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