Feeding colostrum to newborn lambs

Colostrum is the first feed for the newborn lamb and the key to survival. It’s a highly nutritious energy source that helps the lamb to maintain body temperature and survive. It also contains antibodies that are vital to help protect the newborn lamb against disease. Feeding sufficient good quality colostrum immediately after birth will reduce losses from both hypothermia and disease.

Feeding colostrum to newborn lambs

It’s critical to carefully feed your in-lamb ewes in order to stimulate the production of quality colostrum and ensure lambs get the best start in life.

Remember the 3Q rule: colostrum should be fed quickly, in sufficient quantity and be of the right quality. It should also be squeaky clean!

1. Feed colostrum quickly

Feed colostrum as soon as possible after birth, preferably within the first six hours. This is when the gut wall is most permeable, allowing for the large antibody molecules to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.Provide small frequent feeds during the first 24 hours.

2. Feed enough colostrum

50ml/kg live weight per feed
A minimum 210ml/kg live weight within the first 24 hours

Daily intake:
3kg lamb = 1.1 pints (630ml)
4kg lamb = 1.5 pints (840ml)
5kg lamb = 1.8 pints (1050ml)

For lambs reared outdoors, increase the colostrum allowance by 15% to 20%.

3. Feed good quality colostrum

The quality of colostrum will determine the level of antibodies present in the colostrum. Quality is affected by:

  • Ewe condition: body condition score 3 at tupping and vaccinate against infectious abortion and clostridial disease
  • Ewe parity: the number of previous lambings
  • Ewe health: healthy, well-nourished ewes are able to develop a healthy placenta, which reaches its optimum size around day 90 of pregnancy. About this time the placenta releases hormones that stimulate the lactating cells in the udder and colostrum starts developing three to five weeks before lambing.

While mothers’ colostrum is preferable, if ewe colostrum is unavailable, in short supply or of poor quality, then colostrum must be fed quickly from another source. Options include fresh or frozen colostrum from another ewe, bovine colostrum or a high quality natural alterative such as Volac’s Lamb Volostrum.

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Colostrum should be fed warm (at 39°C). Stand in a bowl of warm water; do not microwave colostrum or heat it directly. Temperatures above 45°C can damage the sensitive proteins within colostrum.

Feeding an alternative colostrum

Volac Lamb Volostrum is an ideal alternative or supplement when ewe colostrum is not available or is in short supply due to multiple births, a sick ewe or a lamb being orphaned. Volostrum is made from high quality whey proteins that have been carefully processed to retain protein quality. It also contains a highly digestible source of energy. Independent trials have shown that lambs fed Volostrum were as healthy and perform equally as well as those that suckled ewes or were fed artificially on ewe colostrum.

A proven alternative to colostrum

Surplus lambs fed a Volostrum went on to match the performance of those fed ewe colostrum for the first 24 hours of life, according to trial findings from the University College Dublin. Furthermore, mortality was nil.

The trial featured 30 surplus lambs from the University’s 350-ewe flock, and split in to two groups. Half the lambs were fed ewe colostrum at 50ml/kg birth weight at one, 10 and 18 hours after birth whilst the remainder were each fed at the same intervals, one, 50g sachet of Volac Lamb Volostrum (3 x 50g sachets over 18 hours). All the surplus lambs were reared artificially on Lamlac ad libitum via a Ewe-2 feeder from 24 hours, and weaned at just over six weeks of age. 

“The two groups of lambs recorded identical pre-weaning growth rates and nil mortality which highlights that when ewe colostrum is in short supply (as is often the case with multiple births) triplet lambs can be successfully artificially reared and achieve high growth rates (table 1),” said University College Dublin’s Dr. Tommy Boland.

Table 1: Lamb performance: ewe colostrum v Volostrum Colostrum-fed lambs Volostrum-fed lambs


Colostrum-fed lambs

Volostrum-fed lambs

Birth weight (kg)



Pre-weaning growth rate (g/day)



Weaning weight (kg)



The Irish findings mirror precisely earlier research findings from Harper Adams University, whilst over 30 farm studies have concluded that farmers were satisfied that Volostrum was very effective as a first feed for lambs.