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Newborn lamb
Newborn lamb

Their first meal

Getting colostrum

 For dipping navels
For dipping navels

Two out of three
Baby lambs

Lambing jug

Lambing jug

Little Dumpling
Young lamb

Small lamb
Small lamb

 Lamb pajames
Lamb "jacket"

Quad orphan
Orphan lamb (born a quad)

Tubing a lamb
Tubing a lamb


Care of newborn lambs

Nearly 20 percent of lambs die before weaning. Eighty percent of those losses occur during the first 10 days. Good baby lamb care can significantly increase the number of lambs raised by ewes in the flock. A realistic goal would be to limit lamb mortality to 4 to 5 percent.

Lambing jugs (pens)

After the ewe has completed delivery, she and her lamb(s) can be moved to a lambing jug (individual pen). Lambing jugs help with bonding and prevent mismothering. Soon after delivery, the ewe's udder should be checked for milk supply and potential problems, such as mastitis.

You can strip the teats to remove the wax plugs, though lambs can do this for themselves. Lambs should be monitored closely to make sure they nurse. Lambs that have nursed will have a full stomach upon palpation. Lambs that have not nursed should be assisted. Small, weak, and mismothered lambs may require assistance.

The size of the lambing jug can be varied by the size of the ewe. 5 x 5 ft. is common. Larger jugs may be required for bigger sheep and mulitple births. Smaller jugs increase the probability that a ewe will lay on her lamb(s). Lambing jugs should be clean, dry, and well-bedded. If feasible, jugs should be cleaned between ewes. Having one lambing jug per 7 to 10 ewes in the flock is usually adequate. More may be needed is lambing is closely spaced.

Feed troughs and water buckets should be suspended out of reach of lambs. Heat lamps should be used with extreme caution. They should be used sparingly, hung in the corner of the pen at least 3 feet above the bedding. Lamb coats or jackets are a safe alternatives to heat lamps.

Lambing cubicles (4 ft. x 6 ft.) placed around the walls of the lambing area have been used successfully as a place for ewes to lamb. They were originally tried to prevent mismothering. Research also looked at cubicles as a way to reduce labor needs during lambing.

When lambing occurs on pasture, ewes and lambs are not typically jugged unless there is a problem. Sometimes, first-time lambers are placed in jugs; while mature ewes lamb on pasture or range. Less labor is required with pasture lambing, but there is usually a trade-off with higher mortality, due to mismothering, predator, or weather losses.

Disinfecting navels
The navel of a newborn lamb is a possible route for infectious agents. Navel cords more than 2 inches long should be clipped closer to the body. To avoid infections, navel stumps should be disinfected soon after birth. The navel area can be sprayed or dipped with an antiseptic solution such as Gentle Iodine (1% iodine), Betadine®, or Chlorhexidine (Nolvasan®).


Colostrum is the "first milk" that a ewe produces after lambing. Colostrum contains a high level of several nutrients that are important for lamb health and performance. Colostrum also contains a high level of antibodies against a variety of infectious agents. At birth, the lamb does not have its own antibodies because antibodies in the ewe's bloodstream do not cross the placenta.

It is critical that lambs receive enough colostrum during their first 18 to 24 hours of life in order to ensure adequate absorption of colostral antibodies. Antibodies are large protein molecules that cross the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream of the lamb only during the first 18 to 24 hours of life. Absorption of these antibodies is most efficient during the first few hours after birth.

It is recommended that lambs receive approcimatley 10 percent of their body weight in colostrum by 24 hours after birth. This means that a 10 lb. lamb should consume 1 lb. (16 ounces) of colostrum by 24 hours of age. Ideally, they should consume half of this within 4 to 8 hours of birth. A 60 cc syringe holds 2 ounces of colostrum.

All lambs need colostrum. While it is possible for lambs to survive without colostrum in a relatively disease-free environment, the likelihood of disease and death is much higher in lambs that do not receive colostrum. The ideal colostrum source for supplemental feeding of lambs is from healthy ewes in one's own flock.

Ewes vary in the quantity and quality of colostrum they produce. Young ewes generally produce less colostrum because they also produce less milk. At lambing, ewes can be checked (teats stripped) for the quality and quantity of colostrum.

Older ewes have had greater exposure to infectious agents and usually have a higher concentration of antibodies in their colostrum. Colostrum from dairy cows or goats may be used if ewe's colostrum is not available. The colostrum from the colored breeds (e.g. Jersey) is more desirable. Only milk from Johne's-free herds should be used. Because cow and goat milk is lower in fat, more of it needs to be fed.

Producers who are attempting to develop an Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP)-free flock need to be concerned about the source of colostrum, since OPP can be transmitted from infected ewes to lambs via the colostrum. Cross transmission between goats (CAE) and sheep (OPP) is also possible.

There are various colostrum products on the market for lambs. A colostrum substitute is one which contains immunoglobulins (igG). Land O'Lakes markets a colostrum subtitute for lambs. Most other products are colostrum supplements. These products are very nutritious, but do not contain any antibodies. Regardless, be sure to use a product that has been formulated specifically for lambs.

Read Colostrum: Liquid Gold ==>

Complications with newborn lambs

The major killers of newborn lambs are starvation, hypothermia, scours, and pneumonia. A study at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (in Dubois, Idaho) showed that 46 percent of lamb mortality is caused by scours (diarrhea), 20 percent by starvation, and 8 percent by pneumonia. Lambs that experience difficult and prolonged birthing episodes are more susceptible to health problems, as are those that do not consume adequate colostrum.


Hypothermia (chilling) is defined as low body temperature. To maintain its body temperature, a newborn lamb must produce as much heat as it is losing to the environment. If it cannot do this, its body temperature will start to fall. A smaller lamb will chill faster than a larger lamb. Lambs with thicker coats will lose less heat. For this reason, hair sheep lambs are generally more cold tolerent.

The quicker a ewe licks off the lamb, the less vulnerable it will be to chilling. Lambs born in drafty pens or outside with no shelter from the wind will lose body heat quicker. Lambs born in colder temperatures obviously lose body heat more quickly than those born during moderate weather.

Lambs with hypothermia appear weak, gaunt, and hunched up. In severe cases, the lamb may be unable to hold its head up. The ears and mouth may feel cold. The lamb may lack suckling response. The normal body temperature for lambs is 102-103°F. Lambs with temperatures below 100°F are considered hypothermic. A rectal thermometer can be used to assess body temperature.

It is important to get colostrum in newborn hypothermic lambs to elevate the body temperature. Tube feeding is an effective means of doing this. It may also be necessary to move the lamb to a warmer environment to elevate the body temperature. In fact, if the lamb's temperature is 99 degrees F or less, it should be warmed first.

There are several ways to warm a lamb. If the lamb is wet, dry it off and wrap it in a towel. A hair dryer can be used to warm a lamb. The lamb can be put into a warming box. Heat lamps do not provide enough heat for hypothermic lambs. They are also a fire hazard.

In newborn lambs, hypothermia usually results from exposure. In lambs over 24 hours of age, hypothermia is usually a result of starvation. Older lambs should be handled in a similar manner, except they do not need colostrum. Milk replacer can be fed with a bottle or tube feeder. More milk should be fed at one time.



Lamb starvation is the number one killer of baby lambs. There are many causes: inadequate intake of colostrum, rejection by dam, mastitis, teats which are too large or close to the ground, inadequate milk production, joint injury or illness, soremouth, and/or a difficult birth. Starvation typically occurs during the first three days of life.

A lamb will be found standing with its head down, ears drooping back, or it may become too weak to stand. Hungry lambs frequently bleat. The stomach would be empty upon palpation. Shivering, shaking and hypothermia may follow but this hypothermic lamb is typically over 12 hours of age. The obvious treatment for starvation is nutrition. Some lambs can be fed with a bottle; others will require tubing.

Scours (diarrhea)
Baby lamb scours can be due to one of several bacteria: e. coli, salmonella, or clostridium perfringins type C. Adequate intake of colostrum is the best protection against scours. Strict sanitation is also important. Sloppy lambing conditions predispose lambs to many potential health problems.

Bacterial scours can be treated with antibiotics and fluid therapy. Spectinomycin oral pig pump is a preferred treatment for baby lamb scours. Its extra-label use requires veterinary approval. There are vaccines for e. coli scours ("watery mouth") and clostridium perfringins type C.


Baby lamb pneumonia is caused primarily by the bacterium Pasteurella hemolytica, sometimes mycoplasma. It is characterized by fever, increased respiratory rate, failure to nurse, and death in untreated cases. Lambs appear gaunt and lethargic. Lambs that do not consume adequate colostrum are particularly at risk for developing pneumonia.

Ventilation problems are commonly associated with outbreaks of pneumonia. Drafts and dampness contribute. Pneumonia is much more common with housed sheep than those raised on pasture. Tighly closed barns often lack adequate ventilaton. Pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics: penicillin, tetracyclines, and others. Fluid therapy can hasten recovery.

Unfortunately, vaccination of pregnant ewes with parainfluenza (PI3) has not been shown to reduce pneumonia levels in newborn lambs.

Some breeds seem to be more susceptible to respiratory problems (e.g. East Friesian).

Care of newborn lambs


Late updated 19-Apr-2021 by Susan Schoenian.
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