Artificial rearing (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
On a sheep/goat farm, it is not uncommon to have to rear some of the lambs/kids artificially.
This is particularly true with prolific flocks/herds. Sometimes, the dam dies, rejects one or more of her offspring, has mastitis, or simply does not produce enough milk for her offspring.
In litters, there is no agreement on which lambs/kid to take for artificial rearing, other than the odd one if it is a litter of three or more.
As with all lambs/kids, it is essential that orphaned lambs/kids consume enough colostrum (first milk) in their first 18-24 hours.
The standard recommendation is 10 percent of body weight, so a 10-pound lamb/kid would require 16 ounces distributed over multiple feedings.
Colostrum can be fed with a nippled-bottle or esophageal feeding tube.
The source of colostrum can be from the dam or colostrum that has been saved from another ewe/doe. It can be from another sheep/goat farm.
Cow colostrum is another option. There are also commercial colostrum replacers. Be sure to feed a replacer and not a colostrum supplement, as the latter lacks antibodies (IgG).
After colostrum, a good quality, species-specific milk replacer should be fed.
There are many good options. Sheep milk differs from cow and goat milk; it contains more fat.
Cow’s milk can be fed to lambs, but extra fat should be added. It is more common to feed cow’s milk to kids; many goat owners swear by it.
When properly fed, kids will do well on commercial kid milk replacers.
Orphaned lambs/kids should be reared in their own pens; clean, dry, and draft-free. Small numbers of lambs/kids are usually fed with nippled-bottles.
It can take time and patience to get some lambs/kids to accept a nipple, especially if they are used to nursing their dams.
Larger number of lambs/kids can be fed with a bucket or bar, even an automatic feeder. This is preferable, as it better mimics natural nursing.
Cold milk is usually advocated for artificial rearing, to prevent lambs/kids from overeating.
One of the goals of artificial rearing should be early weaning (4-8 weeks). Not only can milk replacer be expensive and bottle-feeding time-consuming, but artificially-reared lambs/kids are subject to various digestive problems, including (abomasal) bloat, enterotoxemia (overeating disease), and constipation. The sooner they are off milk and consuming dry feed the better.
Grain helps to develop the rumen quicker than milk and forage diets.
It is important to get lambs/kids started on dry feed as soon as possible.
Soybean meal or soybean meal with cracked corn makes a good starter feed. You can also buy lamb or kid starter rations, usually pellets.
Size is actually more important than age when weaning lambs/kids.
Minimum weights for weaning depend on species and breed.
Three times birth weight is a common rule of thumb. What’s important is that lambs/kids be consuming adequate dry feed and drinking water.
Because they are at high risk, they should be vaccinated earlier and more often for enterotoxemia.
With good nutrition and management, artificially-reared lambs/kids can match the performance of dam-raised offspring.