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Artificial lamb rearing do's and don'ts

Artificial lamb rearing do's and don'ts

Artificial lamb rearing do's and don'ts

Ask Andrew Dowling, Veterinarian and PGG Wrightson Technical Expert – Animal Production, his top tip when artificially lamb rearing, and his response is ‘consistency’ - in the routine you keep, the timing of feeding, the volume of feed, and the mixing rates used.

In preparation for lambing, it’s a good idea to organise what you’ll need, including colostrum powder, lamb milk replacer, bottles, and teats along with supplies for setting up pens in the rearing shed.

Lamb nutrition

If you’re taking orphaned lambs from the paddock, Andrew says to start with a colostrum replacement. MaxCare’s Colostrum Powder contains 27% fat, 42% protein, and 7% immunoglobulins (IgG). Remember their tummies are little so feed them small quantities often.

After the initial first 24 hours of life, lambs are fed milk replacer. Andrew says in their first three weeks of life, they perform better on a casein-based milk powder. MaxCare’s Lamb & Kid Milk Replacer is an easy-to-mix casein-based formulation containing 26% protein and 26% fat with betaine, acidifiers, amino acids, and vitamins and minerals included to promote optimal growth and development.

Andrew points out that bloating can often be attributed to a change in feeding as opposed to the type of milk powder being fed, so transition lambs slowly when increasing the volume being offered.

For rearing larger numbers of lambs an automatic feeder makes the job a lot easier, while for a smaller group, bottles and teats or smaller feeders may be more suitable. Purchase the Acto Lamb Bottle with teat online. This plastic bottle is transparent with calibrated measurements so you can easily monitor how a feed is going.

To stock up on teats, try Pritchard Teats for lambs. They seal onto most modern glass or plastic bottles with straight threads.

When artificially rearing lambs, you’ll be aiming for good liveweight gain. To help achieve this, consider supplementing milk with a hard feed such as NRM’s Lamb Start Mix and Lamb Performance Pellets. Both are designed to help develop the gut and prepare lambs for grazing pastures. To avoid gut upset, introduce gradually.

Lamb Start Mix with Deccox® 6% is a textured starter feed for orphaned or surplus lambs from four days old. With added Deccox®, Lamb Start Mix aids in the treatment and prevention of coccidiosis and contains digestible energy (12.8MJ ME per kg), protein (19%), minerals and vitamins. Lamb Start Mix contains digestible grains, fibre, molasses, and pellets to increase dry matter intake. Andrew points out that along with meal, always offer a fibre source like hay.

Andrew says you can move to Lamb Performance Pellets at three to four weeks of age. Purchase from your local PGG Wrightson store, these pellets develop a healthy gut as milk is phased out at weaning. The pellet contains Deccox® 6% to aid in the prevention of coccidiosis and contains highly digestible cereal grains which stimulate rumen papillae development and encourage greater feed intakes. Healthy lambs weighing over 17 kg and consuming 200 g per day of pellets can be weaned off milk and onto pasture. After milk weaning, keep feeding pellets or meal over the following six-plus weeks as the lambs adapt to digesting grass.  

Remember, always provide clean water at all times and replace the feed in troughs with new pellets daily.

Setting up lambing facilities 

To set up the rearing shed, Andrew recommends creating a draft-free environment with good ventilation. He also suggests thick bedding to soak up urine and faeces. Change the bedding regularly and provide a pen size of 0.5 m² of space per lamb. For dry, hygienic bedding, consider Natural Animal Bedding. Made from 100% New Zealand pine, this is a low-dust option compared to wood shavings or sawdust. Aim for soft and absorbent bedding that the lambs can use to maintain warmth.

To disinfect surfaces and equipment in the lambing shed, Andrew says one option is Virkon S which offers a fast contact kill time. Virkon S removes bacteria, viruses and fungi and spores from all surfaces and is effective in both hard and soft water, and in a range of temperatures.

Vaccinating lambs

Andrew says vaccinating lambs against clostridial diseases is important at docking to kickstart the lamb’s own immune system. In modern farming systems, where high liveweight gains are a strong focus, Andrew explains the risk of contracting pulpy kidney increases as lambs are encouraged to eat pasture along with drinking milk from docking through to weaning. Multine 5-in-1 protects against pulpy kidney, tetanus, blackleg, black disease and malignant oedema. It is available as plain, with Vitamin B12 or Vitamin B12 selenised. Deliver a booster vaccination four to six weeks later for complete protection.

To view the range of products available to support you through lamb rearing, visit the PGG Wrightson store online.