Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

The knack of fostering your orphans and surplus lambs

ONE good single lamb is better than three smaller lambs - that's a statement that I frequently hear when the dreaded topic of fostering lambs is aired at sheep farmer meetings.

Regardless of the litter size of your flock, every sheep farmer will have to deal with fostering surplus or orphan lambs. It could be a triplet lamb, a single lamb whose dam died at birth or a lamb whose dam had insufficient milk to rear it. The bottom line is that if you can get it to slaughter it's worth around ?70.

Given that I also meet sheep farmers who have very prolific flocks with a high proportion of triplets who do not complain about the workload involved, I deduce that there is a knack to fostering that can make it a relatively streamlined process.

Step 1. Ensure that any triplet-bearing ewes are on a high plane of nutrition 8 to 10 weeks pre lambing. It is important to feed these adequately so that they produce strong lambs at birth. There is nothing worse than trying to foster a weak sickly lamb.

Step 2. Have the ewes scanned and divided according to litter size. By housing the triplet bearing ewes and having the pet lamb pen next to the single bearing ewes surplus lambs will be close to hand when a single bearing ewe starts to lamb.

Step 3. Have a basin of water and some table salt at the ready.

Step 4. When you see a single bearing ewe lambing you should intervene. Check that the ewe is in good condition, free from lameness and has a good milk supply in both teats. First time lambing ewes or very old ewes may not be the best candidates for fostering lambs onto. If the ewe is a suitable candidate for rearing an additional lamb you should take her lamb from her. Put the lamb into a separate pen and introduce the foster lamb. Washing the foster lamb helps to remove any smell. Rub some of the lambing fluids onto the lamb and add a bit of salt which encourages the ewe to lick the lamb.

Where the foster lamb is older it is important to tie the legs (cable ties are the best and quickest way of doing this) so that the lamb does not jump up and suck all the colostrum and it will also cause the lamb to struggle similar to a newborn lamb trying to get to its feet.

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Step 5. Keep a close eye on the ewe. Once you feel confident that she has accepted the lamb return her own lamb.

Step 6. If things go wrong and the ewe starts to reject the foster lamb you should intervene immediately and place her in a fostering crate for a couple of days to help change her mindset.