There are several benefits to artificially raising lambs. In the case of dairy lambs, raising all of the lambs artificially allows for the greatest production of the ewe’s sellable milk. In the case of meat lambs, we are able to breed for the production of more lambs per ewe than the ewe can raise, while still raising them all to market weight. With a system in place to raise these animals efficiently, profits are increased and overall lamb welfare is improved.
In order to raise lambs efficiently there are many things to consider.
When we think about lamb production we need to remember that economically, the more lambs we have in the end provides us with the best income, but we need to be mindful that the ewe can only successfully raise so many at one time. It is important to consider which lamb(s) would be the best to remove to allow everyone to be successful. There are many options and it might take some trial and error to determine which method works best on your farm. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the best rule of thumb is to remove the odd lamb out with size and gender being the determining factors. Other options are to always remove the lambs performing poorly, or alternatively, always remove the stronger lambs. Make the decision to remove a lamb from the ewe as quickly as possible after birth as this ease’s the training period for the lamb and increases the lambs chance for survival. Whichever method you choose on your farm it is important to remain consistent and diligent to successfully raise all lambs.
One of the most important aspects to artificially raising lambs is colostrum. Lambs need to receive an adequate amount to ensure passive transfer, which will provide the lamb with sufficient passive immunity until their active immune system is functioning. Lambs are also born with very limited fat stores so it is important they receive enough colostrum as quickly as possible to prevent hypothermia. Lambs should receive 50 ml/ kg of body weight of quality colostrum, within one hour of birth, and 150 ml/ kg spread over three more feedings within the first 24 hours of life. It is also important to ensure that lambs left on the ewe are suckling successfully and receiving sufficient colostrum. Colostrum must be fed in a timely manner as the lamb’s ability to absorb colostrum diminishes with time, as does the quality of colostrum from the ewe.
Next steps for feeding
Once the lamb has received its colostrum it is time to think about next steps for feeding your lamb. There are several different types of feeding methods to feed lambs, and it is important to be consistent to avoid frustration and bloat. If you choose to feed by bottle or pail but limit fed, offer milk replacer at body temperature four to six times daily for the first three days. The amount of times fed per day can gradually decrease while the amount fed per feeding gradually increases, to increase overall intake. Lambs can consume 1-2 L of milk replacer daily. It is important to keep the volumes, times, etc. of feeding consistent to prevent digestive upsets.
Another option is feeding by free choice, either using a bulk feeding system like a pail or using an automatic feeder. When choosing either method make sure the lambs are trained on these systems as young as possible to prevent over consumption in a single feeding. Having slightly older lambs in the same area that know how to use the feeder may help train the younger ones, however, avoid large age gaps, as bullying may occur. Young lambs should be monitored closely to ensure they are feeding on their own. The nipples should be easy to locate and the lines to the pail or feeder kept short.
When using a pail system, consider fully acidifying milk replacer to prevent bacterial growth. Each of these feeding stations should be cleaned thoroughly every day, or in the case of bottles, after every use. On self-feeding pail type systems ensure there are 3-5 lambs per nipple for groups less than 15.
Wean lambs at four to six weeks of age or when the lambs have consumed about 12 kgs of milk replacer. It is important that starter and fresh water is offered to the lamb as soon as they start on milk replacer to ensure they are eating enough solid feeds by weaning. There are methods of reducing intake of milk replacer while using a self-fed system rather than weaning abruptly, making milk intake slightly more challenging will encourage lambs to consume more starter and start weaning. Ways we can make things more challenging for the lambs is to attach longer lines or use a tap to clamp off the lines and let less milk flow.
Beyond feeding there are other areas to consider when raising lambs artificially. Lambs need to be raised in a clean environment that is draft-free and well ventilated. Space required depends on the flooring type; for slatted floors provide at least two square feet per lamb, for bedded solid floors provide six to seven square feet per lamb. Group sizes can vary quite a bit depending on set up and age of your lambs. If you decide to increase the size of your groups do your best to ensure they are within a similar age range.
There are several different bedding types and each have their benefits; sawdust or shavings is good for absorption, straw is beneficial to allow lambs to nest which can reduce incidence of pneumonia. Lambs have limited fat stores and when raised in a warmer environment, such as 68F vs 46F, gain weight faster. Heat lamps are a great tool to use especially for the younger lambs. Ensure that you install the lamps far away from walls to avoid crowding and piling on top of one another. Another option to provide warmth is heated floors which can also reduce crowding. Supplemental heat should be provided at least until the lambs are nursing well on their own.