Orphan lambs can pay their way

Orphan lambs can thrive on good nutrition and a good feeding system
Orphan lambs can thrive on good nutrition and a good feeding system

Orphan lambs can pay their way and do just as well as those raised by the ewe.

But, says Cargill’s technical sales manager Georgina Croxford, this is providing that quality diets and good management are on offer.

“It might be tempting to cut corners with orphan lambs as they are another job in the busy lambing season but where good orphan lamb systems are in place the outcome can be cost-effective. From a flock perspective this is important as poor lambs, not managed well, will reduce the overall performance and profitability of the whole operation.”

While in some cases a good foster ewe may be found to take on weaker or orphan lambs, more often than not a group of these lambs can be raised together and fed on a ewe milk replacer.

“Select a good milk replacer,” adds Ms Croxford. “And make sure it is concentrated enough. If the bag states to mix to a 20% concentration, you need 200g powder to 800ml water. If you decide to ‘spin it out a bit further’ and use 200g powder to a litre of water then the lambs will get a diluted feed and will be underfed. So don’t cut corners and inadvertently restrict nutrient availability and hence growth rates with inferior milk or a dilution factor.”

A good feeding system is also vital.

“Use one that suits the young lambs and encourages feeding. An ad lib bucket with fresh warm milk generally works well. It must be kept clean and well serviced though, and it must be robust – find a system that is tried and tested.”

Rearing lambs artificially to target finishing weights may look expensive with costs around £45 a figure which includes milk replacer, lamb creep, bedding, forage, vet and medicine cost. Ms Croxford adds that at current lamb prices and including labour costs a profit margin around £25 is possible and with better management £30 per lamb could be achievable.

“In this way you can determine if rearing orphan lambs will make financial sense on your farm.

“A small input cost may lead to an excellent return. Good management will mean the difference between financial success and financial failure.”