Care and Feeding of
Your Lamb

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Vandee James
RR and QR Rams and Foundation Ewes Available
Ph. 208-876-4037
P.O. Box 111
May, Idaho 83253
Table of Contents: Acidosis | Additional Information | Antibiotics | Basic Care | Bloat | Bluetongue | Care and Feeding | Clean Water | Coccidia | Copper | Coughing | Diarrhea | Drug Dosage | Drug Withdrawal Times | Feed Changes | Feed-related Problems | Footrot | Limbing | Nasal Botts | Normal Behavior | Observe Lamb | Polio | Pneumonia | Polyarthritis | Rectal Prolapses | Respiratory Problems | Review | Sick Lamb | Skip Feeding | skip feeding | Tapeworms | Urolithiasis | Viral Diseases | Weigh Feed | Worms |


Your lamb has just been taken from all its friends and in some cases, its mother. It will take a few days to adjust to its new surroundings and new food. Chances are, in spite of your best care, it will lose at least 5 lbs during this adjustment period. In order to minimize this weight loss as much as possible and to maintain a good healthy lamb, you need to make this adjustment period as stress free as possible. The steps that follow are suggestions on how to do this.

1. Find out from the breeder what vaccinations and medications that this lamb has already been given and at what age. Ask about what types of feed it is eating now. Specifically, find out if it has been vaccinated twice for enterotoxemia C and D. Ask whether the lamb has been on creep feed with a coccidiostat? Find out if it has been dewormed. You will also want to know what kind of grain or concentrate it has been eating, if any. Ask the breeder if you can buy several pounds of the concentrate that he has been feeding, if itis different than what you will be feeding.

2. If it has not had 2 vaccinations for enterotoxemia, ask the breeder to give it one before you take the lamb. The 2 vaccinations should be 3 - 4 weeks apart. If it has only had one, you need to be sure it gets another at the proper time.

3. When you get your lamb home, put it in a small area either by itself or with other lambs the same size where it can find the food and water easily. Do not put it with adult ewes, calves, horses, etc. Make sure that clean water and good quality hay are available. Let it get acquainted with you and its surroundings for a couple of days before turning it out in a bigger area such as a pasture or attempting to halter break or train it.

4. If the lamb has been on grain, give it slightly less than it had been getting. Use the grain you got from the breeder for your first feeding or two, then slowly mix in your feed so that the change over is gradual. Never make sudden feed changes.

If it has not had grain before, you can start the lamb on 1/4 lb twice a day. Many people use a coffee can to measure out their feed. However, a coffee can of whole corn does not weigh the same as a coffee can of rolled corn. Weigh your coffee can and know how much you are feeding.

5. When you decide to increase the amount of grain, do so slowly. Never increase it more the 1/4 lb. per feeding. Feed the same amount for at least 3 days before increasing the amount again. If you increase the grain too rapidly, your lamb will quit eating altogether and get diarrhea. (This is bad because it will lose weight.) If it gets way too much-for example, if it gets out of its pen and into the grain bin, it can actually die of a condition called acidosis.

6. Do not put new hay and grain on top of uneaten hay and grain. Clean out the uneaten portion and do not feed as much for the next feeding or two.

7. Make a point to observe your lamb twice a day. Don't just throw the feed over the fence and leave. Take a few minutes to observe its demeanor. Are its ears up? Is it active and alert? Is It eager to eat? Is it walking normally, not limping or acting stiff? If there are more than one lambs eating together, be sure that one isn't hogging all the feed. Early discovery of problems and prompt treatment may be the difference between life and death for your lamb. His health and well being are your responsibility. Take it seriously! Take time to know that he is okay.

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1. Clean water should be available for your lamb at all times.

2. A loose sheep salt specifically for sheep without copper should be available for your lamb at all times. A coccidiostat can be mixed into your salt to control coccidia. Deccox is a good coccidiostat. You can buy 2 lb. packages of it from the Treasure Valley Sheep Producers.

3. Concentrates should not exceed 75% of your ration.

4. Never change feed suddenly. It is best if you feed the same feeds throughout the feeding period. If you must change feeds, do so as described previously.

5. Pasture is a source of parasites for your lamb. Worms will decrease the lamb's rate of gain and its feed efficiency (the amount of gain per pound of feed fed). It would be best if the lamb was fed alfalfa hay, rather than pasture.

6. The lamb should be fed the same time each day.

7. Never skip a feeding. If the lamb didn't eat all of its feed, remove the old feed, and reduce the amount for the next feeding. Adding a full feeding on top of food that's left over is setting up conditions that can cause acidosis.

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When you spend a few minutes at feeding time observing your lamb, be sure to observe his manure and watch to see how he urinates and how long it takes him. Watch his breathing and be familiar with the ease and rate that he normally breathes when it is cold outside and when it is hot. Watch how he moves and how he holds his ears and head. If you are familiar with his normal behavior, it will be quite evident when something is wrong. If he "doesn't act right," evaluate what it is that isn't right. The following are descriptions of things that could be wrong and what to do in each case.

First, however, there are a few things you need to know about one of the common treatments, antibiotics:

Antibiotics are drugs which are used to treat bacterial diseases. They are not effective against viral diseases or diseases caused by feeding accidents. However, we often use them to prevent bacteria from causing even more problems when the disease is not caused by bacteria.

Antibiotics have withdrawal times. The withdrawal time is the time that must pass after a drug has been given until the animal can be slaughtered for food. Since your market lambs are going to be slaughter after the 4-H market sale, it is extremely important to check the withdrawal time for any drug you plan to give to your lamb. If you give it a drug such as a long-acting tetracycline. For instance LA 200, one week before the fair, you can not sell your lamb at the fair since the withdrawal time is 28 days. Read the label of any medication for withdrawal times.

Dosage is also important. Many of our drugs do not have dosages for sheep. If such is the case, use the dosage for calves or cattle. Every drug has a concentration on the label. For example penicillin may have a concentration of 200,000 unit per ml (cc). The dosage is 10,000 units (80 x 10,000). So, you need to give 4 cc of penicillin (800,000 divided by 200,000). Do not under or over treat unless instructed by your veterinarian.

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Diarrhea is condition where the feces (manure) is more fluid or watery than normal. It can be caused by bacteria, parasites or diet. The following are the various situations you can experience when lambs have diarrhea.

1. Lamb is eating normally and appears to be okay except that it has diarrhea.

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Your lamb probably has coccidia. If the lamb is on pasture, it may also have worms. Take a sample of his manure to the veterinarian and have it checked. If positive for coccidia, you will want to treat it with sulfamethazine. If positive for worms, it should be dewormed. Talk to your veterinarian or your leader on how to obtain the drugs and how much to give.

2. Lamb is not eating his grain, will eat hay, has diarrhea.

You have probably increased his grain too rapidly and the lamb has a slight case of acidosis. Take his grain away for 2 days, then start feeding 1/4 lb a day and work the lamb back up just as you did when you first started feeding him.

3. Lamb is not eating hay or grain, acts droopy or depressed, has diarrhea.

Same as 2 except the lamb got way too much grain. Treat the lamb with penicillin or Tylan 200 for 2 days. Give 1/4 cup of Pepto Bismol. If the lamb does not appear better in a couple of days, treat for acidosis or take him to your veterinarian.

4. Sometimes you will see worms in the manure of your lamb. Usually he will not have diarrhea. These are tapeworms. Tapeworms are the only ones big enough to see. Worm with Safeguard.

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The respiratory system includes the nasal passages, trachea (windpipe), bronchi, and lung. The upper respiratory system refers to just the nasal passages and trachea. The lower respiratory system refers to the bronchi and lung.

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Coughing can be caused by dusty pens, dusty feed, or infectious agents. If the lamb only coughs at feeding time, dusty feed is the problem. You can dampen the feed by adding a tiny bit of water or molasses. If the lamb only coughs after running and jumping, the dust in the pen is probably the problem. You can sprinkle down the pen in late afternoon. If the lamb is coughing throughout the day, then infectious agents may be the cause.

If there is more than a month before sale time, give an injection of a long acting tetracycline (LA 200) every other day, over a 6 day period (3 times). Use a dosage of 10 mg/lb. 100 lbs = 4.5 cc or 75 lb lamb 2cc.

If the coughing continues, the infectious agent is a virus and there is no good treatment. Do try to keep the dust down, so that the coughing is not made worse by irritants in the air.

Coughing itself is rarely a big problem. However coughing, together with diet and other stressors such as coccidia, can cause rectal prolapses.

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Rectal prolapse is a condition where, for some reason, the rectum is pushed out of the body. The tender mucous membranes become dried and cracked, causing more irritation and straining. In some cases, the lamb can prolapse its entire intestinal tract, and die of shock.

The act of coughing puts pressure on the rectum and can be one of the initiating factors in rectal prolapse. This condition is usually seen in fat ewe lambs. Ewe lambs tend to have more internal fat than wether lambs and this is believed to contribute to rectal prolapses. Any problem causing diarrhea increases irritation to the area and promotes straining. Therefore, it increases the chances of rectal prolapses. The prolapsed rectum is easy to recognize. It protrudes from the anal area and is bright cherry red. Rectal prolapses must be taken care of right away or you run the risk of having the lamb prolapse its entire intestinal tract.

Call your veterinarian.

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A snotty nose is caused by irritation of the nasal sinuses and passages. Nasal botts, a maggot of the bott fly, Oestrus ovis, is often the cause. If there is more than a month before sale time, use Ivermec drench to treat. Contact your leader or veterinarian to obtain the drug. If the Ivermec does not help, give a long acting tetracycline as described above.

If this condition occurs after the first part of August and the lamb is droopy, his temperature is over 104, and it does not respond to the long acting tetracycline, your lamb probably had Bluetongue, a viral disease. In addition to the snotty nose and depression, the lamb may be stiff and reluctant to get up and it may also have diarrhea. It's face and ears may get puffy, and it may drool due to sores in its mouth.

Viruses do not respond to antibiotics, but the antibiotics should help to prevent pneumonia caused by opportunist organisms. Keep your lamb as comfortable as possible. Be sure it has shade. Clean its nose occasionally to help it breathe. Give 1 aspirin twice a day and be sure water is nearby.

Spray the premises and your lamb with a fly spray that is labeled safe for livestock.

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Coughing and snotty noses are diseases of the upper respiratory system. Pneumonia is a disease of the lower respiratory system. Although snotty noses and coughing can also be present when an animal had pneumonia, they usually aren't a sign of pneumonia.

Signs of pneumonia are droopiness, rapid breathing, and lack of appetite. If it is within a month of sale time, call your veterinarian. The drug to use is Naxcel, which is quite effective against pneumonia and has no withdrawal time. If the fair is more than a month away, use the long acting tetracycline as described above. Pneumonia is a life threatening disease. Early treatment is important.

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Bloat is a condition where the lamb is unable to belch up the gas which is formed in the second stomach (rumen). The pressure will build up until it interferes with the lambs breathing and heart and he can die. It is caused by certain alfalfa hays, clover and alfalfa pastures.

The lambs abdominal area (belly) will be very swollen looking, particularly on the left side. The left side will often be higher than the top of the back. The lamb will be uncomfortable and depressed. This is an emergency situation. You need to get the lamb to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

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Acidosis is a condition caused by the over feeding of grain. The bacteria in the rumen make acid from the carbohydrates in the grain. If too much acid is formed, it is absorbed into the blood stream and causes the whole body to become acidic. This can be a life-threatening situation.

Severe acidosis may resemble pneumonia except that signs of the disease come on very rapidly. The animal will have appeared fine at the last feeding and now is very depressed. Treat as for pneumonia but in addition give 1 pint of water in a pop bottle to which you have added 2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Give slowly and give the lamb plenty of time to swallow. You may have to repeat this several times over the rest of the day. The soda water should make him feel better and act perkier. If he begins to act depressed again, give him more soda water. This is a life threatening problem and it is a good idea to call your veterinarian.

For less severe acidosis, see 2 and 3 under diarrhea.

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Polio is a disease caused by a deficiency of thiamine and is seen most commonly in lambs on high grain diets. The first sign of the disease is blindness. If your lamb bumps into things that it ordinarily would see and avoid, he may be showing signs of blindness. An injection of 3 cc of thiamine in the muscle will correct the condition.

If the first symptom of blindness is missed, the lamb will begin to appear wobbly in the rear end. This may be misdiagnosed as lameness. A day later, the lamb may be unable to get up but can still sit up and will be found on his side and unable to hold his head up. Finally, the lamb will die in convulsions. The course of the disease from the first sign of blindness to death will take approximately 5 days if not treated. The further in the disease course the treatment occurs, the longer it will take the lamb to recover. Generally, it will take 10 days before the lamb will begin to eat again.

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Urolithiasis (stones in the urinary tract) is caused by an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the diet. Calcium in the diet should be 2.5 times more than phosphorus. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium and grains are high in phosphorus. When lambs are eating 3-4 lbs. Of grain per day and a pound or less of alfalfa, the phosphorus is too high for the amount of calcium. The excess phosphorus which is absorbed into the blood stream from the intestine, is thrown away in the urine. Unfortunately when the phosphorus gets too high in the urine, it forms crystals. The crystals have very sharp edges and look like tiny grains of sand. These bits of sand will pack into stones and plug up the tube that take the urine from the bladder to the outside (the urethra). Since this tube is much smaller in males than females, this disease is seen only in the wethers and rams.

When the tube becomes plugged, the urine often leaks out into the tissues, or the bladder ruptures. Since urine is toxic to the animal, the lamb will die of urea toxicity.

If the diet is imbalanced, often the "sand" will collect on the hair of the prepuce (the skin covering the penis or the end of the sheath). You can run your hand along the prepuce and feel the gritty crystals that are collecting on the hair. If so, its time to change the diet.

If the stones have already formed, the lamb will act depressed and stop eating. He will stand with his hind legs stretched out behind him. He may walk stiffly and reluctantly. Sometimes a swelling will be apparent in the sheath area. He will strain to urinate. If the plug has not completely obstructed the tube, he'll dribble urine and urination may take a long time; however, if this is the case, he will probably still eat and not appear particularly depressed.

If you suspect that your lamb has Urolithiasis, call your veterinarian. If you the diet needs to be changed, talk to your 4-H leader.

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Limping can be caused by injury or infection. Infection can be located in the hoof or the joints. Infection in the joints is called arthritis. Infection in the hoof can be several things. Footrot, or foot abscess are two foot diseases.

First determine which leg the lamb is limping on. In a disease called polyarthritis, the lamb may limp first on one leg and then on another. That is the one way to diagnose polyarthritis. Take the lamb's temperature. The normal temperature of a lamb is under 103. Remember, though, if you had to chase the lamb, his temperature will rise. It will also be high if he is standing in the hot sun.

Look at each foot to see if there is any evidence of cuts, scratches, or dog bites. Feel the joints to see of they feel swollen or hot. Compare the joint of one leg to that on the opposite leg to help you decide if it is normal or not.

If the joints aren't swollen or hot and you can't find a cut or injury, give him several days to see if the limping gets better. If not, take the lamb to your veterinarian.

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The lamb will be reluctant to get up and move around. It may act stiff. If you force it to move around, it will gradually become less lame and stiff. If you watch it closely, it will seem to limp on one leg and then another. Its temperature will be over 104. It will usually eat if you make it get up and walk over to its feed trough.

The best treatment for this disease is the long acting tetracycline used as described for pneumonia. If sale time is within the month, however, another drug with a shorter withdrawal time should be chosen. Tylan 200 may be the best choice in that case. Check with your leader or veterinarian.

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The foot of the leg that the lamb is limping on should be inspected and trimmed. If it is moist and has an extremely bad odor, it may be footrot, a very contagious disease caused by bacteria. The loose part of the foot should be carefully trimmed and the foot soaked in 10% zinc sulfate. Check with your leader or veterinarian on where to obtain the zinc. Separate the lamb from any others until foot is healed.

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Complete Livestock Management Made Simple


1. TM-SALT and mineral supplements should be kept fresh and fed free choice to all lambs.

2. Fresh cool water must be available at all times to assure complete feed intake.

3. Feed processing does not contribute to improve palatability or utilization.

4. Processing may help decrease selection of certain feeds by lambs.

5. All lambs should be vaccinated for Overeating disease when on high energy rations.

6. Gradually increase the concentrates to a full ration over about the first 7 days.

7. Feed the same kind or lot of feed throughout the feeding period.

8. Watch your animals behavior for signs of sickness or digestive problems.

9. A regular feed schedule and fresh clean water will insure optimal animal performance.

10. Management should also provide shelter from excessive cold, rain, and sun.

11. Age, size, and weighing conditions can affect how a ration achieves desired animal gain.

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Additional Information

University of Nebraska for Additional Information

Minnesota Extension Service for Additional Information

Ada County Extension Office 4-H Club Information

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James Suffolks providing RR and QR Rams and Foundation Ewes for the Northwest. Call for Pricing. Provides market lambs and breeding ewes for the Barnyard Commandos 4-H Club of Ada County Boise, Idaho

For more information please call us at (208) 452-3750 or (208)377-5430 or e-mail us.

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