Caring for your new baby
Providing proper care and nutrition for your newborn lamb will give him the best start at a long, healthy, productive life. The feeding needs of a lamb change quickly in the first weeks, so being prepared in advance for each phase will help get your lamb off to a strong nutritional start.
Feeding & nutrition in the first weeks
0-24 Hours: Lambs naturally begin nursing within hours of birth, where they benefit from the immune-boosting power of the ewe’s colostrum. However, if the lamb is unable or unwilling to nurse, or if his mother has tested possible for diseases that can be transmitted by colostrum such as OPP (ovine progressive pneumonia), a colostrum replacer or supplement is critical to ensure that your newborn lamb is receiving adequate nutrition in the first days of life. Start bottle feeding a colostrum replacer like Lamb & Kid Colostrum Replacer within 6 hours if at all possible when the newborn’s body is best equipped to absorb this first, critical nutrition. If supplementing the ewes’ colostrum, feed Ultra Start® Multi Colostrum Supplement.
Days 2-4: After 24 hours, you can switch to milk replacer for a lamb who is not nursing adequately. Milk or milk replacer will be the primary source of the lamb’s nutrition for the first month, until weaning. Always choose a milk replacer that is specifically formulated for lambs, such as Sav-A-Lam® Milk Replacer to provide the optimal blend of energy (carbohydrates and fat), protein, vitamins and minerals for healthy lamb development. As a general rule, it is best to feed him milk replacer by bottle 4-6x per day, because smaller, more frequent feedings will increase digestibility and minimize digestive upset.
Days 5-14: Continue feeding milk replacer 4x per day or allowing your lamb to nurse, while introducing a lamb starter or creep feed concentrate. Sheep are ruminants, with a 4-part stomach built for digesting large quantities of forage, and this early feeding of grain helps jump-start rumen development.
Days 15-30: Continue feeding milk replacer 3x per day and creep feed, and introduce forage into the lamb’s diet. Fine-stemmed hay or pasture are best at this age for optimal digestion; avoid leafy alfalfa hay that can sometimes cause bloat.
30 days-weaning: Most lambs can be weaned from milk replacer at 30-45 days when the lamb is healthy, eating hay and grain daily, and has tripled its birth weight. For lambs it is best to wean abruptly, but they should remain in familiar surroundings during weaning to minimize the stress of the transition.
Don’t forget the water! Water is one of the most important elements of the lamb’s nutrition. Keeping the water clean and fresh will encourage the lambs to drink enough to stay hydrated.
Special nutritional needs
Even the best-fed lambs will occasionally contract illnesses, and your veterinarian will be the best source of information and advice for caring for sick lambs. But when a lamb develops scours (diarrhea), it is important to quickly make sure he is consuming enough nutrients and is staying hydrated. The lamb may benefit from additional calories to help fight off the infection or illness that is causing the scours. The most critical need, however, is helping him reverse the fluid and electrolyte loss by feeding an electrolyte supplement such as Electrolytes Plus™. Electrolyte supplements do not contain all the nutrients of milk replacer, so be sure to offer electrolytes in addition to the lamb’s normal diet.
Mixing & feeding tips
Follow the mixing instructions listed on the package of the specific product you are feeding. Measuring the powder by weight with a hanging scale is more accurate than measuring by volume with a scoop or cup.
When bottle feeding, serving milk replacer at the lamb’s body temperature (~100ºF) will encourage optimal consumption. When using automated feeders, however, feeding a colder mix of milk replacer will prevent overconsumption. Always follow the mixing and water temperature instructions on the package for the colostrum or milk replacer product you are feeding, as the recommended mixing temperature will vary by product formulation.
Proper sanitation and maintenance of the feeding equipment is also important for your lamb’s health because bacteria can grow very quickly on feeding equipment. Wash your bottles and nipples in soapy water and rinse well after every feeding, and never mix new colostrum or milk replacer with already-mixed product that has been left sitting out without refrigeration. Moisture creates an optimal breeding ground for bacteria, so allow your equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. Check the nipples often for damage, because cracked or worn nipple holes can lead to over consumption or faster-than-usual feedings that can cause digestive upset. Never mix new colostrum or milk replacer with already-mixed product that has been left sitting out without refrigeration.
In addition to a strong nutritional start, your lamb needs a comfortable place to stay for the first two to four days, before they are ready to join the rest of the flock. A standard 5’x5’ lambing jug will give you plenty of room for your ewe and her lamb, or they will need 16-20 square feet of clear space if they are housed in a barn or shed. Lambs can withstand relatively cold temperatures if they have a thick layer of clean, dry bedding of straw or shavings to insulate them from the cold of the ground or floor. For concrete floors, a base layer of sawdust or shavings under the bedding adds extra insulation. In open barns, building panels can help reduce cold winter drafts. If the weather is cold and your lamb appears weak, gaunt, or hunched up and his ears or mouth feel cold to the touch, hypothermia could be setting in; check his temperature with a rectal thermometer. Temperatures under 100ºF are considered hypothermic, and warm colostrum should be fed to the lamb to increase its body temperature.
Ensuring adequate ventilation without direct drafts will make the lambs more comfortable, as well as reduce the moisture, animal odors and gasses that can cause respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. If you can smell ammonia in the barn, or if you see condensation on the walls or ceiling, it may be a sign that the barn does not have adequate ventilation for your newborn lamb. Windows, fans and inlets around the ceiling perimeter allow fresh, cold air from the outside to mix with warm air before coming into contact with the lambs.
With a few advance preparations and supplies on hand, you can be prepared to give your new lamb a healthy start at life, and enjoy his presence for years to come.