Lambs & Goat Kids

Lamb & Goat Kid Rearing Guide

Practical rearing of lambs and goat kidsBack to top

Young, orphaned lambs and kid goats can be reared easily and successfully using the Veanavite rearing system which has been refined to include all aspects of rearing including nutrition, health and management. The aim is to enhance rumen development and produce a lamb or kid goat at six weeks of age that is able to achieve high growth rates when placed on pasture. 

Golden rules for successful rearing of lambs and goat kids
  • Provide a clean, dry, well ventilated draught-free environment
  • Provide adequate colostrum within 12 hours of birth
  • Feed Veanavite® Guardian Lamb & Kid Milk Replacer and follow mixing and feeding instructions
  • Provide good quality roughage and clean water at all times
  • Wean lambs off milk when consuming 250-300g of a quality grain based ration
  • Maintain good preventative health management and respond quickly to any problems that occur
  • Thoroughly clean all feeding and mixing equipment after use

ColostrumBack to top
Colostrum is the first milk from the ewe containing high concentrations of antibodies (immunoglobins), protein, energy, minerals and other essential nutrients necessary for lamb survival, well-being and resistance to diseases in early life. Antibodies are complex proteins designed to combat infection.

The newborn lamb has little active immunity against disease and must absorb antibodies from the colostrum through the wall of the intestine to gain protection. The lamb's ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum is highest at birth and declines in the following 24 hours.

It is important to provide an orphan lamb with at least one 50mL feed of colostrum within 12 hours of birth. Preferably, provide three feeds of 100mL each of colostrum over 18 hours. A baby's bottle fitted with a small lamb's teat is ideal for feeding colostrum.

The importance of early rumen developmentBack to top
At birth, the omasum and abomasum (third and fourth stomachs) represent 70% of total stomach capacity in the lamb as shown in figure 1. However, in the mature animal, this position is reversed, as seen in figure 2, with the rumen and reticulum (first and second stomachs) accounting for 70% of stomach capacity (Greenwood 2005). This reflects the natural development of the rumen as a result of the gradual change from a predominantly milk diet in the young lamb to a solid diet in the mature animal.
Figure 1. The stomach system of a lamb showing the undeveloped rumen (Greenwood 2005, p. 7).

Figure 2. The stomach system of an adult sheep, where the rumen and reticulum make up 70% (Greenwood 2005, p. 7).

A developed and functional rumen can only be developed by a number of physical and chemical processes. A developed and functional rumen will have muscular tone, a population of appropriate bacteria, nutrient absorptive capacity and enough size to process adequate volumes of feed. The speed of rumen development is not controlled by the lamb's age or weight but by the diet fed to the animal and the physical and chemical processes associated with its digestion. The process of rumen digestion converts feedstuffs into compounds that can be readily utilised and ultimately provide the energy and protein required by the animal. These compounds are absorbed directly from the rumen or are absorbed further down the digestive tract and are essential for the maintenance, growth and development of the lamb.

Therefore, nutrition and general health of the lamb will determine the rate of rumen development. There is a significant difference in the time taken to develop a functional rumen in a lamb reared on a ewe or fed a diet with unrestricted milk in comparison to a lamb reared in an early weaning system, which includes pellets and roughage and is designed to promote optimal rumen development.

Shelter and paddocksBack to top
A clean, dry, well ventilated draught free environment that is sheltered from the wind and rain is essential for raising healthy lambs.

Orphaned lambs are often cold and may be in critical condition because of excessive heat loss and an inability to maintain body temperature. These lambs will need to be warmed up to assist in survival by providing additional heat such as piglet heaters or infrared heating lamps within the shelter. Supplementary heat should be maintained for the first week after birth and especially if the outside temperature is low.

Provide clean and soft bedding that is low in dust such as barley straw, with bedding freshened up daily.

For lambs housed together, allow at least 0.6 square metres of solid floor or 0.2 square metres of open floor per lamb. Lambs should be grouped according to size and weight. Keep group sizes small to avoid smothering and overcrowding which increases the risk of infection and spread of disease.

Milk feeding lambs and goat kidsBack to top
Understanding the process of milk digestion in the lamb has enabled the development of feeding programs and products to reduce scours. When a lamb drinks milk, the milk bypasses the first three stomachs to enter the fourth stomach or abomasum. Rennet causes the milk casein to clot within the acidic environment of the abomasum which is unfavorable to harmful bacteria. The casein in Veanavite® Guardian Lamb & Kid Milk Replacer clots readily to assist this process.

The acid condition of the upper intestine further prevents harmful bacteria from invading the small intestine and causing infections. Under ideal conditions, the digested material passes slowly through the small intestine where the majority of digestion and absorption takes place. Milk replacers specifically formulated to closely resemble the nutrient composition of ewe's milk can be used to successfully raise orphan lambs and goat kids.

Veanavite® Guardian Lamb & Kid Milk Replacer is a specialised milk suitable for weak or orphan lambs. Formulated to closely resemble the nutrient composition of ewe's milk, Veanavite® Guardian Lamb & Kid Milk Replacer has a lower lactose level than Calf Milk Replacers and is high in protein and fat for optimal nutrition, health and growth of lambs and kids.

Lambs and kids can be introduced to Veanavite® Guardian Lamb & Kid Milk Replacer following adequate intake of colostrum (see section on colostrum). For detailed mixing and feeding instructions for Veanavite® Guardian Lamb & Kid Milk Replacer, see opposite or follow the directions on the bag.

Bottle feeding
Back to top
A baby's bottle fitted with a small lamb's teat is good for feeding a small number of lambs. It is also ideal for feeding a small amount of milk so the lamb does not overfeed.

A glass 'stubby' bottle fitted with a push on lamb's teat is also a good option.

Self-feedersBack to top
Self-feeders are ideal for feeding a group of lambs. They are also less labour intensive. Lambs can be taught to drink from a self-feeder by pushing the neck down so the head is pointing up and placing the teat into the lamb's mouth. Repeat this process until the lamb starts to feed without any encouragement. Ideally use a self-feeder that has separate compartments for milk.

RoughageBack to top
Roughages such as hay, chaff, straw or silage provide a source of effective fibre. Effective fibre is required by ruminants to stimulate the growth and development of the rumen during the pre-weaning phase, and once weaned, to stimulate rumen movement, mastication (chud chewing) and saliva production which contains bicarbonate, the lamb's natural buffer, to maintain the rumen environment and pH. Fibre also forms a 'rumen mat' which traps and slows the rate of passage of incoming feed, while improving the digestion of available nutrients (Duddy 2005).

Insufficient fibre may lead to reduced rumen motility and acidosis. Acidosis kills off rumen microbes and damages the rumen wall which results in decreased feed intake, digestibility and growth rate. A source of roughage is essential if high grain or pellet rations are used and the risk of acidosis is significant. This will ensure efficient digestion and normal rumen function.

Lambs and kids can be offered good quality roughage from one week of age. High quality roughage such as hay is preferred. When both pellets and roughage are fed unrestricted, a healthy lamb, free of digestive problems, will naturally balance the intake of both to maintain the pH in the rumen.

WaterBack to top
Clean fresh water is essential for life and rumen development. The rumen is a large fermentation vessel and will cease to function without an adequate supply of clean water. It is important to provide unrestricted access to cool, clean, fresh drinking water. Poor water quality including contamination by feed, dust and faeces, leads to a reduced consumption by lambs. Reduced water intake leads to a reduced feed intake; resulting in poor lamb growth rates (Bell et al 2003).

Water troughs should be cleaned daily and are best placed at the opposite end of the yard to hay racks and feeders and raised off the ground to minimise contamination.

WeaningBack to top
Weaning can occur once lambs are regularly consuming 250 grams to 300 grams of pellets per day and have reached at least three times their birth weight. Weaning can be abrupt, or it can be gradual by restricting the amount of milk fed and the number of feeds per day until the lamb is completely weaned on to pellets, roughage and pasture.

Following weaning, continue to provide unrestricted pellets, roughage and water and carefully monitor the lambs for any nutritional, health or growth setbacks.

Scour prevention and treatmentBack to top
Scours is the general term used to describe a variety of conditions in lambs characterised by a major loss of water and nutrients in the faeces. Lambs suffering from diarrhoea can become dehydrated and depressed within hours therefore appropriate treatment is vital and it may be necessary to seek veterinary advice. Scours is a common ailment and is often caused by environmental stresses such as transportation, poor hygiene, feeding changes or feeding poor quality products. These stresses can lead to outbreaks of infectious scours caused by agents such as bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella), viruses (Rotavirus) or protozoa (Coccidia). Adequate colostrum intake gives lambs a first line of defence against scours.

Non-infectious or nutritional scours are due to digestive imbalances which disrupt the natural processes of digestion. Digestive imbalances cause physical discomfort and upset the osmotic balance of the lamb. In addition, the pH of the intestines may change from optimal conditions, further increasing the risk of bacterial infections.

Drenching and vaccinationBack to top
Internal parasite control
Lambs and weaners are the sheep most susceptible to worms as their immune systems are not yet fully developed, while the stress of weaning also increases the susceptibility to internal parasites. Good nutrition is a vital component of good nonchemical worm management and plays an important role in developing immunity and resilience to worms (Australian Sheep Industry CRC & Australian Wool Innovation 2008).

All lambs should be vaccinated against the major clostridial diseases: enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney disease), tetanus, black disease, malignant oedema (blackleg-like disease), blackleg and swelled head in rams. It is important that two doses are given to lambs: the first vaccination at lamb marking or six weeks of age and the second vaccination four to six weeks later.

All adult sheep should be given an annual booster. Vaccinate pregnant ewes around four weeks before lambing to ensure passive immunity is passed onto the new born lamb via colostrum.

Goats will require regular revaccination at six monthly intervals to maintain effective immunity against entertoxaemia.

HygieneBack to top
It is very important that all feeding and mixing equipment is thoroughly cleaned after each feeding to remove milk residues and prevent gastric upsets, bowel infection and diarrhoea.
  • Bottles and teats should be washed in clean, cold water and then rinsed with boiled water and allowed to drain.
  • Buckets and self-feeders should be washed daily in a warm detergent solution and then rinsed with boiled water.
When group rearing, maintain a clean lamb rearing environment by regularly removing dung from the shelter area and using a good quality disinfectant according to the manufacturer's instructions. The disinfectant should be effective against the many viruses and bacteria harmful to lambs.

All feed including pellets and roughage should be placed in suitable feeders that do not allow contamination by lambs.