The health, growth and early performance of a lamb or kid crop directly impacts future performance in the milking parlor, pasture or showring. As a result, long-term successes can be driven by success during the lambing and kidding season.
Nutrition is essential in giving lambs and kids a solid start. High quality milk replacer can be a solution to success; however, success is not guaranteed on milk replacer alone. Here is a look at six steps to a successful total management program shared at the 2015 Dairy Sheep Association of North America Symposium.
1. Set obtainable goals
Before the first lamb hits the ground, analyze past performance of the flock, set tangible goals and determine a path for achieving these goals. Consider a 200 percent lamb or kid crop as an attainable goal. Mature and well-conditioned ewes and does should be able to lamb at least two lambs or kids. Strive for less than 5 percent pre-weaning mortality. The industry target is less than 5 percent, but it’s estimated that 20 percent of lambs are lost before weaning, with 80 percent of those losses in the first 10 days.
2. Provide newborn care
Within the first few minutes after a lamb or kid is born, they are exposed to bacteria and pathogens. Two ways to protect against these pathogens are navel disinfection and quality colostrum.
Dip the newborn’s navel in 7 percent tincture of iodine immediately after birth. Make sure the disinfectant covers both the outside and inside of the navel.
Colostrum or the first milk in lactation is the primary protection newborns receive against environmental pathogens and bacteria. Lambs and kids should receive 10 percent of their body weight in colostrum by 18 hours of age, fed at 105 degrees F. For example, a 10-pound lamb should be fed 1 pound or 16 ounces of colostrum in the first 18 hours of its life.
Keep in mind that fluctuations in colostrum quality and quantity are probable; a colostrum replacement can be used to ensure all lambs and kids receive a high-quality, disease-free colostrum.
3. Select a species-specific milk replacer
After newborns are fed high-quality colostrum or colostrum replacer for the first feeding, they can be transitioned to a milk replacer.
Look for a milk replacer made specifically for lambs or kids. Many options of milk replacer may be available to you, but calves, lambs, kids, pigs, alpacas, puppies and kittens all have different nutrient requirements. Milk replacers formulated for lambs are better able to provide the nutrients lambs require because they closely mimic the composition of ewe’s milk. The same is true with kid-specific milk replacers for kid goats.
4. Choose the right feeding system
Bottle feeding, free-choice feeding or an automated system are the three primary means of feeding lambs and kids on milk replacer.
Select which system is the best fit by considering the facilities, size of operation, labor situation and performance objectives. Make sure the system provides enough nutrition so lambs and kids at least triple their birth weight by 28 days of age. Clean and disinfect the system as often as possible.
5. Stimulate rumen development
The rumen is the main site for nutrient breakdown. Absorption in mature ruminants and in other species has been highly correlated to health and performance of the animal.
When a lamb or kid is born, the rumen is not fully developed and neither are the papillae inside the rumen. Growth of the rumen papillae and rumen development can be correlated with what the lamb or kid eats pre-weaning.
If the rumen is not developed appropriately, weaning can be delayed or unsuccessful. Water is a critical ingredient in the development of bacterial growth and the beginning of rumen fermentation. Always provide free choice water.
6. Promote a smooth weaning transition
Lambs and kids are ready for weaning when they consume an equivalent of 1.5 percent of their body weight in high-quality creep feed along with adequate water. Usually this will occur near 30 days of age or 35 pounds of weight. At weaning time, each lamb should have consumed at least 25 pounds of lamb milk replacer powder.
Follow these steps to weaning:
- Plan weaning protocol, timing and facilities 14 to 21 days prior to weaning.
- Ensure animals are consuming creep feed and utilizing water.
- Gradually remove milk replacer or remove ewe.
- Feed a high protein ration (18 to 25 percent crude protein).
Following these six steps provides a total management system for successfully raising lambs or kids, especially when on milk replacer. Setting goals, providing a high-quality colostrum and milk replacer, comfortable housing, and ready access to high quality feed and water will help lambs and kids thrive.