Management of small stock mothers and offsprings

Care and Management of Nursing/Lactating Ewes and Does

Ewes and does have a great capacity to mobilize energy reserves for milk production, especially in early lactation. The quality of feed offered and particularly that of roughage is important. When a portion of milk produced is used for home consumption a compromise should be made between the requirement of the young and family needs. Ewes and does nursing twins or triplets need special attention. They need to be fed sufficient quantities of good quality hay and concentrate (if available) to meet the high requirements during early lactation. There is also a need to provide plenty of clean, fresh drinking water.

Management of Newborn Animals (Lambs and Kids)

Birth to weaning

Conception: Conceptually the management of lambs/kids starts before birth. Proper feeding and care of the dams during the last period of gestation is necessary to have healthy, vigorous offspring. Lambs/kids with birth weight within the normal range for the breed can be raised without much difficulty. Lambs/kids with low birth weight or are weak at birth need special attention. There is a relationship between lamb/kid survival and birth weight. Very low or very high birth weights (related to dystocia or difficult births) are detrimental to lamb survival Immediately after birth, the umbilical cord should be trimmed if needed using clean scissors and then dipped in tincture of iodine.

Mothering: Protection of newborn lambs/kids from cold, rain and wind and very important. In free-grazing flocks of sheep and goats where parturition occurs without any attendant, survival of the newborn depends on mothering ability and the firm establishment of the mother-offspring bond. If a large number of ewes or does are giving birth simultaneously, mismothering could occur. Such problems might occur in pastoral systems and where lambing/kidding is naturally synchronized, or when done artificially under modern practices.

Mothering instinct in primiparous mothers (first kidders/lambers) often needs some time to fully develop. Do not handle lambs/kids too frequently immediately after birth and let the dams lick and recognize them properly. In order to ensure the establishment of firm dam-offspring relationships, the dams and their offspring should be confined together soon after birth or stay around the homestead for at least 4 days.

Problems after birth: If the lamb/kid is not licked dry or is born in a wet/windy place or does not consume colostrum immediately it will develop hypothermia (very low body temperature), especially if small in size (triplet, premature, mother malnourished). If the lamb/kid is shivering or has a cool mouth and extremities and is not suckling, check rectal temperature. Normal temperature is between 38.5 and 40°C. Dry the lamb/kid with a cloth and tube-feed if the temperature is 37.8 to 38.5°C. The lamb/kid may need to be warmed with a heat source or with a hot water bath or warming box, particularly if body temperature is below 37.8°C. If only one of a twin birth needs to be removed for feeding or warming, it is best to remove both offspring. If one is left, there is the risk that the dam will not accept the treated one when it is returned. A wool sock over the body is safer than a heat lamp.

A plastic coat protects lambs from rain.Check the condition of lambs regularly. If lambs appear thin and weak, check the ewe to see if she is milking. Check for a mastitis problem, whether the teats are open, and/or if she has claimed the lamb. Handfeed the lamb with colostrum or milk replacer (if available) if any one of these problems is observed.

Colostrum intake: Intake of colostrum, the “first milk”, is crucial for successful rearing of lambs/kids. What is special about colostrum is that it

  • Contains a high level of nutrients important for lamb health and performance
  • Contains a high level of antibodies against a variety of infectious agents. At birth, the lamb/kid does not carry any antibodies because antibodies in the ewe’s bloodstream do not cross the placenta
  • Imparts passive immunity
  • Has to be fed during the first 24 hours; feeding colostrum later than this period confers little or no advantage. This is because the intestinal wall of the newborn is only permeable to antibodies (large protein molecules) during the first 24 to 36 hours and absorption is most efficient during this period. If the ewe/doe has inadequate colostrum, cow colostrum can be given.

Normally, the newborn stands and suckles within 30 minutes of birth. In some cases, lambs/kids should be assisted to obtain colostrum. Plugs should be stripped out of each teat by hand and udder secretion inspected for any abnormalities. Newborn lambs/kids are pre-ruminant animals in the early stage of development. It will take some time (usually 6–8 weeks) for the rumen to develop. When concentrate feed or hay is offered, consumption starts at about 2–3 weeks of age. Access to quality roughage feed or concentrate is essential as it stimulates early development of the rumen. It is recommended that forage be chopped and given to kids, and when possible concentrate feed should be offered but not in a dry form.

Growth of the young, particularly during the first weeks of life, is entirely dependent on milk of their mothers. For this reason, it is important to ensure that dams produce adequate milk. The health and structure of the udder should be examined. Faulty udders may mean insufficient milk production for adequate lamb/kid growth. Females with faulty udders should be culled.