Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist, University of Maryland Small Ruminant Extension Program
(Previously published on the Maryland Small Ruminant Page)
One of the outcomes of having a high lambing/kidding percentage (greater than 200%) is that you may end up with some lambs/kids that you have to raise artificially. While some ewes/does will be able to raise triplets (even quads), sometimes it may be necessary (or wise) to remove lambs/kids from large litters in order to obtain more satisfactory weight gains.
There are different opinions as to which offspring should be removed for artificial rearing. Traditionally, it was recommended that the bigger, stronger lambs/kids be removed for artificial rearing; however, experience has shown that these lambs do better on their dams, and the smaller weaker lambs do better if they are artificially reared .
Of course, before initiating artificial feeding, you should first try to cross-foster the “extra” lambs/kids onto another ewe/doe that has sufficient milk to raise another offspring. The best way to graft newly born lambs/kids is to rub the fetal membranes and fluids from the foster ewe’s lamb(s) onto the lamb (or kid) you wish to graft. You can also skin a dead lamb and place the skin on the lamb you wish to graft.
For older lambs/kids, you can try putting the foster ewe/doe into a head stanchion for several days. In a head stanchion, the ewe/doe will be able to stand, lie down, and eat and drink, but she will not be able to push the lambs/kids away and prevent nursing. You can also hold the ewe or doe until she allows the lambs/kids to nurse. Unfortunately, grafting is not always successful.
As with any baby, it is important that newborn lambs/kids consume adequate amounts of colostrum during their first 24 hours of life. Research has indicated that a newborn lamb should receive 3 ounces of colostrum per pound of body weight, divided into several feedings . It may be necessary to tube feed  some newborn lambs/kids. If colostrum is not available from the dam or another ewe/doe on the farm, cow or goat colostrum can be used. When cow colostrum is used, 30% more should be fed to lambs, due to differences in nutritional content. You need to pay close attention to the source of colostrum, as CAE, OPP, and Johne’s disease can be transmitted via infected colostrum.
Artificial colostrum can also be used. Land O’Lakes makes a colostrum substitute for lambs and kids that contains protective antibodies (IgG). Other colostrum products are intended to supplement natural colostrum; they do not contain any antibodies. While not the “real,” they are preferable to no colostrum.
Frozen colostrum should be thawed at room temperature or in a hot water bath. High heat or microwaves should not be used to thaw colostrum because they will destroy the antibodies in the milk. The best way to thaw colostrum is at room temperature .
After colostrum feeding, lambs should be feed milk replacer that has been formulated for lambs, due to the differences in milk composition. It is best to feed kids milk replacer that has been formulated for them. Lambs and kids may do all right on other milk replacers or milk, but will do best if they are a fed species-specific milk replacer.
Milk replacer powder should be reconstituted (mixed) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It should never be diluted. Because of the high fat content of lamb milk replacer, it should be mixed in warm water, then cooled and stored at 35 – 40° F. It is essential that milk be mixed properly. Lumps can contribute to abomasal bloat . The addition of yogurt to the milk may help to prevent bloat .
It is recommended that milk be fed cold, about 40°F (~4°C). With cold milk, there is less tendency for lambs/kids to overeat, thus helping to prevent bloat, diarrhea, and other digestive upsets. Feeding cold milk is essential if milk will be offered free choice. Small numbers of lambs/kids can be fed using individual bottles fitted with rubber teats. A nipple bucket can also be used to feed a few lambs or kids.
For the first few days of life, lambs/kids should be fed frequently. After lambs/kids are a few days old, the frequency of feedings can be reduced. There are numerous protocols for feeding, as shown in the tables [available in the original article]. Lambs/kids generally need to consume 10% – 15% of their body weight per day. More frequent feedings will help to prevent overeating.
For larger numbers of lambs/kids, an automatic feeding station can be set up. A few lambs/kids can be fed from a bucket or bar. On large farms, an automatic milk feeder can be used. Biotic markets several automatic feeders (e.g. Lak-Tek) for lambs and kids. Lambs/kids will drink cold milk from a lamb bar at frequent intervals, much like they would if they were nursing a ewe/doe. An open vessel (bucket or trough) can also be used to feed fresh milk.
Because milk replacer is expensive and artificial rearing can be labor intensive, lambs/kids should be weaned at an early age. Six weeks is common. Weaning at 30 days is possible if lambs/kids are big enough and are consuming adequate dry feed. Lambs have been successfully weaned as early as 2 weeks of age. At weaning, lambs should weigh at least 25-30 lbs.; kids, 20 lbs. or 2.5 times their birth weight.
In order to wean lambs/kids at an early age, it is essential to get them consuming dry feed as soon as possible. By the time the lambs/kids are a week old, they should have access to a creep feed which is palatable and contains 18% – 20% crude protein. Young lambs/kids will consume more feed if is coarsely ground, though a pelleted ration may also be fed. Soybean meal makes a good starter feed. The biggest challenge is constructing a feeder that the lambs/kids cannot stand or play in.
Ample, fresh water should be available at all times. There are differing opinions as to whether orphan lambs/kids should be offered hay. A common recommendation is to wait until lambs/kids are three weeks old before feeding them any hay. Hay, especially alfalfa, can cause bloat . Some producers do not feed hay until after weaning.
Lambs/kids should be vaccinated for overeating disease and tetanus by the time they are six weeks of age, followed by a booster three to four weeks later. They should be vaccinated earlier (3-4 weeks of age), if they did not receive adequate protection through the colostrum.
Earlier vaccinations may not be effective due to the immature immune system of young lambs and kids. Weaning should be abrupt  and lambs/kids should be left in familiar surroundings at the time of weaning to minimize stress. If orphan lambs/kids are properly fed and managed, they should gain nearly as well as lambs/kids being raised on their dams.
Editor’s Note: For a quick guide on how to feed specific milk replacers available commercially, be sure to check out this article on the Maryland Small Ruminant Page.