Will Halliday, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Senior Advisor for Animal Welfare, says giving birth can be a challenging time for the dam, offspring and the farmer and potential compromises to animal welfare include disturbance from people, other animals, weather and lack of shelter.
“Shelter is particularly important at this time of the year and will help prevent deaths through starvation and exposure as new-born lambs are very susceptible to wind chill.”
He says it has been a tough year in many regions and while it might be tempting to run pregnant ewes or cows on forage crops right up to the point of lambing or calving, he recommends farmers allow enough time for pregnant stock to settle into their lambing or calving areas before they give birth.
“In an ideal situation, ewes can be identified according to their lambing cycle, so later lambing ewes can be left on forage crops for longer, but it has been a difficult winter and this has made standard management practices challenging.”
Will suggests farmers keep a close eye on ewes and cows and try and move them to a dry, sheltered area so they can calve or lamb with minimal disturbance.
“While it might be tempting to leave them on the forage crop for just a few more days, this can compromise the health of both the ewe or cow and her progeny.”
He says the Code of Welfare for Sheep and Beef Cattle 2018, clearly states that lambing and calving paddocks should be chosen to mitigate animal welfare challenges such as adverse weather or natural hazards and lambing and calving sites should be disturbed as little as possible.
“We know farmers are always striving to do the best by their livestock, but this year they are having to balance up feed resources with maternal behaviour and it is not always easy to get that balance right.”