Our Tips For Orphan Lambs

Whether you’re vigilant about lambing beats or run a more extensive operation, most farmers who have breeding ewes end up with one or two (or a lot more) orphan lambs to deal with. In the spirit of ‘enabling, empowering and educating’ (some of our core values), here are a few tips that our team have recently learnt:

Orphan lambs who land on the doorstep:

  • Energy (food) first, warmth second.  Warming a lamb up without any energy reserves can stress it more and kill it.  
  • If the lamb won’t suckle then inject with dextrose and tube feed.  The glucose and energy hit from the dextrose is really fast acting and will give it a burst of strength.  For instructions on administering dextrose talk to your vet, but it’s a similar needle size as vaccinating, so surprisingly straightforward. Beef and Lamb also have a good fact sheet on this topic (see link at bottom).
  • If dextrose doesn’t help then unfortunately the chances of the lamb recovering are slim.
  • Always put Iodine on the navel (and on the jab spot if you’re going to inject dextrose).  It’s better to dunk the navel in iodine than spray it on as it gives a better coverage.
  • Tube feed lambs when they won’t suckle.  If you’re worried you’ve put it down the windpipe instead of oesophagus, hold the end against your eyeball and you’ll feel the puff of breath from their lungs.  Remove and try again!
  • Worried about tube feeding?  It’s actually quite hard to get it wrong (and they normally cough and choke if you do).  You’ll probably kill it if you accidentally put milk in its lungs, but you’ll also potentially kill it if you do nothing, so there’s nothing to lose!  These guys have some good videos on how to tube feed: https://antahi.com/videos/
  • Colostrum is essential but the benefits are minimal after first 24 hours.  Some of our team recommended a new colostrum called Launch Pad – it’s more expensive but of superior quality and they get all the good stuff from one feed instead of over 2-3 days, so price per lamb works out the same.
  • Formula – most of our team use AnLamb or Milligans but we were quite keen to try Sprayfo this season. It’s whey based so there are less issues with bloat and it strengthens gut health, meaning lambs can transition off formula and onto meal sooner.  And it sounded easier than the alternative bloat management technique of making your own yoghurt to add to formula!  Using Sprayfo means a lot less time feeding lambs and meal is cheaper than formula.  We’ve been told that if you’re feeding Sprayfo formula you can wean lambs onto meal as young as 1 month old – this is a game changer for some of our team and sure beats bottle feeding them for months on end!
  • Give pet lambs a 5 in1 at 2-3 weeks of age and then every 2-3 weeks thereafter.  It should significantly reduce chances of Flossie dropping dead the day before pet day!

Treatment out in the paddock

  • Dextrose is cheap and will hopefully give lambs the energy hit needed to get up and feed from Mum. Great for lambs who are struggling, eg in storms.
  • Warm dextrose is best and it comes in a pouch, so keep it down your shirt so it’s body temperature.
  • Whilst administering dextrose dunk the navel and dextrose jab site with iodine.
  • Put on a woolly jacket. They will fall off by themselves in time.
  • Mark the lamb for ease of identification and if it’s not up and feeding off Mum an hour later then it may need to go home for tube feeding and to join the orphans.

Nb, we are not veterinarians. Nor are there any benefits to us in recommending any of the above products. We’re farmers who are looking to share some of our learnings. For more details such as instructions on how to administer dextrose please consult with your veterinarian. Also check out some of Beef & Lamb’s great resources:

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