Friday, 14 August 2020 07:24

Rearing orphan lambs

Written by  Staff Reporters
Simplicity is the key to successful orphan lamb rearing. Simplicity is the key to successful orphan lamb rearing.

As farmers strive to maximise their lamb survival, interest in orphan lamb rearing systems has been steadily growing.

While automatic lamb feeders have become popular, farmers are developing different orphan lamb rearing systems that suit their operation and climate.

The Dawkins family, based in Marlborough, have refined an orphan lamb rearing system as an adjunct to their Beef + Lamb New Zealand Innovation Farm project – which focused on indoor triplet lambing.

They have found simplicity to be the key to orphan lamb rearing. If the system gets too labour intensive, it becomes costly and time-consuming with no obvious benefits.

Every year the Dawkins rear between 30 and 50 lambs and most of these are sold by the end of January at a minimum of 42kg. Richard Dawkins say they have both the infrastructure (a large, sunny, well-ventilated shed) and the climate to allow their system to work so well and this might not be the case on other farms in other regions. 

This is a summary of what they have found to be important for successfully rearing orphan lambs:

Maximise the amount of sunlight into the orphan pen. This provides warmth and kills germs.

Ventilation is also important. A wet and stagnant environment is a breeding ground for bacteria. A light breeze during the day provides important air flow.

Clean straw for bedding.

Five feeds per day for lamb health and growth rates. 

This is very labour intensive so invest in an automatic feeder or build your own ‘gravity feeder’. The Dawkins’ feeder cost about $200 and significantly cut their labour costs.

Feeding cows colostrum has worked very well with no bloat and growth rates between 250 - 300g / day. A cheap option, but not available to everyone.

Ensure new-born lambs have sufficient colostrum from a ewe prior to training them onto a feeder. The Dawkins tend to bottle feed for two to three days so the lamb is fit and strong before being placed in the main pen.

Keep a watchful eye on any lambs falling behind. These may require bottle feeding or to be placed under a heat lamp.

Introduce good quality roughage from day one to assist in rumen development and therefore early weaning. The Dawkins use lucerne hay and their lambs are weaned after six weeks of age at 16–20kg onto lucerne in the paddock.

Ensure clean water is available at all times and give the lambs access to a pen outside as well.

More like this

Self-shedding sheep study

Massey University is examining the economic impact and the production consequences of crossbreeding with Wiltshire sheep to a fully shedding flock.



OSPRI and LIC join forces

OSPRI and the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) are urging farmers to play their part in improving animal traceability at a critical time on farm.

Awards help winners fine-tune

Newly-crowned Share Farmers of the Year Sarah and Aidan Stevenson are looking forward to their leadership roles over the next 12 months.


Machinery & Products

New tractor fills the gap

Deutz Fahr has introduced the new 8280 TTV, which is aimed at filling the gap between its current 7 and…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Bully boys?

OPINION: This old mutt hears that there is some discontent in the wool sector at the tactics being used by the…


OPINION: Your canine crusader, like many in the rural sector, was deeply distressed to hear the tragic news that a…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter