The ins and outs of artificially rearing surplus lambs

Before the lambing season kicked off, farmers should have set up a designated area for pet/surplus lambs to be reared in.

Ideally, farmers don’t want to have to rear lambs artificially. However, sometimes this situation is unavoidable, especially in cases where a farmer loses a ewe or cross-fostering a triplet lamb onto a single ewe isn’t an option.

In this case, an area in the lambing shed or, wherever suitable, should be set up for surplus lambs.

First and foremost, when a lamb is born, it is important that it receives an adequate amount of colostrum. In this case, a lamb weighing 5kg, for example, should receive 250ml of colostrum every six hours in the first 24 hours of life. 

Ideally, the lamb should be fed colostrum from its mother. However, if the ewe has insufficient colostrum to feed her lambs, then it should be divided up equally among her lambs and topped up with a substitute colostrum.

Surplus lambs should be housed in a dry, clean and warm environment. For newborn lambs, an infra-red lamp should be placed above the lambs to keep them warm.

Lambs can be fed using one of three ways when being reared artificially. These include: feeding lambs with a bottle or multi-feeder buckets; ad-libitum feeding using lamb-feeding devices; automated lamb feeders that automatically mix the milk replacer with water – in small amounts – as the lamb drinks it.

According to Teagasc, the following guidelines should be carried out when artificially rearing lambs.

These include:

  • Ensure lambs receive adequate colostrum;
  • Remove surplus lambs from the ewe after 24 hours (maximum 48 hours);
  • Supervise suckling for the first few days until the lambs are used to drinking themselves;
  • Feed warm milk initially and then reduce the temperature of the milk as the lambs get older;
  • Each lamb should be given a floor space of 0.6m²;
  • Lambs should be grouped that are similar in size and no more than 25 in a group;
  • Wean lambs when they reach a minimum of 14kg liveweight, at 35 days of age and are consuming 250g/day of concentrates.