Feeding Lambs

Sep 12, 2022


From two weeks old, lambs should have access to creep feed. Where pasture is limited, they should be creep-fed for one to two months until adequate forages are available. If pasture will not be available until the lambs are three to four months old, they can be finished in a dry lot. The grain used should be ground coarse or rolled, but as the feeding period progresses, whole grains may be used. Small amounts of fresh, clean grain should be slowly introduced to the lambs’ diet. The amount of grain is increased gradually until the lambs are on full feed.

Feeding lambs from birth to market in a dry lot, together with early weaning at two and three months of age, has become more popular throughout the U.S. A complete diet of hay, grain, and vitamin-mineral supplement is ground, mixed, and either fed as is or pressed into pellets 3/16- or 3/8-in. (5–10 mm) long. Such lambs usually reach market weight in three and a half to four months.

Rearing Lambs on Milk Replacer
Orphaned lambs, extras, triplets, or those from poor-milking ewes can be raised on milk replacers to improve productivity. Such lambs should receive 10%–20% of their body weight in colostrum divided into multiple feedings within 18–24 hours of birth. If ewe colostrum is unavailable, a frozen, pooled supply from several cows can be used. Milk replacers designed specifically for lambs are available and contain 30% fat, 25% protein, and a high level of antibiotics. Under certain conditions, it may be advisable to inject orphaned lambs with vitamins A, D, and E and selenium. In hand rearing systems, ewe milk replacers are preferable; however, good quality replacers designed for calves may be fed to lambs. When mixing milk replacers, care should be taken to ensure that the powder and water are properly mixed into a suspension. Feeding small quantities throughout numerous feedings helps reduce the incidence of bloat and/or diarrhea. Milk replacers should be fed at 10% – 20% of the lamb’s body weight, divided into four to six feedings/day during the first week of life. The number of feedings can be reduced over time to twice a day by three to four weeks of age.

Multiple-nipple pails or containers can be used. Cold milk replacers can be used by older lambs who nurse more often. By nine to ten days of age, lambs should be given water in addition to milk if a creep ration is offered. They can be weaned abruptly at four to five weeks of age if consumption of creep feed and water intake is at a reasonable level.

Finishing Feeder Lambs
Lambs should be preconditioned before they leave the producer’s property. This includes starting on feed, vaccinating, worming, and under some conditions, shearing. If this is not done, the lambs should be rested for several days and fed dry, average-quality hay after arrival at the feedlot.

There is no best method or diet for finishing lambs. They may be finished on good to excellent quality forage (alfalfa, wheat) with no supplemental grain. They may be started on pasture or crop residue and moved to grain feeding systems as the forage is used up. When fed in a dry lot, they are usually allowed free access to feedstuffs. These diets may be pelleted, ground, and mixed, a mixture of ground forage (alfalfa) pellets and grain, and/or high-concentrate type. Self-feeding usually results in maximal feed intake and gain, with reduced labor costs. Hand-feeding can be mechanized with an auger system or a self-unloading wagon. It involves feeding at regular intervals so that the lambs consume all the feed before more is offered. Feed consumption and gain can be controlled. When used, corn silage should be hand-fed to minimize spoilage.

Producers who feed lambs year-round, or feed heavy lambs, usually prefer to place the lambs on full feed as soon as possible (10–14 days). Lambs can be started safely on self-fed, ground, or pelleted diets containing 60%–70% hay. Within two weeks, the hay can be reduced to 30%–40% when the ration is not pelleted. Other roughages such as cottonseed hulls or silage can be used similarly.

A good free choice mineral should always be offered to your sheep. Your local Co-op is a great resource for all things small ruminant. Find more content like this in this month’s issue of The Cooperator.

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