Steps for a successful lambing or kidding season

By Kim Lemmon, Ohio’s Country Journal

Goat and sheep lambing season is here and well underway for some producers. It is always important to review your last lambing/kidding season and its successes and failures as you prepare to raises lambs and kids during the current year. The following article offers some helpful tips for goat and sheep producers.

Take some time to read the tips below. Some of them may be review, but you never know when you will learn something new that could help your herd or flock.

6 steps for a successful lambing or kidding season

By Tom Earleywine, Ph.D., director of nutritional services for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Co.

The health, growth and early performance of a lamb or kid crop directly impact’s future performance in the milking parlor, pasture or showring. As a result, long-term successes can be driven by success during the lambing and kidding season.

Nutrition is essential in giving lambs and kids a solid start. High quality milk replacer can be a solution to success; however, success is not guaranteed on milk replacer alone. Here is a look at six steps to a successful total management program shared at the 2015 Dairy Sheep Association of North America Symposium.

Step 1: Set obtainable goals.

Before the first lamb hits the ground, analyze past performance of the flock, set tangible goals and determine a path for achieving these goals.

Consider a 200 percent lamb or kid crop as an attainable goal. Mature and well-conditioned ewes and does should be able to lamb at least two lambs or kids. Strive for less than 5 percent pre-weaning mortality. The industry target is less than 5 percent, but it’s estimated that 20 percent of lambs are lost before weaning, with 80 percent of those losses in the first 10 days.[1]

Step 2: Provide newborn care.

Within the first few minutes after a lamb or kid is born, they are exposed to bacteria and pathogens. Two ways to protect against these pathogens are: navel disinfection and quality colostrum.

Dip the newborn’s navel in 7 percent tincture iodine immediately after birth, ensure the disinfectant covers both the outside and inside of the navel.

Colostrum or the first milk in lactation is the primary protection newborns receive against environmental pathogens and bacteria. Lambs and kids should receive 10 percent of their body weight in colostrum by 18 hours of age, fed at 105 degrees F. For example, a 10 pound lamb should be fed 1 pound or 16 ounces of colostrum in the first 18 hours of its life.

Keep in mind that fluctuations in colostrum quality and quantity are probable; a colostrum replacement can be used to ensure all lambs and kids receive a high-quality, disease-free colostrum.

Step 3: Select a species-specific milk replacer.

After newborns are fed high-quality colostrum or colostrum replacer for the first feeding, they can be transitioned to a milk replacer.

Look for a milk replacer made specifically for lambs or kids. Many options of milk replacer may be available to you, but calves, lambs, kids, pigs, alpacas, puppies and kittens all have different nutrient requirements. Milk replacers formulated for lambs are better able to provide the nutrients lambs require because they closely mimic the composition of ewe’s milk. The same is true with kid-specific milk replacers for kid goats.

Step 4: Choose the right feeding system.Land O'Lakes_Lambs2

Bottle feeding, free-choice feeding or an automated system are the three primary means of feeding lambs and kids on milk replacer.

Select which system is the best fit by considering the facilities, size of operation, labor situation and performance objectives. Make sure the system provides enough nutrition so lambs and kids at least triple their birth weight by 28 days of age. Clean and disinfect the system as often as possible.

Step 5: Stimulate rumen development.

The rumen is the main site for nutrient breakdown and absorption in mature ruminants and in other species has been highly correlated to health and performance of the animal.

When a lamb or kid is born, the rumen is not fully developed and neither are the papillae inside the rumen. Growth of the rumen papillae and rumen development can be correlated with what the lamb or kid eats pre-weaning.

If the rumen is not developed appropriately, weaning can be delayed or unsuccessful. Water is a critical ingredient in the development of bacterial growth and the beginning of rumen fermentation. Always provide free choice water.

Step 6: Promote a smooth weaning transition.

Lambs and kids are ready for weaning when they consume an equivalent of 1.5 percent of their body weight in high-quality creep feed along with adequate water. Usually this will occur near 30 days of age or 35 pounds of weight. At weaning time, each lamb should have consumed at least 25 pounds of lamb milk replacer powder.

Follow these steps to weaning:

  1. Plan weaning protocol, timing and facilities 14 to 21 days prior to weaning.
  2. Ensure animals are consuming creep feed and utilizing water.
  3. Gradually remove milk replacer or remove ewe.
  4. Feed a high protein ration (18 to 25 percent crude protein).

Following these six steps provides a total management system for successfully raising lambs or kids, especially when on milk replacer. Setting goals, providing a high-quality colostrum and milk replacer, comfortable housing, and ready access to high quality feed and water will help lambs and kids thrive.

For more information on lamb and kid nutrition, contact Tom Earleywine, Ph.D., at (800) 618-6455 or, visit or like We Care for Lambs or We Care for Kids on Facebook. 

[1]S. Schoenian, University of Maryland, Care of Newborn Lambs, July 24, 2014

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  1. This is the 2nd article I have seen about raising lambs on milk replacer. First of all that ewe should raise that lamb/s. One of your selection criteria should be milk production, good udders, teat size, etc. along with your other selection criteria. The cost of milk replacer is so cost prohibitive for a positive bottom line. If you feed your lambs on milk replacer I guarantee you will be in the red. After all you have kept that ewe for a year surely she should work for a couple of months. More articles like this and it is no wonder we have very few people getting into sheep production!

    • Thanks for your response. I didn’t write the “steps” but I didn’t at all take the article as suggesting that all lambs/kids should be put on milk replacer. It said they “can” be put on milk replacer. In my years of raising goats, there have been a few times that milk replacer was necessary. I think the point was that if you do need to use milk replacer you should use a species specific replacer. This was the point I was aiming for when I posted the article because I have known many new and inexperienced goat breeders in the past that have had an orphan or runt that needed extra help that didn’t realize a species specific milk replacer was very important. Thanks for reading!

  2. I think the milk replacer is very important for lambs and should content 60% skimmed milk and you can get good results on this with minimal risk.

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