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hand rearing lambs, kids and calvessee also Scours in Hand-Reared Animals

  • It is very tempting for lifestylers to adopt an orphan lamb or goat kid, or to buy a very young calf to hand rear. They’re often available cheap, and they are always cute and fun for the children.
  • But they are very vulnerable little animals. They require frequent feeds (at least four or five times a day) of good quality colostrum for the first few days of life, then good quality milk.
  • Because they are susceptible to cold, they need effective shelter with protection from cold wet conditions.
  • And that means a lot of work with no days off until they are at least 6 weeks old, when they can be gradually weaned off milk.
Colostrum is very important
  • Orphan lambs and kids and calves need colostrum in the first few days of life.
  • If they don’t get colostrum they will be very susceptible to infections. Proud young owners will be very upset when their pet gets sick and dies.
  • It’s important to give sufficient colostrum. For example a 3 kg lamb needs 600 daily divided into small feeds of 150 ml, and a 5 kg lamb needs 1500 ml daily in 250 ml feeds. Calves need a litre of colostrum in the first 6 hours, and the equivalent of about 10% of their body weight of colostrum in the first 12-24 hours (ie 4 litres for a 40 kg calf).
  • Colostrum can have protective effects when fed for the first week or so of life, and the earlier it is fed the better. Ideally it should be fed within 6 hours of birth, but failing that within the first 24 hours.
  • Colostrum can be milked from ewes or cows or does that have given birth within the last 24 hours.
  • It can be stored in the deep freeze for up to a year, and if refrigerated it should be used within 24 hours.
  • It should be bottle-fed at blood temperature.
  • Colostrum is best used for young of the same species, but it can be shared between species, eg goat colostrum can be fed to lambs.
Feed good quality milk
  • After at least four days of colostrum feeding, milk substitutes can be fed.
  • Good quality commercial powdered milk formulations are best. Species-specific powdered milk is available from most rural retail outlets.
  • Cows’ milk can be very slightly and sweetened to provide an interim substitute for powdered sheep milk.
  • Feeds must be small and frequent and warmed to body temperature when the lamb is very young or very small.
  • Giving very young or very small animals large feeds of cold milk can cause digestive problems that result in diarrhoea.
  • Follow the instructions on the bags of powdered milk to be sure you are giving the correct quantity at appropriate intervals.
  • Small lambs need about 150 ml in each of six feeds daily, bigger lambs need about 250 ml in each of four feeds daily at first, increasing in volume and decreasing in frequency to about 500 ml twice a day from about three to four weeks of age.
  • Fresh drinking water must be available at all times.
Cleanliness is next to godliness
  • It’s important to keep all bottles and teats scrupulously clean to prevent infections that can cause diarrhoea.
  • Dilute bleach can be used as a disinfectant, but the utensils must be rinsed well between feeds.
Offer hay and pasture early
  • Offer the young animal good quality pasture and good quality hay or barley straw from about a week of age so that its digestive system develops normally.
  • Calves can be offered starter pellets from about a week of age.
  • Take care though when pet lambs or kids or calves have access to the garden. Many have died accidentally as the result of browsing poisonous plants such as rhododendrons.
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