Rearing orphan lambs

Rearing orphan lambs
By Lucy Scott, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets

If you have a sheep farm and you are considering rearing your orphan lambs, you can increase the lamb survival rate and therefore the profitability of your ewe flock. It is hard work, but it can certainly be worth your while if you take the time to prepare.

Here are some tips to consider:

Hypothermia (low body temperature) is a lamb killer. Lambs have a large surface area to bodyweight ratio, which makes them susceptible to heat loss. This means that, compared to ewes or people, they lose heat much faster, almost instantly when they are wet compared with when they are dry.

The age of the lamb will help determine the best way to keep it warm. If the lamb is less than 5 hours old, warming alone (drying and actively warming the lamb) may be sufficient. If the lamb is older than 5 hours, you need to give them energy as well as active warming. Lamb jackets are also very useful as the lamb cannot remove it easily.

While lambs are born with a small fat supply (energy), this will burn out quickly, especially if they get cold/wet. Energy is an essential requirement for maintaining body temperature. It is possible to give young lambs energy with a dextrose injection into the abdomen. Ask your Anexa vet to demonstrate how to give an abdominal injection.

Colostrum is also a great source of energy, and essential to survival. Like calves, lambs have no transfer of antibodies (protective proteins) across the placenta, so rely on getting their antibodies from colostrum. Ideally they should receive 10% of their bodyweight of colostrum by 6 hours old, but it isn’t too late if they are older. In order of preference, this can be ewe colostrum, powdered colostrum or cow colostrum. If they are too weak or cold to suckle, tubing them can save their lives. Gentle heating of the milk will help warm the lamb, but don’t warm it too much!

After the first 24 hours, you can continue feeding colostrum, move to fresh milk or to powdered lamb milk replacer. Be careful to follow the recommendations on dilution rate and temperature as changing it can cause nutritional scours.

Abomasal (stomach) bloat is a common condition in hand reared lambs, and occurs due to fermentation of bacteria in the abomasum. Excess gas production causes the abomasum to swell and can prevent breathing if not released. ‘Yogurtising’ the milk can help reduce it greatly - have a look at Beef and Lamb fact sheet ‘Artificial lamb rearing – managing abomasal bloat’ for more information.

If you are considering rearing orphan lambs on your property but not sure if it’s the right decision for you, feel free to contact your local Anexa veterinarian today!


Date Added: Tuesday, 28th July 2020


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