Hand Raising Lambs and Orphan Lambs - Homemade Colostrum Recipes

Raising lambs can be a tricky process. Know what to feed, how much to feed, and a colostrum recipe included so that your lambs survive.

Raising Lambs: The First Few Hours of your Orphan Lamb are Critical

Raising LambsOrphan lambs can often be found lying in frozen fields left out in the cold overnight and half to death. Unless you intervene your lamb will die. Bring the lamb into your kitchen and if you have a wood stove place it next to this in a cardboard box lined with woolen blankets. If you don't have a wood stove or fire going, place two hot-water bottles in the box with the lamb. Cover the hot-water bottles with towels so as not to burn the lamb. If it revives and shows signs of life, feed it with 120ml of colostrum immediately.

You may have to feed it using a stomach tube, as most lambs in this state don't suck readily. You can get special lamb reviving stomach tubes from some farm or veterinary outlets. If you cannot find a stomach tube, use 600 mm or 3 mm bore plastic tubing. Round the end in a flame and punch a few holes near the end with a leather punch. Hold the lamb's head up so that the neck is straight and gently push the tube down its gullet. Make sure that the tube doesn't end up in the lungs.

Hold up the funnel and fill it with colostrum. If using a plastic tube, a syringe may be easier to feed the lamb with, since a funnel with a neck thin enough may be hard to come by for some.

Raising Lambs: Hand-Rearing Lambs or Fostering Lambs?

Now when you find your lamb you have a dilemma. Are you going to be raising lambs through hand-rearing or are you going to foster the lamb out? Lamb fostering is by far the easiest method for you if a suitable ewe is available to be the surrogate mum, and is willing. However, even when this looks like an easier option, often the ewe won't readily accept the lamb, and then it becomes a battle of will and wits.

If the ewe's own lamb has just died, one can try and fool the ewe by tying the dead lamb's fleece on the orphan lamb until she accepts it. However, this doesn't always work and you will have to look for other devious methods, and other methods that just doesn't give the ewe much of an option! If she has a lamb of her own, having another to feed will not affect the milk production for her own lamb.

One devious method is to try and confuse the smell of the lamb. The ewe is always able to identify her own lamb out of a flock by smelling the lamb's head and rear end. To cause the confusion rub a strong-smelling liquid on the lamb's tail and head such as an antiseptic or even olive oil, and at the same time, also rub it on the ewe's muzzle. Another method, is to rub the foetal fluids of the dead lamb all over the lamb to be fostered, paying particular attention to the head and tail areas, which the ewe will sniff.

Another method is to put the ewe and the lamb together in a fairly dark, restricted area with food and water. Confine them in this area until they have bonded. This should happen over the next 2 days. If not you will then have to restrict the ewe by tying her up in such a way that the lamb has access to the milk and the ewe cannot reject or head-butt or hurt the lamb.

Raising Lambs: Bottle-Feeding your Orphan Lamb

feeding orphan lambs

How to Feed an Orphan Lamb

If this still hasn't worked, the only option for raising lambs here is to bottle-feed your lamb. However, during these 2 days while you are trying to get your lamb to be accepted you must feed your lamb some colostrum as soon as after birth as possible. If you don't do this your lamb will most like die within a few days with a large clot in its gut. The colostrum is also very necessary as it contains anti-bodies that will protect the lamb from disease and acts as a laxative to get rid of fecal matter.

Colostrum is easy to get if you have other lambing ewes as you can milk a ewe for the colostrum and place this in a bottle for your orphan lamb. You can also do this and store it in a freezer for emergencies like this. Colostrum will keep frozen for 6 months. Allow the colostrum to thaw in a water bath at no more than 40 degrees Celsius so as not to destroy the anti-bodies in the heating process.

Raising Lambs: Homemade Colostrum Recipe

As a last resort you can make your own colostrum with the following recipe:

740 ml cows milk

1 beaten egg

1 teaspoon cod liver oil (as a laxative)

1 teaspoon glucose sugar

Mix well and either use or refrigerate until needed. When you feed your lamb it should be warmed up like a baby's bottle to just blood heat.

Another recipe for homemade colostrum:

600 ml milk

1 tsp castor oil

1 small egg

Mix together and feed as directed here.

Raising Lambs: How much Milk to Feed your Orphan Lamb

If you are not able to foster you will have to hand-rear. Your lamb will need to be fed 140 ml every 4 hours. Hold the lamb's head up and feed from above its head and let the milk drip down into the teat. Allow the lamb to stand while you feed it, and do not cuddle and cradle it with it on your knee as it will end up with milk in its lungs and it will get pneumonia.

Feed your lamb the milk from the above recipe for 24 hours. After that you will need to slowly replace this with a lamb milk replacer as cow's milk is good for calves and lamb's milk is good for lambs, and not vice versa on a long term basis. Give it 200 ml four times a day. Gradually build this up to 500 ml per feed still at four times a day. Do this for 2 weeks. After this increase to 700ml three times a day for another 2 weeks. As the lamb matures start cutting back to two 500 ml feeds per day.

By the second week the lamb should be given fresh water, hay, and grass. If possible allow the lamb out with the rest of the flock during the day. After 8 weeks of feeding your lamb should be well on the road to recovery, and you should start weaning them at about 5-6 weeks of age. By week 13 your lamb should be completely weaned off milk.

If your lamb is undersized, or your orphan lamb is weak feed 60 ml every 3 hours, for 6 feeds. On the second day feed 90 ml every 3 hours for 6 feeds. After that, proceed carefully before increasing the milk intake. Continue to feed at 3 hour intervals until after week 2.

Tips for Judging How much to Feed an Ophan Lamb:

After any meal the lamb's sides should be straight from the hips to the rib cage. If they the sides are not straight but puffed out, you are giving your lamb too much to eat. Miss a meal and reduce the amount of milk you have been giving to the lamb.

Make sure that the milk is just at blood heat, and not too hot.

If you are purchasing teats from the drug store or other stores you will have to make the teat hole bigger by using a hot darning needle.  The hole should not be so small that the lamb becomes frustrated, but the hole also shouldn't be so large that the lamb chokes. As the lamb becomes older the hole can be made bigger with a pair of small scissors. 

Raising Lambs: Problems with Orphan Lambs

There are 3 main problems with hand-rearing lambs

  1. The first is that it might not survive the exposure to the elements and get hypothermia. 
  2. Secondly, they don't get the colostrum in them early enough and die from a clot. 
  3. And finally, when raising lambs they get scours, mostly due to overfeeding and unhygienic teats and bottles. Sterilize as you would your own baby's teats and bottles and you shouldn't have a problem.

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