Orphan Lamb Care

Orphan lambs are often considered a nuisance but they can be raised quite successfully without undue expense by those who have the time and the inclination. The main things to remember are:

  1. Sheep's milk is much richer than cow's milk.

  2. Milk should be supplied in small amounts but often. DO NOT OVERFEED.

  3. The lamb should feed at the correct (most natural) position i.e. with the head up to block off the oesophagus. Milk going into the oesophagus goes to the lung and can cause pneumonia.

  4. Keep the feeding utensils thoroughly clean and the lamb warm and dry.

Feeding the orphan lamb

The first two days

If at all possible, allow the lamb to suckle its mother to obtain colostrum. Alternatively, feed the colostrum to the lamb from a bottle. If there is no colostrum for the lamb, either use a proprietary brand of colostrum replacer or make up the following:

    750 ml cow's milk
    1 beaten egg
    5 ml cod liver oil or castor oil
    10 g sugar

Normally four or five feeds per day are given. Milk can be fed either cold or warmed to baby-bottle temperature.

After two days

Feeding is now reduced to two to three feeds a day. One of the following mixtures can be used :

    600 ml (1 pint) of cow's milk (high butterfat)
    OR
    600 ml cow's milk mixed with 35 g full-cream powdered milk
    OR
    500 ml of a commercial milk substitute but mixed 50% stronger than that recommended for calves.

After two or three weeks

    The lamb can now be introduced to solids. Suitable mixtures are :

    2 kg bran + 2 kg maize meal + 2 kg skim-milk powder (for younger lambs)
    OR
    1.5 kg bran + 0.5 kg lucerne meal + 0.8 kg maize meal + 0.2 kg skim-milk powder (for older lambs)

    Introduce some of the dry feed to the lamb's mouth immediately after it has had its bottle. Put the rest in the bottom of a dish or small bucket. Once the lamb is taking the concentrate readily, feed it as much as it can eat in about one hour. As the quantity of dry feed eaten by the lamb increases, the amount of milk fed can be reduced. (Lambs can be weaned from milk at six to eight weeks). In addition to concentrate, the lamb can be introduced to roughage at two to three weeks old. Provide high quality hay or lucerne meal for the lamb to nibble at. Roughage is not essential to the lamb at this stage but it does help the rumen to start developing.

Water

Clean drinking water should be available from three weeks onward. Remove this at feed times and do not return it until one hour later. This will prevent the lamb from gorging itself on water and also encourage the consumption of dry feed.

Shelter for the orphan lamb

Keep the lamb warm (24 to 27 deg. C) for the first few days but do take care not to burn the lamb with too much heat. After this initial period, shelter is needed from wind and rain only. Straw bedding in a large wooden chest or dog kennel is suitable. Protect the lamb from dogs (and over-zealous children!) and keep the lamb in a dog-proof enclosure at night.

Tail Docking, Castration, Ear Marking, Drenching and Vaccinating

These tasks will be carried out at the same time as for lambs reared on the ewes (see previous notes in this module).

Returning orphans to the flock

Orphan lambs can be returned to the main flock once they are big enough and grazing well enough to fend for themselves. Alternatively, non-breeding animals can be sold to the butcher as soon as they weigh 35 to 45 kg.