Dextrose aids newborn lamb survival

// Rearing and Weaning

Lambing is getting underway in many regions and farmers are encouraged to put together a lambing kit to ensure they have everything they need on-hand when doing a lambing beat.

lambs on farm

Will Halliday, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Senior Advisor Biosecurity and Animal Welfare, says a waterproof backpack or container containing dextrose, lamb covers, iodine spray, antibiotics, bearing equipment, gloves, veterinary lube, a towel and a thermos of warm water will help give lambs the best possible chance of survival.

He says a 20% dextrose mix is particularly valuable in helping to revive weak or hypothermic lambs during a cold snap.

Injecting the warmed (where possible) dextrose straight into the lamb’s abdomen will give it the energy boost it needs to survive.

“It is important that this is done before warming the lamb up. If you warm the lamb up before administrating the dextrose, it can hasten its death.”

He says the ideal candidates for this treatment are lambs that are four or five hours old that have not fed off their mothers. Newborn lambs will typically respond to just being warmed up without the injection, although a dextrose injection won’t hurt them.

Will says farmers can buy the 20% dextrose solution off their vet or buy 40% dextrose and use sterile water (cooled boiled water) or saline to dilute it themselves.

To inject a lamb, a 5ml or 10ml vaccinating gun should be connected to the draw-off tube or the dextrose extracted using a 60ml syringe.  A 10mm 18G vaccinating needle is ideal for this purpose- it must not be longer than 12.5mm.

The dosage is 10ml of dextrose per kilogram of bodyweight. Most lambs in need of this treatment will weigh less than 4kg, so 40ml is suitable dose, says Will.

After preparing the injection site with iodine, the needle is inserted just above the navel and pushed in at a slight angle towards the chest. There should be a slight popping sensation as the needle pierces the abdominal wall.

The solution is then gently injected into the abdomen. Any swelling underneath the skin will indicate that the needle is not in far enough.

Another option is to inject dextrose saline (which is not the same as 20% dextrose) under the skin. This requires a much higher dose – 30ml/kg or 120ml for a 4kg lamb – and this is injected under the skin around the ribs on both sides of lamb and the area rubbed.

After the lamb has received the dextrose, it can then be warmed up and put back with the ewe, ideally with a lamb cover. It will need to be closely monitored to ensure the ewe has accepted and fed it.

For information on reviving newborn lambs, see our Reviving lambs factsheet (PDF, 174KB).