12 January 1996

Milk bar system cares for orphans

By Rebecca Austin

OVER 3000 lambs have been born at Tony Goods Warborough Farm, Letcombe Regis, Oxon, in the last month. And with 36% of these births recorded as triplets or more, there are 150 orphan lambs.

These are not victims of ewe deaths, but of multiple births, twin- or triplet-bearing ewes with only one quarter, and a policy which allows only those ewe lambs in top condition to rear two lambs.

When possible orphan lambs are fostered on to a ewe; others are put on to a milk bar, 24 hours after birth. Usually these are the weakest from a multiple birth for they stand the least chance of surviving in the main flock.

All lambs weak at birth, as well as quads and most triplets, are given 150ml of cow colostrum to "get them on their feet and away".

At this stage, numbers are limited to 12 lambs of equal size in each pen. "After seven days sucking a ewes teat, a lamb will not take to the milk bar," says Mr Good. There will always be two or three fully trained lambs in the pen to help teach new recruits how to suck one of the three teats. If this fails, lambs are put onto the teat manually two or three times a day until they understand the system. Heat lamps positioned over the teats help lure new or weak lambs to suckle.

"It is essential milk is kept at blood heat at this early stage as it makes a difference to the time it takes to train the lambs," says Mr Good. In five to six weeks, each lamb will take 10kg of powder.

Creep, with added Deccox to protect against coccidiosis, is available ad lib from day one. For the first four weeks, it contains milk powder to boost palatability. But creep intake of the orphans is far lower than that of lambs reared on ewes. "As milk is available ad lib, it is difficult to encourage lambs to eat enough creep and stop some gorging on milk," says Mr Good. The difficulty is highlighted at weaning when orphan lambs are stressed because they fail to eat enough concentrate.

At weaning, the lambs will be housed in big pens littered with small straw bales for them to play with. Mr Good stresses the need to get in the pen and stir up lambs to spot a weak ones which can be left undetected lying up in a group.

Observant and experienced staff are the cornerstone of the system, he says. It is also essential to use machine-grade milk powder, at the recommended concentration, in the milk machine. And the system must be kept clean. At Warborough Farm the milk bar is dismantled every two days.

With orphan-lamb feed currently costing £30 a lamb, Mr Good ensures management standards are of the highest calibre. "Over the five to six-week period to weaning, each lamb consumes £15 of milk powder and the same amount of creep. If the price of ewe milk substitute went any higher, the whole system would fail to be economic," he says.

&#8226 Lambs weak at birth receive cow colostrum.

&#8226 Pen in batches of 12 of about equal size.

&#8226 First-class stockmanship and hygiene vital.

David Barber (left) and Tony Good walk through the lambs to spot weak ones which tend to hide. Survival depends on good stockmanship.