Every year orphaned lambs become a source of joy for many children around New Zealand, however people are often unsure or unaware of what these lambs require. Hopefully this helps!
The importance of colostrum
During the first few days of a lamb’s life the ewe produces colostrum rather than milk. This is rich in antibodies which help to keep the lambs healthy and prevent infections. Lambs that have not had this colostrum are far more prone to a number of conditions, including navel infections, joint infections, diarrhoea and death. Orphaned lambs have often had a pretty rough start, may already be weak or very small (e.g. triplet lambs) and on top of that are unlikely to have had much or any colostrum. For this reason, it is very important that all orphaned lambs get colostrum (you can buy it in powdered form, much like milk powder), ideally for the first 4-5 days of life. A good guideline is to give 15% of bodyweight over the first 24 hours (which is equivalent to 600mLs for a 3kg lamb, spread over 3-4 feeds).
Other feeding tips
Milk replacer: After the first few days, lambs can be switched to lamb milk replacer. Most milk replacers have good instructions on the packets about volume and frequency of feeding depending on age so just follow this.
Bloat: If you notice your lambs are getting a big puffy stomach after feeding they may be suffering from bloat. Lambs can die from bloat if severe enough so talk to your vet if this is happening – we have a great lamb yoghurt recipe which helps to prevent this (sorry too long to put here!)
Meal: Obviously lambs on their mothers are not normally fed meal, however feeding meal is a good idea for bottle fed lambs as it helps their gut to develop more quickly. This means they can be weaned a lot sooner and have less of a growth check when this happens. Ideally, offer meal from day 1 - you can wean your lamb off milk once they are eating approximately 200g of meal per day. Meal can be continued ad lib following weaning until 8-10 weeks of age.
Tailing/docking: This is done to prevent their tails getting dirty which predisposes to fly strike (this can be deadly). It is a good time to castrate the males too. The most common way to do this is to use rubber rings. If you are unsure how to do this it is best to get someone more experienced to do it as it can be done incorrectly!
Vaccinating: As orphaned lambs are unlikely to have much in the way of antibodies from their mother, it is best to use a special vaccination for lambs at the time of tailing to prevent tetanus and pulpy kidney. A booster vaccination should be given at weaning.
Drenching: There is no point in drenching until the lambs have been eating grass for 4 weeks (they have not had time to pick up worms before then). Weaning is a common time for their first drench and 4-weekly thereafter (although frequency may depend on the history of the pasture your lambs are feeding on).
Fly strike: This is where flies start burrowing into the skin and can cause death surprisingly quickly – it becomes a risk as we head into summer. Fly strike can be prevented by a pour on drench as well as tailing and regular drenching to reduce dirty bums.
We hope you enjoy looking after your pet lambs this season!
"Ewegene" and "Maartha", owned by one of our Waimate staff member