Lessons Learned From Bottle-Feeding A Lamb

Bottle-feeding a lamb should never be your first option, but it's important to know how to feed a rejected or orphaned lamb in case it becomes necessary.

by Jana Wilson
PHOTO: Steven/Adobe Stock

Dateline: My barn, lambing season, one week before lambing is supposed to begin. I opened the door to the barn; there stood two ewes who had given birth and four healthy lambs. Two sets of twins?  A single lamb to one ewe and a set of triplets to the other?  I couldn’t tell right away. 

I separated the ewes and lambs into a larger stall until I could watch and see who belonged to whom. I checked that there was milk coming from both ewes and stood back to ensure everyone was nursing.   

That was when I noticed there was a problem. 

One set of lambs—a ram and a ewe—began nursing vigorously.  Another ewe lamb began nursing on the other ewe. But the fourth ewe lamb didn’t seem to belong to anyone. Both ewes shoved her away when she tried to nurse. 

Since I didn’t know which one was her mother, I decided she would have to be bottle-fed.

Also Read: How to Bottle Feed a Baby Goat?

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Why Bottle-Feed a  Lamb?

Really, if you can, it’s best to avoid bottle-feeding a lamb.  But, sometimes you just have to. So, how do you go about it? 

According to the University of Maryland Extension, newborns need to consume approximately 10 percent of their body weight of colostrum in the first 24 hours, and the sooner the better. Colostrum is nutrient dense and contains antibodies that will protect the babies in the first few weeks of life.  

bottle-feeding lamb
Jana Wilson

You have a couple of options here. First, you can milk some colostrum directly from the mother that has rejected her lamb and feed that to the baby. You also can purchase a powdered colostrum replacer that contains  IgGs.

Follow the instructions very carefully when mixing it up to feed the lamb. 

Also Read: Bottle-Feeding a Goat Kid? Check Out These Tips.

Bottle-Feeding a Lamb

Some lambs will take a bottle right away, while others may not want or be able to suckle on the nipple of the bottle.  In that case, you will have to tube feed your lamb to make sure she gets that vital colostrum. I have not yet had to do that, but I review a video from the Purdue University Extension about tube feeding each year just in case. 

After the first 24 hours of feeding your lamb colostrum (about 8 oz per feeding over two to three feedings), you can switch over to milk. Of course the best milk is the ewe’s milk.  Some far-sighted folks even express ewe’s milk and freeze it for emergencies. 

Otherwise, you can use a powdered lamb milk replacer, which I have used with great success.

a baby lamb is drinking from a bottle
bottle-feeding lamb

One recommendation that I have read in several articles is to have the same person mix up the lamb milk replacer each time, so it is consistent for the lamb.  Each person may interpret  the directions slightly differently, and consistency is very important. 

Watch Video: Bottle Feeding a Goat Kid

How and where to feed your bottle lamb are questions that you will need to consider. The most common way I have seen is to use a Pritchard teat attached to a plastic soda bottle. The nipple is usually a distinctive red with a yellow cap at the bottom. They come closed, and you can open the top as little or as much as you want.   

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a really great PDF covering most aspects of lamb bottle feeding. It’s for 4-H kids, but  I personally feel that this is the perfect level for someone like me, who has not raised sheep for 30 years! 

With my unexpected bottle lamb from last year, I was able to leave her with the rest of the flock and simply come out a few times a day to feed her. Of course I kept an eye on her to make sure she was safe with the small group. But she seemed perfectly happy to hang out with the other lambs and occasionally get a push away from one of the ewes when she tried to nurse. 

However, she also was occasionally successful at feeding when a ewe was too preoccupied with her own lamb nursing or eating grain and hay. 

That lamb is now a 1-year-old ewe and is in great health. I am happy with my effort, bottle-feeding my lamb to keep her with the flock. 

I hope everyone has a great lambing season, whether you are done, in the middle of it, or are waiting for that first ewe to lamb!

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