Farm Table says:
Caffeine supplementation of ewes during lambing may increase lamb survival.
What is the problem?
A substantial production loss and welfare concern in Australian sheep systems is perinatal mortality of lambs (average of 20% of lambs born). Prolonged or difficult births can lead to hypoxia, which can contribute to lower rates of lamb survival. This study evaluated the effects of caffeine on hypoxia and whether oral supplementation of ewes could improve lamb survival.
What did the research involve?
- Pregnant Merino ewes (n=492) which had been naturally mated to Merino rams in February/March were allocated to three replicates of control (no caffeine) or caffeine treatments.
- Caffeine was fed daily in troughs in each paddock at a rate of 1.6 g/ewe per day (estimated at 20 mg/kg live weight) from the day before the first lamb was born, for 14 days, with lambing continuing for 6 weeks.
- Intake was facilitated using 320 g/day per ewe of barley grain with molasses, which was fed to both treatments.
What were the key findings?
- Proportion of lambs born alive during the period of supplementation did not differ (P>0.05) between treatments.
- Proportion mortality of lambs to 1 day of age was lower (P=0.029) in the caffeine (0.01) compared with the control (0.16) treatment for lambs born during the 1st week of supplementation, but not in later weeks.
The researchers note that extreme weather during the 2nd week of supplementation may have prevented any reduction in mortality due to caffeine.
Feeding caffeine to a naturally lambing flock of grazing ewes may be a highly effective and commercially practical method of increasing lamb survival, but further research is needed to confirm these results, and caffeine be regulated for use.