Care of newborn lambs
Nearly 20 percent of lambs die before weaning. Eighty percent
of those losses occur during the first 10 days. Good baby lamb
care can significantly increase the number of lambs raised by
ewes in the flock. A realistic goal would be to limit lamb mortality
to 4 to 5 percent.
Lambing jugs (pens)
After the ewe has completed delivery, she and her lamb(s) should
be moved to a lambing jug (individual pen). Lambing jugs help
with bonding and prevent mismothering. Soon after delivery,
the ewe's udder should be checked for milk supply and potential
problems, such as mastitis.
Each teat should be stripped to remove the wax plug. Lambs should
be monitored closely to make sure they nurse. Lambs that have
nursed will have a full stomach upon palpation. Lambs that have
not nursed should be assisted. Small, weak, and mismothered
lambs may require assistance.
Lambing jugs should be at least 5 x 5 ft. wide. Larger jugs
may be required for bigger sheep and mulitple births. Smaller
jugs increase the probability that a ewe will lay on her lamb(s).
Lambing jugs should be clean, dry, and well-bedded. If feasible,
jugs should be cleaned between ewes. Having one lambing jug
per 7 to 10 ewes in the flock is usually adequate. More may
be needed is lambing is closely spaced.
Feed troughs and water buckets should be suspended out of reach
of lambs. Heat lamps should be used with extreme caution. They
should be used sparingly, hung in the corner of the pen at least
3 feet above the bedding.
Lambing cubicles (4 x 6 ft.) placed around the walls of the
lambing area have been used successfully as a place for ewes
to lamb. They were originally tried to prevent mismothering.
New research is looking at cubicles as a way to reduce labor
needs during lambing.
The navel of a newborn lamb is a possible route for infectious
agents. Navel cords more than 2 inches long should be clipped
closer to the body. To avoid infections, navel stumps should
be disinfected soon after birth. Spray or dip the navel area
with an antiseptic solution such as Gentle Iodine (1% iodine),
Betadine®, or Chlorhexidine (Nolvasan®).
Colostrum is the "first milk" that a ewe produces
after lambing. Colostrum contains a high level of several nutrients
that are important for lamb health and performance. Colostrum
also contains a high level of antibodies against a variety of
infectious agents. At birth, the lamb does not carry any antibodies
because antibodies in the ewe's bloodstream do not cross the
It is critical that lambs receive colostrum during the first
24 hours of life in order to ensure adequate absorption of colostral
antibodies. Antibodies are large protein molecules that can
cross the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream of the
lamb only during the first 24 to 36 hours of life. Absorption
of these antibodies is most efficient during the first few hours
It is recommended that lambs receive 10 percent of the body
weight in colostrum by 24 hours after birth. This means that
a 10 lb. lamb should consume 1 lb. (16 ounces) of colostrum
by 24 hours of age. Ideally, they should consume half of this
within 4 to 8 hours of birth. A 60 cc syringe holds 2 ounces
All lambs need colostrum. While it is possible for lambs to
survive without colostrum in a relatively disease-free environment,
the likelihood of disease and death is higher in lambs that do
not receive colostrum. The ideal colostrum source for supplemental
feeding of lambs is from healthy ewes in one's own flock.
Ewes vary in the quantity and quality of colostrum they produce.
Young ewes generally produce less colostrum because they also
produce less milk. At lambing, ewes should be checked (stripping
the teats) for the quality and quantity of colostrum.
Older ewes have had greater exposure to infectious agents and
usually have a higher concentration of antibodies in their colostrum.
Colostrum from dairy cows or goats may be used if ewe's colostrum
is not available. The colostrum from the colored breeds (e.g.
Jersey) is more desirable. Only milk from Johne's-free herds
should be used.
Producers who are attempting to develop an Ovine Progressive
Pneumonia (OPP)-free flock need to be concerned about the source
of colostrum, since OPP can be transmitted from infected ewes
to lambs via the colostrum. Cross transmission between goats
(CAE) and sheep (OPP) is also possible.
Colostrum: Liquid Gold ==>
Complications with newborn lambs
The major killers of newborn lambs are starvation, hypothermia,
scours, and pneumonia. In fact, a study at the U.S. Sheep Experiment
Station (in Dubois, Idaho) showed that 46 percent of lamb mortality
is caused by scours (diarrhea), 20 percent by starvation and
8 percent by pneumonia. Lambs that experience difficult and
prolonged birthing episodes are more susceptible to health
problems, as are those that do not consume adequate colostrum.
Hypothermia (chilling) is defined as low body temperature. To
maintain its body temperature, a newborn lamb must produce as
much heat as it is losing to the environment. If it cannot do
this, its body temperature will start to fall. A smaller lamb
will chill faster than a larger lamb. Lambs with thicker coats
will lose less heat.
The quicker a ewe licks off the lamb, the less vulnerable it will
be to chilling. Lambs born in drafty pens or outside with no shelter
from the wind will lose body heat quicker. Lambs born in colder
temperatures obviously lose body heat more quickly than those
born during moderate weather.
Lambs with hypothermia appear weak, gaunt, and hunched up. In
severe cases, the lamb may be unable to hold its head up. The
ears and mouth may feel cold. The lamb may lack suckling response.
The normal body temperature for lambs is 102-103°F. Lambs
with temperatures below 100°F are considered hypothermic.
A rectal thermometer can be used to assess body temperature.
It is important to get colostrum in newborn hypothermic lambs
to elevate the body temperature. Tube feeding is an effective
means of doing this. It may also be necessary to move the lamb
to a warmer environment to elevate the body temperature.
There are several ways to warm a lamb. If the lamb is wet, dry
it off and wrap it in a towel. A hair dryer can be used to warm
a lamb. The lamb can be put into a warming box. Heat lambs should
be used sparingly.
In newborn lambs, hypothermia usually results from exposure.
In lambs over 24 hours of age, hypothermia is usually a result
of starvation. Older lambs should be handled in a similar manner,
except they do not need colostrum. Milk replacer can be fed
with a bottle or tube feeder.
Lamb starvation is the number one killer of baby lambs. It may
be caused by many factors: inadequate intake of colostrum, rejection
by dam, mastitis, teats which are too large or close to the
ground, inadequate milk production, joint injury or illness,
soremouth, and/or a difficult birth. Starvation typically occurs
during the first three days of life.
A lamb will be found standing with its head down, ears drooping
back, or it may become too weak to stand. The stomach would
be empty upon palpation. Shivering, shaking and hypothermia
may follow but this hypothermic lamb is typically over 12 hours
Baby lamb scours are due to one of several bacteria: e. coli,
salmonella, or clostridium perfringins type C. Adequate
intake of colostrum is the best protection against scours. Strict
sanitation is also important. Sloppy lambing conditions predispose
lambs to many potential health problems.
Bacterial scours can be treated with antibiotics and fluid therapy.
Spectinomycin oral pig pump is a preferred treatment for baby
lamb scours. Its extra-label use requires veterinary approval.
There are vaccines for e. coli scours ("watery mouth")
and clostridium perfringins type C.
Baby lamb pneumonia is caused primarily by the bacterium Pasteurella
hemolytica, sometimes mycoplasma. It is characterized by
fever, increased respiratory rate, failure to nurse, and death
in untreated cases. Lambs appear gaunt and lethargic. Lambs
that do not consume adequate colostrum are particularly at risk
for developing pneumonia.
Ventilation problems are commonly associated with outbreaks
of pneumonia. Drafts and dampness contribute. Pneumonia is much
more common with housed sheep than those raised on pasture.
Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics: penicillin, tetracyclines,
and others. Fluid therapy can hasten recovery
Unfortunately, vaccination of pregnant ewes with parainfluenza
(PI3) has not been shown to reduce pneumonia levels in newborn
Some breeds seem to be more susceptible to respiratory problems
(e.g. East Friesian).
Care of newborn lambs
<== SHEEP 201 INDEX