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Extract from Home Farm Magazine

No 88 June/July 1990             Copyright   Pam Shaw


Raising Spare Lambs by Pam Shaw


Pest lambs or pets, depending on your point of view, represent a labour intensive way of rearing spare lambs.

They are hard to part with and even harder to eat, so it is obviously better if they can be reared naturally on a ewe. Some ewes will happily rear triplets or even quads, especially if provided with good grazing or supplementary feed. In our situation it is impractical to allow any but the best ewes to do this because of the need for extra supervision and the strain on the ewe. After lambing all singles are turned out onto the hill which is

farthest from the farm and twins go onto reseeded ground which provides better nutrition and is checked daily. Triplets and other 'problems' stay close to the farm for supplementary feeding.


All ewes with triplets feed their lambs for about a month. By that time there is usually an obvious weakling - the one that is always left behind in the race for the teats. This one will be taken off and reared with other spare lambs in groups of no more than ten, matched in size and age. In this situation most people would use a lamb bar with ad-lib cold milk but I prefer individual bottle feeding three times. a day. With care this need not result in 'blown-up' lambs or digestive upsets and it is a good way to monitor individual progress.


A lamb raised from birth on the bottle would firstly receive adequate colostrum for at least 24 hours and sheep's' milk for as long as possible fed 'little and often'. Then they are put onto four daily feeds of goats' milk starting with a third-of-a-pint each feed increasing to a-half-pint later. Only the very biggest lambs would ever get more than a-half-pint of milk at a feed because of the effect of so much liquid fed in one go. From birth spare lambs are always kept in small groups under a heat lamp in well strawed pens with clean hay and water available at all times. As they get older they can be moved to bigger groups without a light and with trough feed available. A young lamb changes from monograstrict to ruminant at about two weeks and will gradually take more interest in dry feed.  Bruised oats plus a little sugar beet is ideal. We use rnalt culrns from the distillery because they stick to the lamb's nose when it puts its head into the trough out of curiosity. It licks them off and discovers there are other things in life than milk. I also feel the lambs need minerals to promote healthy growth, and so mix seaweed meal and calcified seaweed (Mermin) into their trough feed - a small amount daily. They also seem to like a salt block. A Iamb that is sick or debilitated seems to have a special need for salt.  

Just before they are two weeks old  lambs are at their most demanding milkwise. A lamb that is part of a set of triplets or big twins may benefit at this time from supplementary bottle feeding. An ewe under stress (too thin, too old, too young or recovering from illness) may not be able to meet the needs of rapidly growing youngsters. A timely offering of bottled milk, even once a day, can prevent a sick or even dead lamb later, or one that has to be removed from the mother. A lamb that is 'thieving' milk from the other ewes or that takes a bottle immediately it is offered is probably hungry since neither activity is natural to a satisfied lamb. Supplementary feeding of lambs while still with the mother is probably the best way of raising extra lambs since they have the benefit of 'little and often' feeding from the mother with the added boost of bottled milk. The extra feeding can be finished much earlier than with artificially-raised lambs and be replaced by dry feed. Lambs raised off their mothers are much more prone to diseases such as E.coli pneumonia or coccidiosis although orf can also be a nuisance.


Pneumonia is hard to avoid because the method of feeding can often involve the milk going down 'the wrong way'. All lambs should be injected with a pasteurella vaccine (Ovipast or Carovax) at 2-4 weeks old but at an earlier age one often has to use penicillin in isolated cases. Adequate ventilation (but not draughts) is necessary at all times. I dealt with E.coli infections in an earlier article. In pet lambs it is easy to control because they are observed several times a day. It is best to keep groups small at first to prevent the spread of disease. Pet lambs form very close bonds with the other lambs in their group and will remain 'friends' with them long after they have been weaned.

The main thing in all digestive upsets is to prevent dehydration by the administration of a glucose/electrolyte warm water solution by stomach tube if necessary. Simple 'blowing-up' (which is not complicated by an E.coli infection) can be treated with gripe water. I use 4-5 teaspoons. Some lambs get quite 'hooked' on it. It is very effective.

Coccidiosis is another disease that can occur in' houses lambs, or lambs kept close to the farm. Housed Iambs are unlikely to suffer from worms, so around four weeks a profuse watery brown scour (diarrhoea) could well be coccicidiosis. A vet once said to me that 'they don't seem ill with coccidiosis' which is probably a good way of distinguishing it from a normal digestive upset, in that the appetite is not impaired at first. A dry, 'stary' coat and slightly sunken eyes (from dehydration) are other signs. The smell is pretty distinctive too. A scour sample can be analysed by the vet very quickly. We treat with Bimidine (sulpha dimidine), which is quick and effective. If the course of four -five days is followed there seems to be no resistance or side effects for the lamb.
To counteract the destructive effect of this antibiotic for the gut flora I like to fee yoghurt after the course is finished. Or a probiotic could be used.


The most important thing with coccidiossis is to treat it immediately the clinical signs appear. Even a day's 'wait- and-see' can mean spreading the disease to another two lambs. It is incredibly infectious and will kill. Coccidia are not worms but protozoans (single celled - organisms). Ewes act as a source of oocysts, and sporulation occurs in two or three days in the bedding. Lambs become infected almost immediately after birth and they start passing oocysts in large numbers by 20 days old. It is these oocysts after sporulation which produce the clinical disease at around four weeks of age. If it is allowed to do too much, damage the gut wall will not repair and the lamb will remain a 'poor-doer'. For this reason many people use a coccidiostat in the drinking water of housed animals, or as a feed additive. Personally I feel this is unnecessary since the majority that are exposed to this disease will work up their own immunity. The best control, as always, is good hygiene, especially in troughs and water containers and plenty of straw. Because Bimidine (or Amprol plus, another coccidiostat) only controls the disease at that point in
time lambs that have been treated are lacking in a natural immunity and can have a relapse later on. After six months lambs are meant to be immune but I have seen coccidiosis in gimmers (shearlings) under the stress of pregnancy, and in bought-in sheep of all ages.

Our bottle fed lambs are reared inside until weaned at the same age as those naturally reared. The bigger ones then go out and the smaller ones will stay in until they reach a fair size. By the end of the winter they are all out and we are ready for the next lot. Being unable to sell 'pets' straight off the bottle through the ring, I wait until January and February and they go off with the 'tail-enders' when they are not so tame. That is the theory. But the better ewe lambs stay on since they are often triplets off good stock. Some of my best ewes were bottle raised. There are also some which stay on just because they are 'characters' or for one reason or another they have become part of the place. Even the most business like, commercial farms seems to have these individuals. 'You can't have sentiment in farming' one of our neighbours always says. Let's hope we always will!

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