Surplus lambs perform well on ewe milk replacer

Surplus lambs reared on performance-formulated lamb milk replacer – based on whey protein from cow’s milk – do just as well as lambs running naturally with the ewe.

A study carried out at IBERS (Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences), based at Aberystwyth University in Wales, reports that the use of a colostrum alternative followed by good-quality lamb milk replacer facilitates the successful rearing of surplus lambs.

Lambs reared on milk replacer reached similar weaning weights to their naturally-reared counterparts and, when slaughtered, both carcass weight and confirmation were comparable to that of lambs reared on the ewe; despite having a slightly lighter body weight at slaughter.

Dr. Jessica Cooke, Volac research scientist, said: “The results of this trial clearly show that sheep farmers should be confident about rearing surplus lambs on performance-formulated lamb milk replacer; provided care is taken to maximise rumen development before weaning for lambs reared on an ad-lib system.”

Automatic feeding systems

The results will be encouraging for the many sheep producers in Ireland who have invested recently in automatic feeding of surplus lambs.

Volac’s Abi Erian said: “Enquiries about automatic milk feeding are at an all-time high in the sheep sector. Like calf rearers, farmers are undoubtedly attracted by the labour-saving benefits and the fact that machine rearing frees up time to focus on other important jobs.

“But, they also report faster growth rates because there is no limit to how much or when the lambs can drink.”

Erian added that it makes good sense to plan ahead for lambing this season and to re-examine current surplus lamb rearing practices.

Basically, you have three options come lambing time: you either sell your extra lambs to someone else to rear; foster your surplus lambs onto a single-bearing ewe; or artificially rear them on milk replacer.

“If you intend to rear as many as you can to maximise your finished lamb sales, it’s good practice to take any third and fourth lambs off their mothers.

“This will help boost lamb survival rates and performance. It will also take the pressure off ewes trying to rear multiples.

“This is particularly important for young mothers and will help her keep growing and producing enough milk for the lambs she has left,” she said.

Good husbandry cannot be replaced

When deciding which lamb to remove from a triplet-bearing ewe, Erian advised removing either the smallest or the largest one to leave a balanced pair.

Whichever lamb is chosen must be sucking well and have been with its mother for 24 hours after birth. The lamb should have received a good supply of colostrum – particularly in the first six hours of life.

However, Volac stressed that machine rearing, whilst saving substantial time and rearing hassle, is certainly no substitute for good husbandry.

“The IBERS trial highlighted the importance of maximising rumen development while rearing surplus lambs on ad-lib milk replacer. But sound hygiene is also crucial and lamb pens must be draught-free, well-drained and bedded to keep lambs as warm and dry as possible.

In addition, clean, fresh water must be made available along with creep feed (18% crude protein) offered ad-lib to encourage early intake.

“Follow these guidelines, you can be confident in rearing those extra lambs highly cost-effectively with margins of £15-£25/lamb (€17-29/lamb) being achievable (over lifetime feed cost), based on previous years’ lamb prices,” Cooke explained.

Why Volac Lamlac?
  • Lamlac remains the number one ewe milk replacer, simply because it keeps meeting modern sheep producer needs;
  • Lamlac provides concentrated milk protein, which is highly digestible to promote faster growth rates (proven in performance trials);
  • Lamlac also delivers ultra-filtrated milk protein, for fewer digestive upsets;
  • Lamlac is fully formulated and instantised, to provide all the nutrients required by the lamb in an “easy mix” format – even in cold water;
  • Lamlac stays fresh for 24 hours, which means it works well in ad-lib systems;
  • Lamlac is conveniently available in 5kg, 10kg and 25kg bags;
  • Lamlac is supplied in “instant” or “freeflow” forms to suit all rearing systems (manual/machine);
  • Lamlac can also be fed to goat kids.