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Top Tips for Rearing Orphan Lambs

Depending on the farm system and circumstances there is nearly always a situation where a lamb may need to be taken off a ewe and reared artificially.

There are some fundamental steps and protocols that should be followed to ensure a healthy lamb is reared successfully using a concentrate milk replacer such as NWF MilkiVit Energized lamb milk replacer.


Colostrum is the key to the successful rearing of any lamb and remember the 4Q’s – Quality, Quantity, Quickly and Quietly. Lambs must receive 50ml of colostrum per kg of body weight, so a 4kg lamb requires 200ml as soon as possible after birth, ideally within 4–6 hours. Within a 24-hour period, lambs must receive the equivalent of 200ml/kg body weight in colostrum.

24-hour intake

• 3kg lamb = 600ml • 4kg lamb = 800ml • 5kg lamb = 1000ml


There are several methods of rearing orphan or spare lambs, some more labour intensive than others, and some require expensive equipment. The method employed will normally depend on the number of lambs that require rearing. Training lambs to suckle can be a frustrating task and needs patience but after a few days they soon get the hang of it.

Bottle Feeding – The most simple and effective system if you have a low number of lambs to feed and rear. Recommend 8-9kg milk replacer per lamb. It is labour intensive and there can be an increased risk of digestive upsets.

Cold Ad-lib Feeding – Milk consumed is “little and often’ and with low set-up cost to see faster growth rates. The suggested feed rate of 11-12kg milk replacer per lamb, teat height 3038cm from the floor and maximum 25 per pen.

Automatic Machine Feeding – The highest set-up cost but labour intensive with the fastest growth and DLWG. Milk is consumed “little and often” with a regulated milk temperature and rate of 12-13kg milk replacer used per lamb.

For all rearing it is important to clean teats, lines and mixing bowls daily. Ensure non-return values are working correctly and calibrate machines at least once a week or when a new batch of milk powder is started.


  • Ensure adequate colostrum intake.
  • Remove lambs at 24 hours 48 hours max.
  • Introduction to a small nursery pen until trained.
  • A clean, dry straw bedded lying area should be provided and this should be well-ventilated but free from draughts, and provide heat lamps.
  • Fresh clean water should always be available.
  • Provide a top-quality creep feed such as NWF Fast Lamb pellets from day one. It should be offered fresh at least once each day, with refusals being fed to older animals.
  • Introduce gently to the teat, training normally takes 1-2 days depending on the system. • Once trained move to a larger pen.
  • Keep back a couple of trained lambs in the nursery pen to help teach new arrives. • Maximum 10 lambs per teat and maximum pen size 50.
  • Do not feed ad-lib roughage (e.g. hay) during milk feeding as this can depress concentrate intake and delay weaning.


Before lambs are weaned ideally, they need to be:

  • A minimum of 2.5 times their birthweight.
  • A minimum of 35 days of age.
  • Eating a minimum of 250g of solid feed per day.

Abrupt weaning is the best weaning system, but it is important to ensure lambs are consuming enough solid feed to avoid a post-weaning check. It also reduces the risk of digestive upsets that can occur during a gradual weaning process.

For further information on NWF Sheep Feeds, please click HERE.

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