Orphan Lambs

Sheep’s milk is higher in protein and fat than other species’ milk. Producers need to do their homework to find a very high quality lamb milk replacer. (Photo courtesy of Barry Whitworth)

By Barry Whitworth

Sheep producers’ profits depend on many things, but the more lambs that can be marketed, the better the opportunity to make a profit. To increase the number of lambs produced, prolific breeds such as Finnsheep and Romanov are being incorporated into some sheep breeding programs.

One of the outcomes of this breeding program is too many lambs for some ewes to support. This leads to orphan lambs that will have to be bottle fed. Even without using prolific breeds, unfortunate circumstance such as a ewe’s death, mastitis and abandonment result in lambs without mothers. Whatever the cause, producers may have to become

the mothers to these lambs.In ewes that have large numbers of offspring, a decision has to be made as to which lambs need to be removed. In the past, experts recommended removing the stronger lambs and leaving the weaker with the ewe. More recent information suggest that the stronger do better on the ewe and the weaker will gain more weight if artificially reared.

If at all possible, producers should try to foster the lamb on to another ewe. Several “tricks” may be used to fool the ewe to accept the baby. Practices such as rubbing the fetal membranes or fetal fluids on the orphan lamb might fool the ewe.

Placing the skin of a dead lamb on an orphan is another way of enticing the ewe to accept the lamb. Ewes can be held or put in a stanchion to allow the baby to nurse. Sometimes no matter how hard the owner tries, the lamb will not be accepted.

If a producer is blessed with one of these little creatures, as I have had my share this year, he/she’s first priority is to get some colostrum into this baby. A producer may accomplish this by allowing the lamb to nurse another ewe that has lambed at the approximate same time.

If the producer planned ahead and had a heavy milking ewe or a ewe with a single, he/she could have milked some colostrum from the ewe and frozen it for such an occasion as this. Cow’s colostrum may be used, but the producer needs to be confident that the source of the colostrum has a good herd health program in place. The last thing a producer needs is to bring home a disease such Johne’s disease to his/her flock. As a last resort, colostrum replacers are available.

Pick up the May issue to learn more!