Rearing a lamb or kid for school

lambsbottleThe day you are offered an orphan lamb or kid to rear for school pet day - you have to be very hard hearted.  You must ask the question - "has it had colostrum from it's mother, or from any other source which would be an adequate substitute"?  This first milk from the mother protects the young animal against the many infections it will meet in its early life.

If you cannot get a satisfactory answer to the question, then don't have it, as you'll have problems rearing it, and it will stand a high chance of being unthrifty or of dying.  It will certainly never win a prize!

So select a good lamb or kid, and make sure you know what breed or crossbred it is as the judge will ask you at the show.  You can buy a range of proprietary powdered milks for rearing orphans these days but follow the instructions carefully.

My experience is that some of them are too rich and you can easily scour a young lamb or kid.  I have always diluted them with plenty of water if there is any sign of problems.  Generations of pet lambs have been reared on cow's milk diluted with water, and if you run into trouble try this until the lamb or kid stops scouring.

If you get a very weak animal to start with, it may need glucose and water for a while until you see if it is going to survive.  Don't feed it a full milk diet until it is stronger and standing and running around.  Always remember to change diets very slowly to allow the digestive system to adjust.  Keep all feeding equipment clean and sterilised.

Bottle feeding is the key to bonding you with your pet.  Call it by name before feeding, and let it chase you before offering it the teat.  Make sure YOU do all this and that you teach it to lead.  Use the bottle as way to teach the lamb or kid to follow you.  Remember it is building up an association of your voice with food - so calling it at feed time is vital to bonding - and winning prizes!

Again be firm but gentle with the lead.  You will notice very soon that kids and lambs are very different species.  Kids want to climb on things much more than lambs - so encourage them as it helps the bonding.  Make them things to climb on to keep them amused and it is good training for the obstacle course which is part of many competitions for goats.

Remember also that both lambs and kids at about three weeks of age start to nibble at grass - and at garden shrubs and plants.  They can be very unpopular in the garden as their appetites grow!

It's a good idea to introduce some pellets after about 3-4 weeks to help the young animal grow.  Ask at your veterinary centre for the best formula.  They are also useful to keep in your pocket for extra persuasion on show day!

Make sure these young animals get all their injections - check at your vet centre.  There may be things like scabby mouth, pulpy kidney and worms to check on.  You will have to get any necessary docking and castration done too.  Get this out of the way as soon as possible - contact your veterinary centre or a farmer for advice.

Grooming is important.  Kids with short hair are very much easier to groom than woolly lambs.  If you use a shampoo check with your veterinary centre that it is suitable and don't overdo it.  Judges like to see wool that looks like wool and not washed out fluff!

Make sure there is no dirty wool or hair around the back end of the animal.  If there is any sign of scouring, then seek help immediately to find the problem.  It may be a nutritional scour because of too high a water intake - so that's the first thing you do, cut down the amount of liquid being fed.

You can never do enough training.  Set up a ring at home and have a test run regularly with a stranger in a white coat handling the animal.  For kids set up an obstacle course that they will be expected to complete in competition.  As you walk around the course learn to stay on the inside of the obstacles.  Keep close to your pet but let it do the activity unassisted.  Take your time in training - learn one thing at a time.  Reward it after a success with some feed pellets.

On the day be neat and tidy and all your equipment in good order.  Shampoo the lamb a couple of days before the show so the wool settles down well.  Polish up the hooves and check ears, noses and eyes.  The night before the show is critical - that's when disasters often strike with animals getting out or getting dirty!  Have a last minute check before you go to bed!  Double tie the gates or doors!

Pay attention to the judge on the day and do what is asked.  Here is where all that "bonding" and training in your spare time pays off.  Nobody else can win the prize for you.  All your hard work will be rewarded and you will have those ribbons for the rest of your life!

And think safety on the day.  There are a lot of people about, cars and trailers.  I heard of a disaster once when someone drove away and didn't see there was a lamb tied to the trailer.  It was killed.  It's so easy to do.  Legs of animals can get broken if caught down cracks in trailer.

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