Managing surplus lambs

Your scanning results will provide the first indication of how many lambs are likely to need fostering or artificially rearing. Preparing a carefully planned rearing protocol before lambing starts will be time well invested since well grown artificially reared lambs will leave an acceptable margin that can be considered a worthwhile additional income stream.

Managing surplus lambs

“However, like all successful youngstock systems, surplus lamb rearing requires attention to detail, from daily cleaning of the feeding equipment to providing light airy well drained accommodation. Unless you literally have a handful of surplus lambs, then ad lib bucket or automatic machine systems will prove cost effective; both will save labour, encourage improved growth and reduce the risk of digestive upsets. These systems offer the best alternative to the ewe", says Jackie Bradley, Volac Regional Product Manager.

To successfully rear surplus lambs you will need to consider a number of things. In this article, independent sheep consultant, Kate Philips outlines essential preparation, discusses which lamb to foster and offers a 10 point rearing plan.


Prepare a suitable building or space - free from draughts, with good ventilation above lamb height and free drainage. A dark, poorly ventilated, outdated building is not acceptable. Heat lamps may be required.

Space allowance

  1. Limit each group to 25 lambs maximum.
  2. Organise feeding equipment, either bucket or machine.
  3. Prepare a clean dry area for milk powder storage; check scales, mixing and cleaning equipment are all in working order.

Which lamb to foster?

When a ewe has three lambs then the preferred option for most farmers would be wet fostering of one lamb onto a single rearing ewe. Choose the odd lamb – the small one or the largeone so that the ewe is left with a balanced pair.

Choose the lamb by gender?

  • Consider your lamb target market; if you are selling breeding stock then think which animals have priority – ewe lambs or tup lambs. Leave the highest priority lambs with their mother
  • Gender doesn’t matter if selling all lambs finished or as stores.
  • Remember, entire ram lambs grow approximately 10% faster than castrated or ewe lambs, consequently entire males may be better suited for artificial rearing and reaching slaughter weight fastest.

Artificial rearing guidelines

  1. Every single foster lamb must be fed high quality colostrum – fuel for life, within the first six hours, and a minimum 210ml/kg bodyweight within the first 24 hours. If the ewe does not have enough colostrum then use artificial colostrum or defrosted ewe or cow colostrum.
  2. Remove lambs from their mother at 24 hours and leave for a few hours to get hungry.Keep the lambs warm, draught-free and dry. Introduce gently to the teat. Machine or ad lib bucket lambs will need to be helped to suckle a few times in their first day; they learn quickly.
  3. Provide ad-lib milk replacer fed cold or warm - maximum 18 - 20 C. Clean out the teats, tubes and mixing bowl and bucket daily. For ad lib bucket feeders, introduce accurately mixed milk replacer, as recommended for machines, check the calibration at least weekly and between batches of milk powder. When feeding ad-lib, it is important to make sure the milk does not run out, as this will gorging when the milk is refilled.
  4. Provide quality clean straw regularly to keep bedding clean and dry throughout the rearing phase.
  5. Introduce high quality creep feed ad-lib from approximately one week of age. Refreshcreep daily and never let it go stale. Clean out feeders once a week or more frequently if necessary. Never let creep feed run out.
  6. Provide clean fresh straw in racks initially to provide sharp fibre to encourage rumen development. If desired, change gradually from straw to good quality hay after six weeks.
  7. Provide clean fresh water daily.
  8. Keep lambs inside throughout the rearing and finishing phases to avoid a growth check associated with a change in diet and facing a significant worm challenge at grass.
  9. Vaccinate lambs against clostridial diseases and pasteurella as you would for the rest of the flock. Don’t cut corners and make compromises. This is a necessary measure to avert risk.
  10. Wean abruptly to avoid potential digestive upsets at approximately five weeks. Weaning guidelines: minimum 2.5 times birth weight (9 - 10kg); minimum 35 days old and eating approximately 250g solid feed daily.