Notes from Windward: #69


Developing Skills - Lamb Feeding

Opalyn learns how to help out Pepper's lambs


     Pepper gave birth to three lambs earlier this week. As a seven year-old she pretty well tapped out her resources just getting all three through the birthing process. One of the little boys was so weak that he was unable to break out of the amniotic sac without our help, and even with out help, he died shortly afterwards.

Pepper getting ready to deliver

     The birth proceeded smoothly, but when we checked Pepper's udder, only one side was producing milk and precious little at that. This is a critical juncture for stewards in that if we step in to save a lamb, it's automatically excluded from consideration as a future breeder. We conferred and the consensus was that the lambs didn't have much chance of surviving without help.

     We milked out what colostrum we could, and dropper fed that to the two remaining lambs while Jon and Walt made a run into town to pick up a fresh bag of lamb's milk replacer. When they returned, the team started to take turns feeding the lambs so that they would have the energy needed to make it through the night. Since it was shaping up to be a clear night with lows below freezeing, we rigged up a half barrel with some straw inside near the wood stove. With full tummies, they quickly quieted down and went to sleep. In the morning, they were given an initial feeding and returned to their mother so that she wouldn't forget what they smelled like and reject them.

first you get the lamb sucking on your finger

     Since most of the crew had never fed a lamb before, we started doing the feedings in staggered teams of two with one person passing on the experience gained during the last feeding to the new person. Pretty soon, everyone was able to bottle feed the lambs. We started out feeding five times a day, which may sound like a lot, but it's way short of how many times a strong lamb will nurse on its mother. Feeding them too much at any one time can overwhelm them and lead to scours, so the challenge was to feed them small amounts multiple times throughout the day.

     Pepper's little girl lamb was standing and nursing when we put them to bed their second night, but I'm sad to report that she passed sometime during the night leaving a single ram lamb for Pepper to raise. Fortunately, PiP is gaining strength steadily and it appears that he'll be ready to leave the lambing jug by tomorrow.

     Last night, I improvised a new technique. He was initially refusing the nipple preferring to suckle from my fingers instead; so I let him. After he latched onto a finger I would slide the bottle into his mouth as I withdrew my finger. He quickly learned that whatever he latched on to, he would get a drink.

then substitute the nipple for your finger

     Notes to future lamb feeders:
  • Is the lamb suckling or playing – you can tell by the tongue movements (once they get the hang of it) and if the nipple collapses.
  • If the nipple is on a glass bottle then the lamb can “pull a vacuum.” This means that he can not get more milk out unless air is allowed back into the bottle.
  • We decided to use glass bottles because they are easier to handle with a squirmy lamb. Any glass or plastic bottle can be used but we found a 12 to 16 ounce bottle works best.
  • Feed the lambs four to six times a day with three to six ounces initially. Then refer back to our library of sheep books for more information on feeding schedules.


     Pepper's failure to produce a notable volume of colostrum pretty much doomed her lambs from the start. Colustrum is truly life-giving for new borns. Thick like cream, colostrum provides lots of desperately needed calories. It also has a laxative effect that helps clean out the newborn's digestive system. When born, the lambs intestine has special holes that allow antibodies to be absorbed thereby conferring a degree of much need protection on the lamb since its immune system won't come on line until it's about six weeks old. So even with supplemental feeding, the odds were against the lambs making it to their two month birthday. It looks like Pip is going to make it, but it will be more than a month before we can feel confident that he'll prosper.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69