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Lamb Rearing

The lamb should be chosen no earlier than 3 days after birth but preferably 5 days after birth, this allows the lamb to have its mother’s colostrum, which gives protection against diseases and is high in both vitamins and minerals.

On occasion lambs have been rejected by their mother, orphaned or are one of triplets, in which case one is removed from the mother as she is not able to adequately feed 3 of them. In these cases, the lamb may not have received colostrum. 

The healthy lamb should have a dry small navel, lively movements, and clear bright eyes. If a ram (male) is chosen, he should be whethered with a rubber ring from one week old otherwise he will possibly become aggressive as he reaches maturity. Ensure both testicles are down before releasing the ring.

Basic rearing requires:

  • 2 x 10 kg bags of milk powder
  • 2 x lamb teats
  • Collar and lead
  • Drench
  • Vaccine

All these products are available at your local North Canterbury Vets clinic.


Assume all lambs have not had colostrum. In the first 24 hours the lamb should receive 15% of its bodyweight in at least 3 feeds. This works out to around 600mls, for a 4kg lamb, spread over 3-4 feeds. Colostrum should be continued to be fed for the first 4-5 days before transitioning onto milk replacer. Cow colostrum or powdered colostrum formulas are both suitable options. From here the transition can be made to milk feeds. As lambs are susceptible to abomasal bloat, particularly if having bigger feeds less frequently, youghurtising the milk can be beneficial.

Good housing is key to prevent infections spreading through lamb flocks. Lambs should be kept in a warm dry environment with shelter and water. Ad lib feed should be offered from day one of age of straw/hay and/or meal to promote rumen development.

Weak or comatose lambs require immediate attention. Lambs need to be actively warmed, ideally under a heat lamp. Dry lambs first to prevent further heat loss. Dextrose can be given directly into the peritoneum (abdomen) to provide immediate energy.  Draw up 5ml/kg (20mls for a 4kg lamb) from a dextrose 40% bag. Dilute with equal parts of warm water. Hold the lamb up by its forearms and disinfect below the navel area with iodine. With a vaccinating (18g x3/8”) needle inject the dextrose/water mix 2cm below the navel and 1cm away from the midline. Angle the needle at 45 degrees towards the chest.  Stomach tube the lamb with colostrum if it will not suckle.

Lamb milk powders are specially formulated to meet the needs of your lamb. Lamb teats that can screw onto a coke or water bottle or complete lamb feeding bottles are available from North Canterbury Vets. Supplement the milk with lamb or multifeed pellet. Keep your lamb moving regularly so it has access to fresh grass.

Unfortunately, abomasal bloat kills up to 30% of bottle-fed lambs before weaning. If feeding big feeds 2-3x/day (as opposed to the natural 8x/day), then you are at an increased risk.

See below for more about abomasal bloat and a yoghurtising recipe.

Vaccination and Drenching

If your lamb has had adequate colostrum in the first 12hrs, from a mother that has had a vaccine within 1 month of lambing, it will have 3 months protection. It will then require a Clostridial vaccine at weaning (or 3 months), a booster shot 1 month later and once a year, thereafter.

If the mother is not vaccinated, the lamb will need a Clostridial vaccine at 2 week of age and a booster at 6 weeks. If your lamb is unvaccinated at the time of docking, it should also receive a Pulpy Kidney/Anti-tetanus shot.

The 6 in 1 vaccine prevents pulpy kidney disease, tetanus, black disease, malignant oedema and blackleg. If your lamb is at high risk of abomasal bloat we recommend Covexin 10 vaccine from 2 weeks old. 

Once nibbling at the grass, your pets will start to pick up parasites. Drench from six weeks of age and continue every four weeks. We can help you out with what is right for your animals.

Housing Requirements

A dry, draught-free house or kennel is required. Sudden changes in temperature when it is small can cause pneumonia and it will grow better if kept warm.

Contact North Canterbury Vets if you have any concerns about your lamb’s health. We are happy to give advice over the phone as to whether an animal requires treatment.

Abomasal bloat

  • Naturally fed lambs DO NOT GET abomasal bloat (they drink a few mls every hour)
  • The cause is bacteria in the stomach that eat lactose and produce gas
  • If feeding big feeds 2-3x/day (as opposed to the natural 8x/day), then you are at HIGH risk
  • Yoghurtising your milk reduces the risk of abomasal bloat in lambs.
  • Alternatively the risk can be reduced by using a whey-based milk powder as opposed to a casein-based powder. If you are seeing issues with abomasal bloat then changing milk powder may help.
  • Adding probiotic yoghurt at the time of feeding DOES NOT prevent abomasal bloat, and may even make the risk higher.

Your options are:

  1. Feed 10-15% of your lamb’s bodyweight (adjust weekly), divided into small feeds throughout the day (6+)
  2. If you cannot do this (most people are trying to work around school and work schedules), then we recommend yoghurtising.

WE RECOMMEND YOGHURTISING FROM 3 days old! (after colostrum)

Yoghurtising is where you add probiotic yoghurt and set the milk aside for 12-24hrs, so all the bacteria eat the lactose. You are giving your lamb a lactose-free diet.

• Add 1kg of Anlamb to 3 Litres of warm water, in a large (9 Litre) bucket. Mix well with a stick blender or eggbeater
• Add 200mL of plain, unsweetened acidophilus yoghurt (from the supermarket). Mix together, place a lid over the top, and sit in the hot water cupboard for 12- 24hrs. Otherwise a polystyrene box with hot water bottle does the trick. Note, if your lamb in recovering from bloat, keep it on electrolytes until the first batch is ready at 12 hours.
• At this stage the milk should look and smell like yoghurt. Remove 200mL to set aside in the fridge. This will be your starter for the next batch (otherwise you’ll have to buy more yoghurt).
• Fill the bucket of yoghurt up to the 8 litre mark, with cold water, and mix.
• The yoghurtised milk is now ready to feed at normal quantities. It will last for 5 days in a cool place. Remember to start your next batch 24 hrs before it is needed.

Parts of this are reproduced with permission thanks to Franklin Vets, Papakura


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North Canterbury Veterinary Clinics operates four clinics throughout the Hurunui region.