A Practical Approach to Colostrum Feeding Lambs

 

 

 


In my last blog post I outlined our program for managing newborn multiples. The key to the program is being very routine in colostrum feeding within the first twelve hours of life. What I would like to do in this post is get a little more specific about the colostrum itself.

When Alyssa and I took over the sheep flock from Alyssa’s parents, we were milking ewes with extra colostrum and freezing it in icecube trays for those lambs that needed it. Anyone who has ever milked a sheep knows how labour intensive this can be. If you read a technical resource on neonatal lamb care they will give you the same spiel every time; that the best colostrum comes from the lambs mother, second best from another ewe in the flock, third best comes from a ewe from a different flock and so forth down to cow’s colostrum at the bottom. Now, this is not a technical document, this is intended to be one farmer giving hard learned advice to another farmer. I’m sure the vets and nutritionists are quite correct in their analysis of colostrum effectiveness, but they aren’t the ones squatting milking a ewe only to have her step in the pail, picking out the straw and freezing what’s left, running out of frozen colostrum one quarter of the way through the lambing season and being way beyond too tired to go milk another ewe.

The truth is, it is much better to feed lots of colostrum to your lambs that need it than to be a stickler for using colostrum milked from your own flock. That’s why we have started using dry cow colostrum from our local UFA. We have seen noticeable increases in our lamb survival since we started using it. It’s very easy to prepare and really not expensive at all considering the benefit you’ll receive.


Our first cautious step into using dried colostrum was to order a pail of LambGro/KidGro. I was quite pleased to be using what I thought was sheep colostrum. After all, sheep colostrum from another flock is ‘third best’, right? Part way through the pail, I actually read the label and realized that, despite the name, LambGro/KidGro, it is indeed dried cow colostrum. Well, that was it, I realized the colostrum actually labeled for calves was far less expensive to buy, and with the mixing instructions from the pail of LambGro I had all I needed.

Now, keep in mind, I’m no veterinarian. In fact, I haven’t even been to college, but sometimes good ideas don’t come from a textbook. All I can tell you is that I’m glad we made the switch to using cow colostrum.

Here’s a free printable version of the mixing instructions we use.

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colostrum mixing instructions

Keep in mind that birth size will affect the amount the lamb will consume. Newborn lambs are very good at knowing how much they want and have a strong suck reflex in the first few hours. That’s why we use a bottle instead of tube feeding. We find that it does them good to get the suck going and they can pull off when they’re full. If you think they quit too soon try to put them on again and if they refuse it they’re probably good. Of course, check their tummy for fullness, as that’s always the best indicator. But generally, what we mix up as ‘one feeding’ is pretty close to the right amount.


Colostrum is also much thicker than milk replacer. It can be tough to get all the lumps out especially when you’re mixing a small batch in a small container. A good whisk works well, but we discovered something that works even better. This is just a dollar store version of a piece of Tupperware that Alyssa uses in the kitchen for sauces. It just takes a few good shakes to get a nice smooth mix. I’d go for the Tupperware one next time. The markings wore off this one pretty quick and the lid leaks a little.

For more detailed information about which lambs need to be fed, and how often, check out this post about our jug flagging system.


All the best,

Miles

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5 thoughts on “A Practical Approach to Colostrum Feeding Lambs

  1. Interesting posting on colostrum, very similar to protocol we implemented this year. We too went to using cow colostrum replacerment, same product as shown in your blog. We do a little different though, I have started tubing newborn lambs as soon after birth as possible, especially multiple births. We had cold, wet weather during early lambing, but no chilled lambs. I think the tubing colostrum is key to lamb survival. After initial mixing, I run colostrum thru a filter to “mash” up the clumps, seems to work well.

  2. Forgot to add that I too feel milking colostrum from ewes is too time consuming for the result! Mixing the powder product is so much cleaner, easier, and faster than thawing or milking.

    • Thanks Melanie. I’m glad to hear that the cow colostrum is giving you good results as well. I know that a lot of people do prefer tube feeding newborn lambs. It’s quick and easy. We have tried both tube feeding and bottle feeding, and I keep going back to bottles. I think I just really like to see that suck reflex working. Some people get worried about them training on rubber and not going back on the ewe, but that never seems to be a problem for us. However it’s fed, you’re right, getting sufficient colostrum into lambs is definitely the key to survival. What kind of filter do you use for getting the clumps out?
      -Miles

  3. So great to find the mixing ratios. Nothing on the bag, except for calfs. Maybe it translates as the same, but my brain can’t calculate that tonight, after a long day of having to pull two lambs, (both lived), and then to discover a third had been born to the same mumma, but she’s rejecting it. So I’m finally settled in bed with a lamb in a box beside me, and a bottle here on the ready for a night feeding. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your message! It’s great to hear that you found the mixing instructions useful. We have been having such great results with feeding the cow colostrum this year! Hope your lamb does well on it too and that the rest of your lambing goes smoothly. šŸ™‚

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