Colostrum, the first milk produced by the ewe, is essential to the newborn lamb. Colostrum contains high levels of antibodies that are necessary to combat infections. It is also rich in various vitamins and minerals. Lambs must be provided colostrum within the first eight hours after birth for protection with the antibodies. If colostrum is not available from the ewe, the lamb can be allowed to nurse another ewe that just lambed, or colostrum can be obtained from heavy-milking ewes, goats, or cows and frozen in ice-cube trays in preparation for the lambing season. The colostrum cubes can be thawed (not in a microwave) and used as needed. Feeding 4 to 6 ounces of colostrum per lamb every four to six hours during the first 18 hours after birth has proven satisfactory. In the event that natural colostrum cannot be obtained, a synthetic colostrum may be used. One popular formula consists of 24 ounces of cow’s milk, 1 beaten egg, 1 teaspoon cod liver oil, and 1 heaping tablespoon of sugar. Feed this formula at the rate of 6 ounces per lamb, four times daily. This substitute colostrum is more valuable than no colostrum, but it does not contain the necessary antibodies.

Artificial Rearing of Lambs

Orphan lambs can be successfully raised on milk replacer, goat’s milk, and, occasionally, cow’s milk. However, cow’s milk contains less fat than ewe’s milk. Milk goats can raise several orphan lambs each. Commercial milk replacers are available for lambs. These contain 30 to 32 percent fat, 22 to 24 percent crude protein, and 22 to 25 percent lactose. Do not use calf milk replacer on lambs.

If only a few lambs are to be raised on milk replacer, they can be bottle fed, if labor is available. However, they must be fed every four hours during the first week and then every six to eight hours until they are weaned.

With newly developed systems, it is possible to feed several lambs at the same time. A milk dispensing system provides milk free-choice. In this situation, mix a new batch of milk replacer each day. Generally, milk-feeding systems use the lam-bar nipple (a rubber teat connected to a polyethylene tube). The teats are connected through a hole in a metal plate inside the lamb pen panel with tubes leading to a bucket of milk outside the pen. As the lambs stop nursing, there is no leakage from the nipple because the milk returns to the bucket by gravity flow.

Research shows that feeding cold milk is much more beneficial than feeding warm milk when the lambs are on a self-feeding system. The cold milk is not as likely to spoil and lambs do not overeat, so they have fewer digestive disorders. Keep the milk cold by placing plastic jugs full of ice in the feeding unit.

Offer creep feed to the lambs soon after they have started on liquid milk replacer. Soybean meal is an excellent feedstuff to include in creep feed for very young lambs. The starter creep should contain 17 to 20 percent protein. Ordinarily, lambs are weaned from the milk replacer in four to six weeks.