Orphan Lambs

by: Dr. G.F. Kennedy

I continue to get questions from people attempting to raise lambs on a bottle. Well folks, it doesn’t usually work out that well and when that cute buddy of yours gets in trouble and ends up dying it isn’t a lot of fun. Other than an Amish farmer that was raising lambs on cows milk, I have never seen anyone be consistently successful unless they were feeding milk free choice cold or had them on a machine that is free choice as well.

Lambs need to be started with a bottle then transferred to a nipple bucket or machine. They need to be fed that way for thirty days and then weaned. Processing should wait until they are successfully on the bucket or the Lac-Tek machine. At that time they should be given their CDT and penicillin and CD should be repeated in two weeks and again at wean. Creep feed and good quality hay as well as water should always be available. I prefer a milk replacer designed for lambs and kids that has skim milk listed as it’s first ingredient. That reduces chances of abomasal bloat. In warm weather, one option to keep milk cold is to freeze bags of milk and use them as coolants until they melt. The machine mixes small amounts as needed so temperature isn’t a problem. Heat lamp placed over bucket can prevent freezing in winter time. If cats chewing nipples is a problem put some milk in a pan for the cats. Navel sucking can be discouraged by spraying bitter apple on them and sometimes segregation is needed.

Check out Colostrum and Milk Replacer articles for more information.

The question often comes up when the lambs are not doing well, “Which one do I take and when?” This decision becomes much easier once you have lambs on the bucket or machine. Often we tube lambs when there are multiple births or the ewe is one sided to see what capacity the ewe has. This procedure certainly results in less lambs artificially raised. Occasionally, we error in evaluation but not often and we are looking at a 40 dollar milk replacer cost on those we pull. This method requires ewes to be in jug longer, larger jugs and obviously more room and labor.

My wife, Deb, likes to take the hungriest and that being equal prefers to take females if there’s a choice. Less of a sucking problem with females.

Other producers just automatically pull one triplet and one lamb from one sided ewes or poor milkers. They also generally pull the largest and strongest lamb because they are easier to start.


About Ask-a-Vet Sheep

Veterinary services, procedures, biologicals, and drugs mentioned in this publication represent the personal opinions and clinical observations of the contributing author. They are in no way intended to be interpreted as recommendations without the consent of the producer’s own practicing Veterinarian. We strongly urge that producers establish a patient-client-veterinarian relationship that allows extra-label use when there are no drugs approved for treatment or if approved drugs are not effective. This procedure allows veterinarians to go beyond label directions when “prudent use” is necessary. The limited availability of drugs and biologics in this country is a major factor in restricting the growth of the sheep industry and allowing producers to compete in the world market place.
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