It’s that time of the year, little lambs everywhere! Usually lambs stay in the pasture with their mother and she takes care of them. However, sometimes the ewe (especially if it’s her first lambing ) rejects the lamb. Unfortunately it also happens the ewes die during or shortly after birth. Which means you have a bottle lamb. It is necessary to be prepared for this, because it happens and you don’t want to have to go looking for supplies when the lamb is already born. How do you prepare for a bottle lamb?
Make sure you have a clean, warm, and draft free place to keep your lamb. A heat lamp can be used to keep the lamb warm, make sure the lamp is not too close. If you do not have a heat lamp, warm water bottles can be used to warm the lamb, just make sure it doesn’t burn itself. Lambs should be kept warm until they are really starting to move around. You will need to feed the lamb multiple times a day, so the housing should be easily accessible. Make sure to keep your lamb away from the herd until it is old enough, older sheep may hurt the lamb.
Bottle and nipple
Special bottle and nipple for lambs can be purchased at the feed store. Alternatives are a nipple that fits on a pop bottle(*) or you could use a (human) babybottle. Make sure the nipple has a small hole so the lamb has to put a little effort into getting the milk out to avoid too much milk coming out. If the hole is too big, too much milk will come out and it may run into the lambs lungs, which can cause many problems for the lamb. Bottles and nipple should be cleaned thoroughly between feedings to prevent bacterial growth.
Colostrum is the first milk produced by mammals, providing the newborns with necessary antibodies to boost their immune system. For lambs, colostrum from ewes is preferred. If you have a high producing ewe or a ewe whose lambs have died, you can collect colostrum to keep in the freezer. If this is not possible you can use cow’s colostrum or a colostrum replacer(*), this is less effective but better than no colostrum. More information on colostrum and how to use it can be found here.
After 48 hours the lamb can be fed milk replacer. Milk replacer designed for lambs is available at most feed stores. Instructions for preparing and amounts to feed can be found on the package. The first 10 days lambs should be fed 3-4 times a day, after that the feedings can be gradually decreased. It’s important not too overfeed your lambs, this can make them very sick and even cause death.
Within the first week solid feed should be provided in the form of good quality hay. This stimulates rumen function, which is necessary when they get older to help them digest their feed. After a week a lamb starter feed should also be provided, your feedstore can advise you on the best feed for your lambs. When the lambs start eating solid feed, fresh water must also be provided.
Lambs can be weaned when they are eating sufficient solid feed and weigh at least 20 kilograms. Bottle lambs can be weaned from 6 weeks onward, but the age really depends on how well your bottle lamb is growing and eating. To wean your lamb slowly decrease the number of feedings to once a day and then stop.
Bottle lambs become very attached to humans and will follow you around much like a dog. They should be placed back with the herd as soon as possible so they can learn how to act like a sheep. Our experience is that even though they are living with the herd, they will always be attached to humans. Make sure you have proper fencing, because they will try to get to you.
I hope this article helped you in preparing for a bottle lamb this lambing season. If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment!