Probiotics in Lambs Can Increase Immunity and Reduce Watery Mouth

Written Dr TB Barragry PhD, MSc, MVB, MRCVS, Dip ECVPT

Mortality in Young Lambs

Almost 50% of total lamb losses occur in the first 48 hours of life, with a further 11% coming to an early demise 2-14 days post-lambing.  Reports show that estimates of pre-weaning mortality range from 10-28 % and that most of the mortality is in the first 3 days of life across all breeds and production systems.  Deaths at or around birth can lead to the loss of up to 15% of lambs born in lowland flocks and up to 25% of lambs born in hill flocks.  Newborn lambs require 10% of their body weight in colostrum within the first 24 hours of life, after which the gut is no longer able to absorb the antibodies that help prevent disease.  45% of early lamb mortality is caused by E. coli scours (Diarrhoea/Watery Mouth ), 20% by starvation/hypothermia and 8% by pneumonia.  Several sources of UK lamb mortality data over the past 30 years find average mortality rates of 12-23%. There is significant variation in levels of losses between farms, for instance 15% lamb mortality has been reported in Welsh flocks and a UK wide study found a range of 4-21% in lowland flocks.

As mentioned previously, almost half of this mortality is caused by E. coli (Watery Mouth).  Hence an effective new approach to promote newborn gut health, better immunity, and prevention of E. coli infection in lambs might significantly reduce these high mortality figures.  One such scientific evidenced based approach is to use proven probiotics in newborn lambs to protect the gut against E. coli to boost immunity until weaning, and to generate better growth rates.

The Gut Microbiome of the Lamb Governs Health & Immunity

The optimised gut microbiome is now known to be the director, not only of gut health and protection against E. coli infection, but also of general immunity in the body.  Medical research shows the beneficial effects of quality probiotics on good bacteria (commensals) of the gut and an additive signalling effect from the gut commensals to the immune system via short chain fatty acids (SCFA) and other signalling molecules.  In essence there is a healthy “cross talk” existing between the gut and other parts of the body because of an optimised gut microbiome facilitating local immunity in the gut by counteracting E. coli, but also protecting the respiratory system, the brain and other body compartments.  Eubiosis in the gut (i.e. healthy gut flora) is associated with high levels of good bacteria and SCFA, whereas dysbiosis in the gut (pathogenic organisms) is associated with a decrease in SCFA.  This recent scientific evidence clearly underpins why in the Provita Protect field trials, the treated animals displayed not only a significantly lower incidence of E. coli scour but also a lower incidence of respiratory disease.

Interestingly, there are more cells in the body’s microbiome than there are animal cells in the body. Plus there is more DNA within cells of the gut microbiome directing immunity than there is in the entire animal cell count of the body.  An optimised gut microbiome in lambs will have a higher portion of commensal organisms if acted upon directly by a proven and quality probiotic.  This probiotic-enhanced gut microbiome, as discussed, is proven to boost overall health of newborns.  This new concept explains not only the healthier gut and lower incidence of scours seen with a licensed probiotic such as Provita Protect, but also explains the significantly better growth rates seen as a bonus when calves receive Provita Protect.  Similar growth rate improvements have been reported with probiotics in lambs, together with a reduction of E. coli scour and better immunity.  The gut of the foetal lamb is sterile in the womb and is only very slowly colonised after birth.  Thus, the newborn lamb has little or no gut based immunity and is highly susceptible to E. coli infection (Watery Mouth). 

A severe challenge by environmental pathogens such as E. coli can easily override this weak and minimal indigenous commensal population in the newborn lamb.  A number of Provita newborn products contain high numbers of beneficial bacteria which help to seed, augment, and consolidate this indigenous commensal population, thereby counteracting pathogenic infection, while at the same time boosting overall health.  Specifically, these beneficial bacteria added to the gut counteract and “overcrowd” unwanted bacteria, plus also enhance early gut development to boost early gains.

Why the Lamb Benefits from Lamb Response

Lambs rely on maternal colostrum for passive immune protection because they are born immunodeficient.  Furthermore, the role between commensal microorganisms and host interaction supports the hypothesis that gut commensals play a key role in immune training.  Even with support from maternal immunoglobulins, lambs still exhibit high mortality rates, and hence implementing early and effective supplementation of the gut commensal population with Lamb Response is of critical importance.  An enhanced commensal gut microbiome will boost lamb survival and reduce digestive disturbances in the gut, thereby reducing diarrhoea incidence by virtue of the anti-pathogenic, gut based action of probiotics.  See figure 1:

Provita products are designed to supply approved additives in optimum levels and in the correct ratio, to help ensure maximum productivity from livestock. 

Provita Lamb Response is a beneficial bacteria based oral supplement which acts preventatively to augment the gut commensal population of the newborn lamb with protective bacteria, thereby generating gut health, and preventing establishment of E. coli by boosting immunity.  This product also supplies protective egg proteins and B vitamins to further enhance the gut, and to stimulate metabolism and growth.  Young lambs can also be very susceptible to hypothermia, loss of energy, and deficiency of vitamin E and selenium. Supplying egg proteins, energy (glucose) and trace elements such as vitamin E & selenium immediately after birth will not only kick start the metabolism of the newborn lamb but will also aid its survivability.  For example by using a complementary product such as Provita Jump Start.  This will act in synergy with the beneficial bacteria in Lamb Response.  Provita Jump Start is high in energy, minerals, and vitamins to provide instant and slow release and to counteract common deficiencies.  Jump Start is a nutritional supplement, specifically developed to provide newborn lambs with beneficial sources of immediately available and slow release energy containing 14 different types of minerals and vitamins. 

Written Dr TB Barragry PhD, MSc, MVB, MRCVS, Dip ECVPT

(Dr T. Barragry acts as consultant to Provita Animal Health Ltd )