How to Care for Newborn Lambs
Ewes are pregnant for 5 months, they normally have between one and three lambs in the spring. Some sheep breeds can produce lambs at any time of the year. Ewes will start getting full udders, and round bellies, about a month before lambing. They often lamb in the evening or early morning but can lamb at any time.
Most sheep producers, especially in area where the weather is cold, or predators are a problem, keep their expecting ewes in the barn at night and in a smaller pasture in the day so they can be checked regularly. If you should ever find a ewe with lambs be sure to walk around and make sure there are no other lambs. It is not uncommon for a ewe to have more than one and get confused and leave one somewhere. She may have refused it, or it became lost in the flock.
Ideally first time mothers will have single lambs, if they have two, and especially if they have triplets, you must monitor them very closely to be sure she is caring for all, and they are getting enough milk to drink.
©by author, one of my sheep with triplet lambs
When you find all the lambs let the ewe dry them off, unless it is very cold. If the lambs are cold you can rub their legs, ears, and body, to stimulate their blood flow to get them to warm up. In freezing weather (if you find them born outside) cold can kill lambs, cause hypothermia, or frostbite. You may even need to take the lamb into a warmer area for a few minutes to warm it up, or give it a “lamb coat”.
You may want to put iodine on their naval, never break the umbilical cord, let it dry up and fall off on its own.
Ideally ewes and their newborn lambs should be confined to small freshly bedded pens (called lambing jugs) so they can bond and be closely watched for a few days. This might be an individual pen with only one ewe and her lambs, or small pen of two or three compatible ewes and their lambs. If kept with other ewes be sure to mark the lambs so you know whose lamb is whose.
The ewe should be watered and given hay, but grain should be withheld for 12 hours.
Newborn lambs should be monitored to make sure they stand and are drinking.
Sometimes a ewe will have more than one lamb and may not care for all of them. I once had a ewe that looked after her ewe lambs, and whether it was coincidence or not, never looked after her ram lambs. A lamb that is not getting enough to drink will stand with a hunched back, droopy head, and will require bottle feeding.
If you are planning on docking their tails, or wethering the lambs, this is often done at 3-5 days of age depending on the method used.
Bottle Feeding Lambs
©by author, this is the best nipple to use for bottle feeding lambs and goat kids, they fit onto pop bottles.
If you must bottle feed a lamb it is important that it gets colostrum, which its its mother's first milk. If it did not get this you can milk her for it or purchase some from a livestock feed store or veterinarian. After that it must have lamb milk replacement formula.
At first the lamb may be too weak to drink from a bottle and can be fed with a syringe – do not squirt the milk in too fast or it may go into the lamb's lungs. Afterwards it should be able to drink out of the bottle. You may need to pry the lamb's mouth open at first and force it to drink until it understands. For the first 24 hours it needs to be fed ever 4 hours, every 6 hours at night. After that it can be fed every 4-6 hours in the day, and can go 8 hours over night.
Unless the ewe has died or is bullying her lamb, the bottle fed lambs should remain with their mothers.
Other Food and Care
At two days old the young lambs may try eating hay, grass, and grain. Even though they are getting milk they should have water but be sure it is not given in a bucket they can fall into.
As long as the weather is good, and the family is doing well, the ewe and her lambs can go outside together but at first you may want to keep them in a small pen with a few other ewes and lambs before they go with the larger flock. Continue to monitor to make sure they are thriving.