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Starting Young Nursing Lambs on Feed

Animal : Lambs

Kevin Burgoon

Ph.D. - Senior Nutritionist, HONOR Show Chow Technical Solutions

Getting young lambs on feed is critical to growth rate and show ring success, and the following is a method that has been used successfully by many breeders.

It is important to define goals for lamb feeding.
 
Lambs that that are preparing for breeding shows are generally “pushed” to be as growthy as possible. On the contrary, lambs that are destined for market shows may not require maximum growth. This decision depends upon the season of the year when the animal is shown. For example, February or March lambs that are intended to be shown in August need to grow as quickly as possible, while the same lambs shown in January – February do not require such explosive, early growth.

Ewes and lambing pens

It is a good idea to leave an ewe with her lambs in a lambing jug for at least 3-5 days post lambing. It is valuable to leave her additional days if the lambing schedule permits. In other words, when the lambing jugs (or pens) are full, the ewe with the oldest lambs must be removed to make room. Once this is complete, it is a good idea to “group” ewes in the lambing pens according to birth type (single or multiple lambs). The reason for this is simple; ewes with more than one lamb will have much greater nutrient requirements than single birth ewes. If you have room, it pays to feed ewes differently according to the number of lambs they are nursing. In addition, it is imperative to deworm ewes no later than 24 hours after lambing to prevent infection in their newly born lambs.

Creep feeding lambs

One of the most important aspects of starting lambs feeding is providing a place where they can reach the feed and ewes cannot. This technique is known as creep feeding lambs and can be sophisticated and complex, or a simple wooden design. If you have sufficient room, make the lamb creep feeder large enough to accommodate all of the lambs at one time. Remember to look forward and visualize the lambs at 60-70 lbs. and provide sufficient room in the creep feeder for at least 75% of the lambs at this weight. Lambs grow quickly; therefore, limiting the size of the lamb creep feeder restricts access.

Alfalfa hay and soybean meal feed for lambs 

For some, lamb feeding will begin with nibbling at a young age (7-10 days) and they typically enjoy alfalfa hay. It is a good idea to place a small amount of high quality alfalfa inside the lamb’s creep feeder to entice lambs to enter and begin eating. If that doesn’t work, an excellent strategy is to offer soybean meal alone in the lamb feeder. Young lambs are very receptive to the taste and flavor of soybean meal, and usually consume it readily. Offer soybean meal alone for the initial 5-7 days. About one week after lambs begin eating, place HONOR SHOW CHOW® Showlamb Creep Pellet DX or HONOR SHOW CHOW® EXP 15% Pellet DX on top of the soybean meal. Gradually transition the feed offered from soybean meal to HONOR SHOW CHOW® Showlamb Creep Pellet DX or HONOR SHOW CHOW® EXP 15% Pellet DX over the next two-week period. Continuing to offer soybean meal encourages the smaller, younger lambs to enter the creep feeder and begin consuming feed.
 
It is a good idea to routinely offer high quality alfalfa hay in the lamb’s creep feeder area. It is also a good idea (if possible) to have the creep area well-lit both day and night. This space should be kept clean, dry and draft free. Because lambs are generally born from January to April, the weather can be cold and harsh. Offering a clean, warm place not only keeps lambs healthy but encourages them to eat as well.

Health concerns for lamb feeding

There are a few common health concerns that are important to address.  Enterotoxemia or “overeating disease” is caused by Clostridium perfringens Types C & D . These are bacteria that normally live in the small intestine of sheep. When lambs begin consuming feedstuffs that are high in crude protein, these bacteria can proliferate extremely fast. The waste products of these bacteria are toxic to the lamb and affect the central nervous system, causing rapid death. The largest, healthiest looking lambs are generally the ones affected first. This is because they are spending a lot of time in the creep feeder.
 
Treatment for enterotoxemia is usually fruitless and prevention is the best means of control, and therefore, a necessity. It is a good idea to vaccinate lambs for overeating before they begin consuming feed. However, some lambs begin eating at 7 days old. This is extremely young to expect vaccination to be effective. Usually, lambs are not consuming sufficient feed to cause bacterial proliferation until they are approximately 4 weeks of age. You might wish to vaccinate at 2 weeks of age and then again at 4 weeks of age. It is a very good idea to vaccinate for tetanus at the same time. Several companies make a dual vaccine for both Clostridium perfringens Types C & D and Clostridium tetani.
 
Remember to use a toxoid vaccine as opposed to an antitoxin. A toxoid vaccine requires 2 – 4 weeks to produce full immunity, while an antitoxin begins working almost immediately but lasts only 2 weeks. If your lambs have started on feed and your region or area has a history of overeating, it is a good idea to give the antitoxin initially, followed by the later toxoid vaccination. Repeat the toxoid vaccination in two weeks.
 
Monitoring while creep feeding lambs and keeping lambs healthy through nutritious feed is the secret to rapid growth.