Drought has contributed to New Zealand’s sheep flock falling over the past year.
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.