Notes on bottle feeding lambs.

Mia made it through another night. In fact she took herself out to sleep in the snow last night and this morning she was in at the feeder calling quietly for food.















Though she is not up to fighting for it so she got to eat on her own in the hospital wing. She gets an extra helping of everything including diatomaceous earthzxy-050











So I am feeling guardedly encouraged as to her recovery. zxy-048













When I went out to feed the lambs at 4.30 this morning it seemed that the whole barn was  breathing a sigh of relief hearing Mia getting up and coming in out of the cold. Yesterday was grim.











Now for some notes on bottle feeding orphan lambs. I don’t have any actual orphans but Mama always gives me one or two lambs to feed as four are an awful lot for one older ewe. 













This is just what I do. I do not pretend to be an expert and every farmer does these things differently but these simple rules work for me. zxy-028

  • Colostrum. Make sure your lamb gets some of that good first milk. It is imperative to all mammals that they have a good drink of their mother’s colostrum within the hour of birth.  I freeze some of Daisy’s(the cow), and after thawing it in a bath of warm water (not the microwave) I top up the weaker lambs with cows colostrum. I know I will get arguments on this one but it is like a magic potion to a dying lamb. If you are bottle feeding, give the lamb cows colostrum for the first 24 hours.
  •  If you are using a milk replacer, mix it to half strength and feed twice as often to begin, then slowly increase to full strength. Before I had Daisy the milk cow I would do this with the calves also. Do not give these babies full strength milk replacer in the beginning. You do not want to risk scours at this young age. The only troubles I have ever had with a lamb or a calf is when I use that milk powder.  I feed my lambs raw cows milk straight from the cow, it is not nearly as creamy and full as sheep’s milk so I feed a little often and once a day they have an egg and honey mixed into the bottle. Cows milk does not have enough protein for a lamb, hence the egg.
  •  There are people who swear that cows milk will cause scours and bloat but I maintain that it is HOW OFTEN you bottle feed any milk to an animal that will cause the scours and the bloat. Little sips often is my rule. The only scours and bloat I have had was when I was feeding milk replacer.  And the scours stopped when I switched to cows milk. (Slowly, change a lambs milk overnight, mix the two together to start) So if you are using a milk replacer, get a very high quality product, absolutely fresh  and store it in the freezer and begin at half strength then increase as your baby adapts to it.  And feed less, twice as often as the directions tell you. I would rather a hydrated lamb than a bloated one. To clarify; you are still feeding the lamb the same amount of powder in a 24 hour period, but with twice as much water, twice as often. Slowly increasing the strength and time between feeds.
  •  When the babies are little I feed every two hours for forty-eight hours ensuring they consume 8 oz over the 12 hours.  (or 15% of their body weight) Then down to three hours apart then down to four. Increasing the amount of milk as I go.  But keep feeling their tummies for fullness, you do not want to over fill your young lamb. By three weeks the lambs should be consuming at least  16 ounces over the 12 hour period. My lambs are two weeks old now and I feed them at 4.30, 8 am, 12 am, 4 pm, and 8 pm and we all sleep through the night now. (Actually I say this is what I do but really I feed them tiny drinks every time I go past the pen between the hours of 4.30 and 8 or 9pm).
  •  Tiny sips. I cannot tell you how important this is. Pretend you are a mother sheep. They give their babies tiny sips frequently. So take your bottles to the barn in a bucket of hot water and feed them the allotted amount over the time you are out there doing chores. I only ever let  lambs suck on the bottle for ten seconds at a time. Less when they are new born. I literally count. You burp your own babies don’t you? Make them take lots of breaks to breathe.
  •  Your lamb will act hungry when you are finished. Good. You lamb should NOT have a bulging stomach. Good. Your lamb will be active and noisy and leap up from a dead sleep at the sight of you. Good.
  •  If the lamb’s mother is alive always leave your lamb in with her and her siblings. This way she will always have the uninterrupted protection and comfort of the flock.


More bottle fed babies die from over feeding than starvation. And watch your lambs on their mother too, make sure she is feeding them. Starvation and exposure are the two biggest killers of new lambs.

Bottle fed lambs are also hard to photograph because they are always watching for a glimpse of that bottle.  You have to sneak up on them. zxy-060

See Tilly right in the middle, making sure her brothers keep her warm. I shift their straw bales about depending on the wind. The barn is big and draughty so I create little safe spaces using three bales. In a minute Mama will come and lie her great big wooly self across the straw doorway and they will all sleep in perfect calm.

And now it is milking time. I know that a number of you also raise lambs so please write your own tips in the comments section. These are only my suggestions.

69 Comments on “Notes on bottle feeding lambs.

  1. Such sweeties! Did I know lambs had long tails…hmmm, I don’t think I did. Do you dock them eventually?

    Have a lovely Sunday! Snowing here again-blowing sideways. (sigh.) ~ April

    • thanks for all of the good info im getting my first bummer from a breeder i know some time this month.(soo exited)the only bad thing is that i dont have a cow,goat,or even another sheep to give my little one colostrum so i am going to try powered colostrum and see if that does it.

      • Good luck abby.. pop into the comments section on the current page if you have questions, I have piles of readers who are Old Hands at this! and love to help c

  2. good morning Celi don’t have sheep but is a possibility good food ,the wool is good the skins are great have had Lincoln before what kind are yours? i know you like an older vintage breed.

    • I would love one of the older heritage breeds but I cannot afford to buy the stock. Plus there is no-one local with anything like that. So my lot are a mix of rescue sheep and a big old ram from down the road. Mama is a Suffolk and Hairy is a Dorset and Mia is a mix. As well as for the table, we do use the wool. c

  3. I got to bottle feed two lambs in the summer. It was one of the most awesome things I have ever done. And then one of the little buggers started ramming me with his wee lamb head – also awesome. I LOVE LAMBS.

    • Aren’t they sweet, my smallest one puts his head between my knees and just hangs out there, hoping an udder will miraculously appear i am sure!!

  4. Pheeww, glad to hear Mia is moving around and eating 🙂 Those little lambs grow overnight it seems 🙂 Hoping all on the farmy are having a better day today. Laura

  5. You shoulda been a teacher, Celie (Oh well, you found your destiny). Your minute instructions just make me wish I had a lamb or two.

  6. How fascinating! I never, ever would have known to feed a lamb in the way you described. Love the “little sips often” phrase. Sounds like the advice I give myself when forced to sit through a dull business mtg with only a mug of coffee to keep me awake!

  7. You are lucky to have a cow to call on for the milk and colostrum. I have read many times that cow colostrum is the second choice if you do not have any from a ewe. We keep powdered colostrum on hand as a backup, but we also take some from the first ewe or two every year so we have a stash in the freezer. We pretty much do the same thing, if possible we leave the lamb with the mom. They do so much mothering in so many ways that we cannot do, we don’t want them to forget they are sheep. We typically do not have more than triplets with our Coopworth/Border Leicester crosses, thank goodness!

    Wonderful also to hear that Mia is up and eating. Maybe your little Tilly will be staying on with you.

    • Yes, Tilly will become part of the breeding flock, I wish she were drinking from her Mum though, it makes for a stronger ewe.. c

  8. It sounds like it is going to be a better day on the farm and I’m happy about that. 🙂

  9. Now that’s quite complicated, in comparison to mama lamb feeding them. They are very lucky babies to have you C, very lucky indeed. I am relieved to hear about Mia, poor thing; I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a very speedy recovery.

  10. Good news about Mia! Mama and her big wooly self…I can just see that. Love those little lambie legs. So cute! And you caught Big Dog’s yawn. 🙂

    • The sun has not been seen around here for a while, so everyone went into a light induced slumber! c

  11. Glad to hear Mia is up and around! The lambs are adorable and you are such a wonderful nurturing person—the lambies will thrive with your help!!! I think having human babies may be easier….maybe????

  12. Poor Mia – she must have been hot! I’m glad she’s feeling better now and that the others are doing well 🙂

    • I also think that if she was/is running a temp with all that wool then getting out into the cold was a very good choice. Fingers crossed.. c

  13. I was out early this morning taking photos of a beautiful morning sky, and my mind almost immediately flashed to you on the farmy, with thoughts of Mia. I’m so glad to hear she’s rallying, and I continue to think of you all in your many important duties today. oxo

  14. Good to hear that Mia is moving and eating. Fingers crossed that she continues down this road, eh? And that Tilly’s no fool. Let the boys take the brunt of the cold while she’s nice and cozy in the middle.
    It’s good to see the Sun streaming through the windows, even if only for the day. Whether or not he likes it, Spring is coming and Old Man Winter needs to move on! Have a great day, Celi!

  15. In a perfect world, you could just put two of the lambs with Mia. I know, it doesn’t work that way with sheep. Whenever we had a foal due here, I always got some colustrum and kept frozen goat milk on hand. If I didn’t need the milk, the cats got it and loved it.

    • Mia lost her lambs so early she does not even have an udder, but sometimes you can foster lambs onto another ewe, i have seen it done. c

  16. I love, love, love that first image and I don’t even like chickens.

    What a wonderful surrogate Mama you are to those wee lambs. That every animal should have such love and care.

  17. I swear you could make the instructions for watching paint dry interesting! I’m happy to hear about Mia, clever sheep for taking herself off into the cold. Love the glimpse of sun, and Big Dog’s yawn… I had to stop my self from yawning back 🙂

    • Love “I swear you could make the instructions for watching paint dry interesting!”

  18. So relieved Mia is looking up, Celi. It must be so hard on a smallholding like yours – one is bound to become attached to everyone, each their own little character. The lamb photos are just gorgeous.

  19. Sugar: that is one continuous ‘restaurant service’! I remember being so glad when my human babies slept thru’ the 2 am feed, but the first morning one was 6 am 🙂 ! The lambs obviously thriving tho! I’m a pretty typical Gemini and manage to learn and do a lot of differing things – could never have managed on the farmy: God bless you 😀 !

  20. Glad to hear that Mia’s up and around. Sounds like you know what you’re doing with those bottle feeders. 😀

  21. I can’t imagine myself having either the wit or the stamina to run a farmy, let alone as beautifully as you do, but in my dreams I think of getting to spend some time on one. Thank you, dear Celi, for letting me at least do so vicariously! xoxo, K

  22. I have a mama who tried to ram one of her white twins boys against the wall of the jug as she rejected him and so I feel somewhat hestiant to leave him alone with the flock. I think he is lonely though, being the only bottle baby. Any ideas? I take him out every day for fresh air and to be with the other sheep, but he seems to be afraid of them because of the aggression his mama showed towards him and he now sees us as mama. He sleeps alone in the jug at night, but I am wondering about how old he should be before I let him along during the day with the other sheep. He is 6 days old today. Thanks for your post!

    • I always leave my bottle fed babies in with their mothers, If he has not been separated for long I would pop him back in with the others as much as you can, (the longer he is away from them the harder it is for him to flock) I have what I call a creep, a little pen that has a low or skinny entrance so the hand fed lambs can be out with the big ones but can also time out in their own little safe place. To train them to go in there I sometimes put a little grain in there and bottle feed them in there too. Also this is where the low bucket of water is for them. After a few days all the lambs are in there sleeping in the day. Can you do this in the field where the others are, so he can chooss to go in and out? Sheep can be pretty tough on each other. He will always see you as his Mama too, that is ok. Let me know how it goes. c

  23. What should I do for water? I have a two week old lamb who I have just brought in because she was always by herself and just lying there – almost dead!

    • emily, I always have a small low bucket of water secured to the fence for them, and have hay available from day one too. How old is this lamb? Has her mother rejected her?

      • Thanks 🙂
        About three weeks
        Yes, we aren’t sure wich ewe she belongs too because she never was near one and was always cold and hungry

  24. She died a few days ago due too a joint infection in her shoulder 😦

  25. Everyone is telling me that bottle fed rams get mean and aggressive as they get older. Is that true? I would really like to keep the Barbado ram baby I am feeding now as his color and markings are so pretty. But I don’t want to deal with a ram that gets aggressive or to much of a pest. What is your experience? Liz

    • My ram has been fine up until this season, (his third) ..Usually he is the gentlest fellow on the place, just this month I have had to separate him from his best friend my milk cow who he is with when not in with the ewes. He was backing up and ramming her and his head is right level with her udder, so it was not good, then the other day he rammed me when I was closing a gate. The rule is never turn your back on a ram and I did. Now that the first flush is over he is settled down a bit, but when the girls come into heat again I will keep out of his field. The problem with bottle fed animals is that they get and are allowed to get much closer to us, and being smashed in the back by a 300 pound ram really hurts. I hope that helps a little. There will come a time when I will have to send this fellow off anyway, as i now have his daughters in the field and they need a new ram.. farming is hard like that.. c

  26. Hi, I have found a tiny abandoned lamb. Umbilical cord still attached but dried up, very weak.
    Have tried feeding milk replacement but not having much luck with sucking. Lamb seems to not want to drink at all? Any ideas please??

    • Hold your lamb so his head is stretched up. (head between your knees) Hold the teat in his mouth, hold his mouth closed with one hand and squirt the milk (squeezing the nipple) into the mouth yourself. You will have to train him to drink. It may take him quite a while to learn how to suck and you are probably going to have to force feed him or her) a tiny bit every 30 minutes or so. Just a little and make sure your milk replacer is mixed at half strength. That stuff is very strong, half strength twice as often is much easier to digest and you are less liked to have a lamb with scours. I have had very little luck with milk replacement and almost always raise them on fresh cows milk. Do you have a dairy anywhere close? The lamb will be dehydrated, so remember, little feeds often. Good luck, I hope it works. Sometimes they are just too old to take to hand feeding. Though I have not lost one yet.

  27. Kia Ora Cecilia. Thanks for your ideas. We are in rural NZ and have had a bad run this year with three sets of triplets. The latest batch arriving today and number 3 left out in the cold. Thanks for your tips on feeding, I think perhaps I have been killing with kindness!!!! Your comments make a great deal of sense.

    • Multiples make for a lot of work! Good luck and remember to dilute that milk powder! and feed little bits often just like mama. I do hope things settle down for you soon. c

  28. Hi Cecilia, we are in rural Namibia and at the moment I have 10 bottle babies, Dorper, Damara and van Rooyen lambs. They are so precious to me, so I’m hysterical about their well-being. I lost my baby Dorper Ray Ray a few days ago to bloat, but I can’t understand why. He was doing so well and when I noticed something was amiss I started immediately with treatment, but I was too late. We even tried the needle into the gut, so distressing to all of us. I’m still very upset so I’m obsessive about my other lambs. I make the milk replacer half strength and I add some cows milk (full). I usually only use cows milk but we have drought at the moment so the little milk we do get we have to use very sparingly.
    Thank you for your advice… it’s good to know I’m kind of on the right track. All my other babies who are grown mostly drank cows milk but there are a few who were reared with the mix.

    • Just a little to drink, often. Even just a few sips. With lots of water and store your milk replacer in a freezer, it goes off very fast. Don’t worry about adding cows milk to the milk replacer but once a day i add an egg if you have enough to spare. c

  29. 17 day scoured stsrting back on mr how much csn I increase at one time and how oftrn he is a st croix hsir sheep you advice is appreciated dont want him to get scours again

  30. ok, so my milk replacer says .35lbs milk replacer (this the cup included in the milk replacer) and 1.5 pints of water. that gives me about a quart jar. am i understanding you right saying that instead of a full scoop of replacer, reduce it to like a half. my problem is the lamb is here in the house with me and the last thing i want to deal with is the scours. we have a herd of goats, but even when we introduce a new goat to the herd, they are really mean to it and i believe may have even caused the death of a few. so the last thing i want to do is put a 5 day old baby lamb in with them. please email me asap…thank you

    • yes if you do not have access to raw cows or raw goats milk, you are exactly right, but remember to feed often, twice as often, frequent sips, like a mother lamb, So at the end of the 24 hours the lamb will have received the full amount of powder but in twice the amount of water. Then slowly increase the strength. Also keep the milk replacer powder in the freezer and check the Used By date.. hope this helps.. c

  31. I am getting a 3 week old St. Croix lamb for my son today for his 4-H animal. The woman I am getting him from says he needs to be fed a special lamb milk replacer because regular milk replacer has copper in it and that too much copper is very bad for sheep? So I bought the lamb replacer but it’s double the price of regular milk replacer. Have you heard of this?

    • yes, you cannot allow copper in a sheeps diet.. and it is best that he continues to drink what he is used to, lambs have tender wee bellies.. how exciting to have a wee lamb!

  32. Just a question, I have 2 lambs that I am bottle feeding. 1 is 4 weeks old and the other is 2 weeks old. At first the younger one was drinking better than the older one but has just started only wanting half his bottle. how can I increase his appetite? the farmer that gave them to me told me to feed them at 8am, 5pm and 10pm but I feel for the younger one that isn’t enough! This is the first time I’ve done this so not sure how to help him!

    • If it were one of my lambs I would just give him the other half an hour or two later. Look for any signs of ill health though, is he pooing and peeing properly? Does his tummy feel full after the feeding? As long as he gets the full complement of feed over the 24 hours I often give them little feeds more often. Sometimes 5 or 6 times a day. c

  33. i have two little lambs whose mother died and now i feed them with bottle and on the advice of doctor i give them vimerol but gone very weak now what should i di give some advice

  34. I have an lamb that was abandoned by its mother. It was on the verge of dying of starvation but I have been bottle-feeding him to bring him back from that. The only problem now is im afraid he has been abandoned by the flock. Whenever the other sheep and their babies go into the field the lamb stays behind at the barn. Does anyone have any ideas to make the lamb more social.

Welcome to the Lounge of Comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: