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.

img_8953

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

Advertisements

130’s a Crowd

When we were getting started with sheep we had a really hard time finding any information about space requirements for sheep handling pens. We made a calculated guess when we built our pens and chute, and in the end I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I wanted to share some pictures with you to show what is working for us.

This post won’t go into too much detail about our chutes and the flow. I basically want to give you an idea about square footage requirements based on a given flock size.

In this picture we have 130 lambs penned up which are averaging about 80lbs/hd. 100 mature Rideau ewes fit in this pen about the same as these 130 lambs. The pen has some angles and curves in it, but is approximately 17ft x 31ft (527 square feet).

sheep-handling-pen

Across from our handling system we have one pen to sort into. If we are splitting a group, we are usually doing a two way split so one group will go into this pen while the other group is usually running back to the pen they came from down the barn. We have to swing panels across our feed alley to connect our handling system to the sorting pen, but it’s pretty quick to set up. This pen is 12ft x 23ft (276 square feet) the wedge shape coming off the handling system across the alley adds quite a bit of square footage as well. It nicely holds the group that we’re sorting out.

sheep-sorting-pen

Our flock is currently 550 breeding ewes and we typically find that we handling groups of around 100 head or less. We’ve found this to be a good sized handling pen for our flock size. It’s large enough that we aren’t constantly going down the barn to re-load the pen, but small enough that it’s not wasting a lot of square feet of barn space.

It’s not a perfect set up, but we’re happy with the way it is working for us. Hopefully it helps those of you out there who are building new sheep facilities.

 

Lamb Coffee!?!

Lamb coffee and my coffee... don't want to confuse these at 2am!
Lamb coffee and my coffee… don’t want to confuse these at 2am!

Yeah I know it sounds crazy. But we were looking for something this year to help our lambs really get up and go. We wanted to make sure that they had the best possible start and got up to eat well right away. At first, we researched into some of the available lamb formulas (Nutri-Drench, Kick Start, Survive!, etc). They all make some pretty incredible claims, which I think have to be seen partly as marketing. But at the same time, they’re not a complete hoax. The ingredients in them would certainly provide some good energy and vitamins for the lambs. Most of them are made up of either molasses or vegetable oil and they all have a certain level of vitamins. So we started looking at the cost of giving each of our lambs a dose at birth to ensure adequate energy to get up and feed well (since mama’s colostrum is the real ‘magic formula’). As our research progressed, we realized that we could easily make most of those concoctions ourselves. So, after talking to our vet we decided to do a little bit of an experiment this year. At first, we were leaning towards a vegetable oil mixture, but our vet didn’t think the lambs would be able to metabolize the fat very well. So we opted for a molasses based mixture. Molasses is about 50% sugar and lambs seem to like the taste, so it makes a good energy supplement.

What I wasn’t expecting our vet to suggest was to try coffee! She told us that she had tried instant coffee mixed into milk for calves, and that it really perked them up. So, we added instant coffee to our grocery list.

 

We mixed up our recipe and put it in a bottle with a squirt cap like a soap dispenser. The first batch was a little thin and runny, so the next batch had a little more molasses to thicken it up. So far we have given the mixture to every lamb born as soon as we put them in the jug. I can’t say that I have noticed the lambs perk up when the caffeine hits their system the way I do, but it is seeming like we have less weak lambs who run out of energy before they get a good feeding in. Maybe some day we can do a more objective analysis of how well the stuff actually works. But for now it is a really inexpensive way to make sure our lambs get up and suck on their own. It sure beat milking and bottle feeding.

Lamb Drinking Lamb Coffee

 

I don’t know if anyone else out there has tried feeding coffee to livestock, but if you have I’d really like to know what your recipe is and how it works for you. I’ll share ours below and you can give your critique. Remember it’s always a good idea to talk to a vet before feeding something like this to your livestock, but the nice thing is, that it is completely made out of edible ingredients that you have in your own kitchen. So you know it’s a safe feed. As a ‘foodie’ would say, “I like it, cause I know what’s in it!”

 

We also included Selenium and vitamins E, A, and D. However I’m not going to include those in the recipe as Selenium can be potentially toxic to sheep if incorrectly dosed (though sheep also die without it). These ingredients you would definitely want to talk to your vet about and make sure they are properly dosed and administered.

Let us know what you think, crazy good idea or just plain crazy.

– Miles

Lamb Coffee Recipe

Matching Game

Spring lambing is beginning to come to a close here, and that means a bit more time to make some posts here on the blog. Throughout lambing we took some pictures and over the next little while I’ll try to catch you up on some of the things we do here during lambing.

As on most Canadian sheep farms, once a ewe has had her lambs we put them together in a ‘jug’ (small aprox. 4’x4′ pen) to bond with each other. After a few days the lambs get their tag and are ready to head out into the ‘hardening pen’ which is a group pen with ewes and similarly aged lambs. This pen usually has 6-12 ewes in it, and it gives the lambs a chance to learn to find their mother in a group setting. This stage can be a little challenging for some of the triplets, especially if the ewe is a little flighty. Usually if a ewe has multiples and we don’t think they are getting enough milk we pull one or more off and put them on our milk feeder, but occasionally we have a set of multiples that seem pretty good but we aren’t 100% sure of. Other times when lambing gets really busy we run out of jug space and have to move some sets into the hardening pen a little younger than we like.

This is the lambing tray we use when tagging lambs. It has all the supplies we need on it so we can just carry it from one jug to the next.
This is the lambing tray we use when tagging lambs. It has all the supplies we need on it so we can just carry it from one jug to the next.

In the hardening pen there are lots of lambs running around and napping all over the place. It can be hard to spot a problem lamb when you are busy doing chores around the barn. Often by the time you notice one that’s hungry it’s gone too long. So we finally came up with a relatively simple solution. Since there are usually only a few lambs in a hardening pen that we want to keep an eye on we needed a way to spot them easily from a distance. Tag numbers are no good because they can’t be read from more than a few feet away.
IMG_5904[1]

What we decided to do, is to give a matching paint mark to each set of lambs as well as their ewe when we want to keep an eye on them. The paint is designed for marking livestock and we buy ours at the local UFA. The other nice thing about this is that it gives a matching visual to know which lambs belong to which ewe. We can now see at a glance if the ewe is letting her own lambs drink, or possibly ignoring them. And of course we now know that any lamb who has a paint mark in the hardening pen is one we need to keep an eye on.
IMG_5906[1]

For this group I decided to paint their right hind legs where the paint wouldn’t stay in their wool and would wear of quicker since it doesn’t need to be a long term identifier. The nice thing about doing legs is that you have four to choose from, so if we have more than one set of lambs in a hardening pen that we want to mark, I can just do a different leg. Alternatively we could use a different color of paint for different groups of lambs which would give a nice clear visual.
IMG_5907[1]

I know I have seen pictures from some flocks where every lamb is painted with a number which matches it’s ewe. For our needs though it seems to be working just fine to mark only the ones we want to keep an eye on. It’s quick and easy to do, and saves lambs in the long run.
IMG_5908[1]

-Miles

Nifty Idea ~ Iodine Spray for Navels

I just wanted to share this little tidbit of ingenuity with you. On and off we have tried to do navel dipping for our newborn lambs. It’s a fairly common procedure and basically uses a simple cup shaped container that fills with iodine and then has to be placed over the lambs navel (umbilical cord), the lamb has to be maneuvered upside down to soak the area with iodine. The goal is to protect the newborns from potential infection through their wet navel.

The reason we have never been overly consistent with navel dipping is that I find it somewhat difficult and messy to do. In the busyness of lambing it usually ends up slipping off the priority list. Recently though we thought up this idea and so far it seems to be working very well for us. What I did, was take an old spray bottle (this one is a relatively heavy duty type, but I’m pretty sure you could re-use any old cleaner bottle provided it is well rinsed out), and fill it with iodine. Now when I put in new lambs I can just pick them up and give them a few quick sprays on the navel and they’re done. I find the bottle handy because it can’t spill the way a navel dipper can, and the pull trigger works as a great way to hang it on a nearby panel or nail.

20130426-212614.jpg

20130426-212640.jpg

20130426-212650.jpg
Now, I have to admit I haven’t asked a vet if there would be any disadvantage to doing it this way. Honestly it seems more sanitary than dipping every lamb in the same cup. If you have any thoughts or suggestions please leave a comment below. If you give it a try on your lambs, let us know what you think. Hopefully someone else out there can enjoy this trick the way we have.

-Miles