of energy for the young lamb but, unlike lactose, doesn’t support bacterial growth and helps to keep osmolality low. The inclusion of high-quality fats does increase the cost of the milk replacer, but this added cost should be seen as an investment in reducing risk and increasing lamb survival.
Yoghurtising milk or milk replacers can help to reduce the risk of abomasal bloat
This is because the bacteria which turn milk into yoghurt ferment the lactose present, converting it to lactic acid and carbon dioxide in much the same way as the bacteria present in the abomasum do, but without the gas build up in the abomasum.
Yoghurtising milk will reduce the amount of lactose fed to lambs; reducing the substrate available for fermentation in the abomasum and reducing the osmolality of the feed offered.
Yoghurtising milk is a useful option where the risk of abomasal bloat is high, but it does increase workload and reduces the overall energy available for the young animal. Well formulated, nutritionally balanced milk replacers for lambs (like Sprayfo) do not need to be yoghurtised.
Consistency is important when managing young stock
This is especially true when it comes to reducing the risk of abomasal bloat, and applies equally to your routine and the consistency of the milk being fed.
Choosing a milk replacer which mixes easily and is stable in solution is just as important as taking the time to accurately measure out the correct amount of powder and water. The unique manufacturing technologies used in the production of Sprayfo milk powders ensure that very small, protein coated, fat molecules are evenly dispersed through the milk helping to improve consistency when feeding and increasing the digestibility of both fat and protein.
Nurturing the immune system goes a long way to helping reduce the risk of abomasal disease
Ensuring timely and adequate supply of immunoglobulins is essential to establishing a competent immune system. Feeding a quality powdered colostrum supplement like Launchpad 18 is a convenient and consistent way of ensuring all lambs receive the necessary 10g of IgG within 12 hours of birth.
Specialist Sprayfo lamb milk replacers are formulated to provide the essential vitamins and trace minerals required by young rapidly growing lambs and none of the ones that may be potentially toxic, like copper. Sprayfo Primo Lamb is specifically formulated to provide elevated levels of vitamin E and organic selenium, both of which play an important role in the development of the immune system.
It can be difficult to identify the specific cause of abomasal bloat in your lambs. However, implementing an easy to follow routine and keeping your processes consistent will help to reduce risk. Plus, choosing a specialist, high quality lamb milk replacer means one less thing to worry about in the dynamic rearing environment.
Choose Sprayfo milk replacers for optimising lamb growth
AgriVantage offers a choice of curding or whey Sprayfo calf milk replacers, each one offering different benefits for lamb growth development whilst reducing the risk of abomasal bloat.