What else is there to eat?
A healthy start
For the first several weeks of its life, all a lamb needs for
nourishment is its mother's milk. The first milk that a ewe produces
after lambing is called colostrum. It is very nutritious and contains
antibodies that help lambs fight off diseases during the early
part of their lives. The ewe only produces colostrum for 24 hours. It is essential that lambs consume adequate colostrum. An amount equivalent to 10 percent of their body weight is recommended.
Lambs will start to nibble on solid food (hay, grass, and grain)
soon after birth. By the time they are 4 to 6 weeks old, they
may be obtaining as much as 50 percent of their nutrients from
sources other than their mother's milk.
Lambs whose mothers die, reject them, or don't have enough milk
must be artificially reared. Small numbers
of orphan lambs (also called "bummer" or "poddy" lambs) are usually hand-fed with a bottle that has been
fitted with a nipple for nursing. Larger groups of lambs are usually
fed using a bucket feed or automatic feeder.
Orphan lambs are usually fed reconstituted ewe's milk because
it is more nutritious than goat or cow milk. Ewe's milk is richer
in protein, fat, solids, and minerals. After the first few days,
it is better to feed milk cold as this will help to prevent the
lambs from overeating. Orphan lambs can be successfully weaned
at 6 weeks of age if they are consuming dry feed and drinking
water. They should weigh at least 25 to 30 pounds before being weaned.
Young lambs, 1 to 2 weeks old, are often started on creep feed.
Creep feeding is when supplemental feed (usually grain) is offered
to nursing lambs. Creep grazing is a similar concept whereby lambs
are given access to cleaner, more nutritious pasture. A barrier must be set up that will allow lambs to enter the creep area, but not the ewes.
Creep feed must be palatable and highly-digestible. Lambs are not born with a functioning rumen. They are not able to digest whole grains. They require grains that are easy to digest. Cracked corn and soybean meal usually form the basis of most lamb creep rations. The ingredients are balanced to provide a high protein (18-20 percent) diet. Lambs do not eat a lot of creep feed in the beginning, but it gets them in the habit of eating.
Creep feeding helps to develop the young lamb's rumen. It is especially
advantageous for orphan lambs, lambs from large litters (2 or more) and/or whose dams
may have a limited milk supply. It is generally more efficient
to feed the lamb grain that to feed the ewe more grain. Creep feeding greatly reduces the stress experienced by early-weaned lambs. Creep-fed lambs usually grow faster than lambs that do not receive creep feed.
Lambs are usually finished or "fattened" on pasture or with grain
while in confinement (or semi-confinement). Often, they are supplemented
with grain while they are grazing pasture. It is getting more
popular to finish lambs on pasture. The meat from lambs that are
raised on pasture is usually leaner and more healthful than the
meat from lambs that are just fed grain.
The meat from lambs fed mostly grain tends to have a milder flavor
than grass-fed lamb. The type of plants that the lambs eat can
also affect the flavor of the meat. Lambs fed grain tend to grow
faster than lambs grazed on pasture. They usually produce better quality carcasses. The profitability of pasture rearing vs. dry lot feeding will vary by farm and year and is highlly influenced by feed costs and market prices.
Although sheep are sometimes fed by-product feeds such as soybean hulls,
peanut hulls, or distiller's grains, they are not fed ruminant
meat-and-bone meal. In fact, it is against the law in the U.S.
to fed ruminant meat-and-bone meal to any other ruminant. Lambs
are not usually fed poultry waste products due to copper toxicity
issues. Almost all lambs consume all-vegetarian diets with all natural
As with people, water is the most important "nutrient" that sheep need.
How much they consume depends upon their age, size, and production
status (and level), as well as temperature of the water and the
amount of moisture in their feed. Sheep consuming wet grass or
wet feeds (e.g. silage) won't drink a lot of water because they
are getting plenty of water from their feed. Conversely, they will drink more
water if they are eating dry hay or dry, mature grass. Sheep don't
like to drink dirty water.