Key technical aspect
Care at the time of birth and colostrum
Care at the time of birth and colostrum are paramount for successful lamb and goat breeding: more than half of deaths occur during the first two days of life.
To guarantee the vital role of colostrum, the young ruminant must consume 10% of its body weight in colostrum. For an animal weighing 3 kg, the recommendation would therefore be:
- 150 ml in the first two hours of life
- 150 ml six hours later
Particularly rich in fat, colostrum will constitute a source of energy and protect the newborn animal’s immune system.
For young ruminants, the mortality rate within five weeks of birth is 2.3 times higher for animals that have difficulty ingesting colostrum within the first 48 hours of life.
The quality of the colostrum will also be monitored. The goal for a newborn is to reach between 12 and 24 grammes IgG. In this context, we will only use colostrum with 50 g IgG/litre. Monitoring using a refractometer is quick and revealing.
At the time of birth, it is also important to disinfect both the umbilical cord and the identity tags to avoid any contamination.
Colostrum is the first essential food. The antibodies present in colostrum are the young ruminant’s first means of immune defence (protection against bacteria and viruses in the environment).
Growth and weaning
Optimal growth during the ‘milk feeding’ phase determines the career of the future dairy goat or ewe (longevity, milk production, etc.).
It is a vital phase in the animal’s life.
After three days on whole milk, the young ruminants can begin a powder-based milk feed from the fourth day.
Breeding ewe lambs and doe kids will be weaned as follows:
- Weaning from eight weeks
- Body weight of at least 16 kg
- Consume 200 g of concentrate per day and per animal.
- Weaning between 35 and 45 days
- Birth weight X 3
- Body weight between 12 kg and 14 kg (roughly three times the birth weight)
- Consume 250 g of concentrate per day and per animal
To reach this goal, it is essential to allow free access to water, concentrate and fodder from the start of the third week of life. This is the key to the success of rumen development and stress-free weaning.
Between 18 kg and 20 kg of milk replacer are necessary to wean a doe kid, 10 kg to 14 kg for a lamb.
Milk feed for lambs
Milk feeding is essential for the growth of lambs and kids. The milk replacer replaces (or complements) the distribution of whole milk. The milk replacer is suited to the nutritional needs of young lambs and kids. It provides the necessary quantity of protein and fat along with nutrients and minerals that are useful for optimum growth.
Adhere to the feeding plans and the automatic feeding machine settings (calibrate the machine once a week).
Monitor mixing (50 °C) and dispensing (42 °C) temperatures.
Teats and milk distribution tools must be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
For young lambs and kids, at birth, digestion of milk feed takes place in the abomasum and the animal’s digestive system resembles that of a monogastric. The milk feed will be digested in the abomasum.
There are different feed distribution systems that are to be adapted depending on the farm’s practices.
- Inexpensive but labour intensive (preparation, distribution, and cleaning per item). Suitable for small structures.
- The appeal of bottle-fed milk is low, the animal’s growth will be reduced and there is an increased risk of digestive disorders.
- Buckets with teats
- Equally inexpensive and less labour intensive. Caution is necessary as the bucket may fall over if it is placed on a stool.
- More appealing and less risk of digestive disorders.
- Automatic milk dispenser
- More expensive but less labour intensive.
- Animal growth is optimised, they often consume small amounts of milk (unlimited distribution).
Solid food and drinking
The rumen of the young lamb or kid does not function at birth, they need to consume solid feeds in order to develop their ability to ruminate.
Provide unlimited clean, fresh water.
Access to solid food by means of fodder (straw and/or hay), concentrates from week two. It is preferable to use long-stemmed straw to stimulate rumination. The advantage of straw is that it has a constant nutritional value albeit weak. This will not be the case with hay which can be too high in energy and irregular over time.
You can also provide self-serve clay that will protect the digestive tract.
Consuming fodder stimulates the beginning of rumination by developing the flora in the rumen. This will help develop the volume of the rumen and consequently the ewe or the doe will be more productive.
Health and housing
At the time of birth, the environment can be a hazard for the young lamb or kid (hypothermia and or risk of infection). An optimal environment must be provided for the growth of the animal.
Assemble animals in same-age groups (by age class of 15 days at most) to prevent transmission of risk pathogens between animals of different ages.
Ensure a comfortable space and a building environment suitable for lambs and kids. Consider space (at least 0.25 m² per animal), lighting, ventilation, covering and drainage. For very young lambs under a week old, a comfort temperature of 18 °C to 20 °C is recommended.
Add fresh straw at least once a day to limit the spread of pathogens. A slatted floor can be installed under the suckling area to make cleaning easier and limit the risk of humidity.
Between two groups, be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect the living area.
Birth is critical, the young animal has a high surface area for a low mass. There is a risk of hypothermia as they rapidly lose heat. It is essential for the lamb or kid to rapidly consume colostrum and for the temperature of the living area to be mild.
Dry bedding helps reduce sanitary problems.