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Straight Talk: January 2018

Milk Requirements for New Born Lambs
Every lambing season I encounter situations where lambs are being fed milk but not enough and slowly are being starved to death. Starvation is the leading cause of death in baby lambs. The amount of colostrum and milk required to meet energy needs the first 24 hours after birth is often underestimated. David Mellor, a veterinary physiologist with Massy University in New Zealand reviewed the colostrum needs of newborn lambs. His work shows that an eleven-pound lamb born outside needed thirty-five ounces of milk in the first 18 hours of life. My recommendations have been 50 ounces for an average size lamb for 24 hours. These figures should give producers an idea how much colostrum and milk needs to be fed. I would suggest seven to eight ounces of colostrum to be adequate for immunity and this should be fed first, the balance can be a good quality milk replacer. 

Initial feeding could be 6 to 12 ounces depending on size of lamb. Do not overextend the belly. Feedings then on shouldn’t be over 8 ounces which is an ideal amount given enough times to meet requirements. A stomach tube is a proper way to feed the lamb, nipples can be used once lamb is started and are helpful to transfer lambs to a machine or bucket. There should be tubing equipment in every lambing barn and shepherds should become adept at using them. They are simple and easy to use. If lamb is cold and doesn’t have a suckle reflex then it needs to be warmed up prior to tubing. Immersing in warm water for a time and then immediately drying off may work. Once the lamb has swallowing reflex warm milk will often work wonders. The syringe on the tube is used as a funnel. The plunger is used to rinse the tube. Occasionally plunger can be used very slowly if milk is thick.

Let’s talk about colostrum. Colostrum can be stored in plastic soft drink bottles, sealed with a lid before cold storage for a year or more. Needs to be thawed prior to use with warm water, the microwave may damage antibodies. In sheep, colostrum from own flock is preferred but frozen cow colostrum works well. If using cow colostrum for kids it should be pasteurized. Goat milk has less energy than sheep milk but volume requirements would be similar.

When it comes to commercial products we have three choices all derived from cow colostrum. One is in a tube, one is dried cow colostrum and another is dry cow colostrum blended with lamb milk replacer to imitate the energy content of ewe milk. Our product has been around and was developed in 1992. When I met Randy KJelden he was collecting colostrum in 5-gallon milk cans and drying it in a small plant eighty miles north of here. Eventually, the business expanded and moved to Brookings S.D. where now it may come in semi tanker loads from big dairies and the bulk of it is for human consumption. Unfortunately, Randy passed away but his son is still involved in the business.

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