Successfully Saving Bonus Lambs with Lamb Milk Replacer

In most sheep flocks, lambs are born that cannot be raised by their mothers. These lambs are quadruplets, triplets, twins from ewes with low milk production, and lambs from ewes that die. Estimates are that each year 10% of the lamb crop dies from starvation within one week following birth.

Saving these orphan or bonus lambs will help increase the profitability of your sheep operation. This guide is designed to give you suggestions and ideas which will help you to save these bonus lambs. The suggestions are a compilation from university and U.S.D.A. research, sheep producers’ experiences and industry research.

Selection of Bonus Lambs For Rearing on Lamb Milk Replacer

Deciding which lambs to leave on the ewe and which to raise on lamb milk replacer depends upon judgment. Generally, they include lambs which are not likely to receive enough milk from the ewe. Whenever possible, transferring or grafting these lambs to other ewes should be given top priority. The decision for the removal of the lamb from the ewe should be made as soon as possible after birth. This makes their training period easier and enhances survival rate. Lamb milk replacer can be used to save the following lambs:

  1. Orphan lambs
  2. Weak lambs unable to nurse because of a problem with the ewe’s milk supply.
  3. Unclaimed lambs
  4. Third lambs in set of triplets.
  5. In twin lambs where one is weak or small.
  6. One lamb from set of twins from a ewe lambing at less than a year of age.

Management Tips For Lambs on Lamb Milk Replacer

  1. Provide colostrum which acts as a laxative to baby lamb, is high in nutrients, and helps build immunity. Cow’s natural colostrum or LAND O LAKES Dried Colostrum Replacement will work if ewe’s milk is not available. Do not dilute with water or warm too quickly if colostrum is frozen. Colostrum should be thawed out at room temperature (heating destroys the antibodies) as needed and can be fed without further warming.
  2. Lambs should be removed from sight or hearing distance of ewe.
  3. Provide a warm, dry, draft-free area to start lambs.
  4. Lamb may require some assistance the first day or two to teach them to nurse on whatever feeding device is used.
  5. Avoid placing young lambs with older lambs, as they might be pushed aside and not be able to obtain milk replacer. If lambs were nursing ewe, they would drink 25 to 40 times per 24 hours.
  6. Hang a light over the milk replacer feeding device and dry ration feeder.
  7. Provide the following injections at recommended levels:
    • First Day
      1. Iron Dextran
      2. Vitamin A-D-E
      3. Selenium – Vitamin E Preparation
    • 15 Days of Age: (for overeating)
      1. Colostridium perfringens type C & D
      2. Bacterin
  8. Start lambs on high-quality lamb starter feed at two weeks of age. Provide ample fresh water in front of lambs at all times.
  9. Do not feed hay or oats the first three weeks of age as it encourages bloat. Do not feed leafy alfalfa until two weeks after weaning, as it may encourage bloat.
  10. Wean at 30 days of age or at about 25 pounds of weight when lambs are eating starter feed well.

The Lamb Milk Replacer

The best and most economical means of providing milk to the lamb is through a lamb milk replacer, in powder form, which is mixed with water when needed. A proper milk replacer diet is the most important factor in successfully raising bonus lambs. A high quality lamb milk replacer that promotes good health and growth, although appearing to be high in price, will be the least expensive in the long run because of high survival rates and reduced digestive disorders. Most of the lambs raised successfully on lamb milk replacer were grown on a formula containing 24% protein. Protein and fat specifications were developed through U.S.D.A., university and industry research.

The protein source should be milk protein. Fat sources should be of animal origin and homogenized to a small particle size for maximum digestibility. An instantized lamb milk replacer will give you quicker and more thorough mixing, thus saving you time and assuring proper nutrition in the solution. Calf milk replacers and pig milk replacers are not suitable substitutes for lamb milk replacers since protein and fat specifications in these products do not meet the lambs’ nutritional requirements.

Mixing and Feeding Lamb Milk Replacer

  1. Lambs should receive colostrum soon after birth. Remove lambs from ewes 1 day after birth, if possible, and start lambs on Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer.
  2. Mix 0.25 lb of Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer in 1 pint of warm (110 -120° F.) water, or for large batches mix 2 pounds of Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer with 1 gallon of warm (110-120° F.) water.
  3. Hand Feeding – When hand feeding by bottle. Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer should be fed at body temperature. The following feeding schedule is recommended:
    • After Colostrum Feeding to 3 Days – Feed 1/3 cup of reconstituted Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer 4 to 6 times a day at 4 hour intervals. 4 Days to 2 Weeks – Gradually decrease the number of feedings and increase amount of Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer per feeding. At two weeks of age, 1 cup of reconstituted Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer 3 times per day is sufficient. 2 Weeks to Weaning – Feed reconstituted Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer twice daily and in gradually increased quantities.
  4. Free Choice Feeding – If using devices to give lambs free access to Ultra Fresh Lamb Milk Replacer, it should be fed cold at about 40° F. Cold milk is used to limit intake and prevent overeating. When starting lambs on nipples they will require assistance. However, they will adapt readily and nurse independently within 1 or 2 days.
  5. Keep milk replacer feeding equipment clean.
  6. Provide a high quality creep feed at a few days of age and continue on a free-choice basis. Fresh, clean water should be provided at all times.
  7. Lambs should be weaned from milk at 4 to 6 weeks of age or about 25 pounds of weight. Abrupt weaning can be used. However, reduced milk replacer feeding a few days prior to weaning to encourage creep intake may be desirable.
  8. If Scours Occur: First – Check environment for drafts and proper temperature. Second – Evaluate sanitation. Third – If scours persist, treat with suitable antibiotic as recommended by your veterinarian.

Equipment for Feeding Lamb Milk Replacer

For a few lambs, mix milk powder and water with a wire whisk. For many lambs, use an agitator-type washing machine or electric paint mixer. Commercial mixers are also available. One day’s milk solution can be prepared and refrigerated until needed. Equipment requires regular cleaning.

Figure 1

For minimum labor and maximum growth, feed lambs free-choice. A device is required that keeps the milk clean and cold (below 40°F.) prevents milk waste and allows the lambs to nurse at will. Special complete lamb milk replacer feeders are available (Fig.1), or nipples attached to tubes leading from an insulated chest make a satisfactory feeder.

Figure 2. Place nipples 12”-15” above the floor. Have cold milk available in the tubs at all times – water frozen in plastic jugs or commercial ice packs (e.g. those used for picnic coolers) can cool the milk in warm weather. Nipples are attached to a metal strap mounted on the side of the pen partition.

Figure 2


Three types of nipples are available. The self-primed type has a valve and an attached plastic tube. Lambs suck with minimum effort, but the valve tends to clog, restricting milk flow. This type is also difficult to clean.

The second type is simply a nipple attached to a plastic tube…often referred to as the Lam-Bar type. The only drawback to this type is that the lamb has to suck to pull the milk replacer through the tube and nipple.

The third type is the bottom feeding nipple. It causes less waste because the milk replacer flows by gravity. It provides a constant supply of milk replacer right at the nipple, which is a plus with very weak lambs.

Mount the first two types of nipples just above the milk level in the reservoir to require the lambs to suck the milk up through the plastic tubes. When the lambs finish sucking, the milk in the tubes flows back to the reservoir.

To reduce coccidiosis, select and place feeders and waterers to keep out lamb’s feet.


Provide infrared (110 volt, 250 watt) heat lamps with reflectors about 30” above the pen floor. Use one lamp for each 15 lambs. Or, install quartz-type infrared heat lamps according to manufacturer recommendations.


Bed solid floor pens with straw or wood shavings. Expanded metal or slotted floors reduce pen-cleaning requirements when 2-4 ft2 of floor space is allowed per lamb. Use 6-8ft2 per lamb on solid floors.

Training Lambs To Nurse

A small pen (4’x4’), well bedded, with a milk replacer self-feeder mounted on the pen panel, is used for lambs during the training period. When Lam-Bar type nipples are used on the feeder, the level of milk should be kept near the nipple level so lambs can obtain milk without having to suck too hard.

Lambs should be allowed to become hungry before trying to put them on the cold milk formula. Pen several lambs together during training. The pen should have one or two trained lambs to lead the untrained to the nipples. Help untrained lambs every six hours until they learn to nurse. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they learn.

Young lambs may shiver momentarily after sucking the cold milk, but will soon become adapted. Feeding the cold milk helps reduce over-eating and digestive problems.

Most lambs, assisted every six hours, will nurse independently within 24 hours. Some will learn with only one or two assists, especially those that have never nursed the ewe. Others that have been with the ewe will require more time. The ability to adapt varies among breeds.

Lambs should be watched carefully in the training pen to determine those that are nursing without help. When this happens, they should be moved to another self-feeding pen for the remainder of the milk feeding period. Their ear tag number should be recorded with the date to be used later in determining the time for booster vaccinations and weaning.

Self-Feeding Period

When quite a number of lambs of various ages are to be fed, it is advisable to arrange the pens so that younger lambs can be kept separate from older lambs. Day-old lambs should not be penned with lambs over one week old. Younger lambs may adopt older lambs as their mothers and attempt to nurse the navel or scrotum. Once the lamb is placed in the self-feeding pen, it should remain there until weaned. If pen mates are split into different pens, the lambs involved may go off feed.

Lambs can be fed in groups up to 25 head during this period. However, they usually perform more satisfactorily in smaller groups.

Consumption of solid feed, in addition to liquid milk replacer, aids in stomach (rumen) development in the young animal, which is essential when early weaning (at 4 weeks) from the liquid diet is accomplished. Thus, starter feed should be offered throughout the milk feeding period.

Usually only a limited amount (less than 0.1 lb. per head per day) of solid feed will be consumed during this period. However, it is essential that lambs are consuming some solid feeds prior to weaning.

If not included in the solid feed, trace mineral salt should be offered as a separate item. Water should be available free-choice during the milk feeding period.

Troughs should be cleaned daily and unused feed removed and replaced with fresh feed and the water must be kept fresh and clean. Young lambs will refuse dirty or contaminated feed and water. It is important that pens and milk feeding equipment be kept clean.


The total amount of lamb milk replacer fed to a lamb is an important aspect determining the profitability of that lamb.

Fresh creep feed and water should be available at all times during the milk replacer feeding period in order to encourage early dry feed consumption and, hence, rumen development. Significant dry feed intake usually occurs by week 3. Once dry feed consumption is occurring, weaning may be successfully accomplished at 4 to 6 weeks of age. Abrupt weaning from milk replacers is satisfactory. Reduced milk replacer feedings for a few days before complete cessation of a liquid feeding is also acceptable. Lambs that are ready to wean should have consumed at least 20-25 lbs. of milk replacer powder and weigh about 25 lbs.