The perinatal lamb mortality
rate is unacceptably high in many sheep flocks; as a consequence of
such deaths triplet lambs are fostered on to those ewes which have
lost a lamb. In addition, lambs are also fostered onto those ewes
which produce a single lamb.
No large scale surveys have
been undertaken to determine the number of attempted "fosterings"
in lowground flocks but it could be more than 10 to 15 per cent of
all ewes. This procedure is not as simple as would first appear and
the long-term acceptance rate by the ewe is likely to be less than
60 per cent.
Fig 1: Rejected
foster lamb. Note the size disparity - was this ever a realistic
Fig 2: Success
in this fostering situation.
Origin of orphan
Orphan lambs are small
birthweight twin or triplet lambs removed because of poor dam milk
yield. The majority of these lambs have failed to ingest sufficient
colostrum and are therefore prone to a wide range of bacterial
diseases during the neonatal period including polyarthritis,
enteric infections, and respiratory disease. These lambs may have
been hungry for a number of days before removal from the
It is been recommended that
"surplus" lambs are removed from the ewe as early as possible
because these lambs learn to suck much more quickly from the milk
bar than if left with their dam for two or three days. It could be
reasoned that the smallest triplet of every litter should be
removed within hours of birth, fed colostrum, and either fostered
immediately or reared artificially. The ewe and two remaining lambs
could then be turned out to pasture the following day.
Transfer of foetal
Rubbing an orphan lamb in the
foetal fluids of the newborn single lamb before the ewe licks her
own lamb is the most successful fostering method where good
acceptance rates are achieved when the foster lamb is as young as
possible, and preferably newborn. A variation on the fostering
method described above is to place both lambs in a hessian sack
which is then tied at the neck and placed in the pen with the ewe
for one hour. This practice facilitates mixing of odours and
increases the foster lamb acceptance rate when the lambs are
introduced to the anxious ewe. Disparity in size of the new "pair"
of lambs typically results (6-7 kg singleton and 3.5 kg
Fostering lambs with the aid
of the dead lamb's skin generally has good success although
confinement in a small pen for a few days may be
Confinement for several days - note the leathery appearance of the
There are many designs of
foster crates. It is essential that clean water and good quality
roughage are always available and that concentrates were fed at
least twice daily where the ewe can reach them. Inadequate ewe
nutrition leads to poor milk production and poor long-term
Fig 4: It is
essential that clean water and good quality roughage are always
available to ensure the ewe's milk yield is
The use of rope halter
provides limited freedom and improved comfort for the ewe provided
the halter does not tighten across the bridge of the ewe's nose.
Halters should be made of soft rope and not a single strand of
polypropylene baler twine. Occasionally, the rope is tied around
the ewe's horns which is unacceptable.
Fig 5: Soft
nylon halters must be used not single-strand baler
Rejection of foster
The ewe and lambs must be
carefully supervised to detect early rejection such as not letting
the foster lamb suck, pushing the lamb away, to vigorous head
butting which can cause severe chest trauma, and indeed death in
neglected cases. Head butting lambs can often be detected by the
presence of marker fluid used to identify lambs on the ewe's
Rearing orphan lambs
Orphans lambs can be reared
very successfully on artificial rearing systems achieving excellent
growths rates and a low incidence of digestive disturbances such as
abomasal bloat and/or volvulus. Haphazard feeding of lambs from a
bucket and teat system does not work and at five week-old such
lambs are small, poorly-fleshed and pot-bellied, and remain so for
The Codes of recommendations for the welfare of
livestock - sheep
Artificial rearing of lambs requires close attention and high
standards of supervision and stockmanship if it is to be
successful. It is essential that all lambs should start with an
adequate supply of colostrum.
lambs should receive an adequate amount of suitable liquid feed,
such as ewe milk replacer, at regular intervals each day for at
least the first four weeks of their life.
the second week of life, lambs should also have access to palatable
and nutritious solid food (which may include grass) and always have
access to fresh, clean water.
automatic feeding equipment is provided, lambs should be trained in
its use to ensure that they regularly consume an adequate amount of
food and the equipment should be checked daily to see that it is
Troughs should be kept clean and any stale feed removed.
Automatic feeding systems must be well-maintained and checked
Equipment and utensils used for liquid feeding should be
thoroughly cleansed and sterilised at frequent
bed and adequate draught-free ventilation should be
necessary, arrangements should be made to supply safe supplementary
heating for very young lambs.
Fig 6: While the
system may appear expensive at first, artificial rearing of lambs
produces excellent results.
Fig 7: Exemplary
management of orphan lambs. Well-bedded, low stocking rate and good
Docking and Castration
There is a large body of
evidence that tail docking and castration cause both acute and
chronic pain in lambs and there are doubts whether both
(either) procedures are necessary in fattening lambs
sold before December (8-9 month-old) when pregnancy is not a major
Fig 8: There is
a large body of evidence that tail docking and castration cause
both acute and chronic pain in lambs.
There is a lot of very useful advice contained within the
Codes of recommendations for the welfare of livestock - sheep
available at http://www.awtraining.com/pdf/pdffiles/sheep.pdf
Fig 9: Exemplary
management - note this 40+ kg 3.5 month-old ram lamb has not been
castrated; the next stage is to not tail
stock management - why tail dock these lambs which will be
slaughtered before mid-June?
Welfare code recommendation 62:
Farmers and shepherds should consider carefully whether tail
docking within a particular flock is necessary. Tail docking may be
carried out only if failure to do so would lead to subsequent
welfare problems because of dirty tails and potential fly
Fig 11: Tail
docking has not prevented faecal contamination of the perineum in
these Suffolk hoggs.
Fig 12: Texel
ewe just before lambing - this tail length is too short and
probably illegal although slackening of the pelvic ligaments may
exacerbate this effect.
Fig 13: This ram's tail is too short and has
just been bought at a major ram sale!
Fig 14: Tail
docking did not prevent flystrike in this lamb (standing). Shearing
is also overdue on this farm.
Blowfly strike is prevented
by controlling faecal contamination of the perineum by correct
parasite control, dagging when appropriate, and use of insect
growth regulators such as dicyclanil as necessary.
authorities are actively promoting schemes to reduce tail docking
and castration of lambs; some of these schemes offer financial
incentives. In these schemes farmers are encouraged to limit use of
such procedures to specific instances where their veterinary
practitioner considers that not undertaking them would compromise