November 22, 2010

Lambs Won't Nurse!

We sometimes have a problem with young lambs not feeding from the mother.  They seem to not  know how to suck.  The ewe has healthy teats and milk.   We have tried  rolling the ewe onto its back, holding the ewe and offering the teat to  the lamb. This works well if the lamb knows how to suck, but if it doesn't  what can we do?  Can you advise?   Appreciate your site.

A chilled lamb usually has no interest in food.  If that's the case, the first order of business is to warm the lamb up by whatever means you can (e.g. hair dryer, immersion in warm water, etc.).  You can try tube-feeding the lamb warmed colostrum or warm dextrose (NOT cold milk or replacer!); usually that helps *if* chill is the problem.  Once the lamb nurses for the first time, it should do ok after that unless something is seriously wrong.
You can tell if a lamb is cold, by the way, by sticking your finger in its mouth.  If it's cold in there, the lamb is chilled.   At the same time you'll be checking for vigor of sucking response.

Your use of the plural here tells me you've seen this more than once. Perhaps it might be a good idea to review your bloodlines, and look for a different and/or more unrelated ram.  Loss of early life vigor is one of the first signs of inbreeding depression.