What are my options when it comes to managing surplus lambs?

Over the course of the lambing season, it is inevitable that farmers are going to have lambs that won’t be reared by a ewe.

This will generally be the case for prolific flocks, where there a number of twin and triplet-bearing ewes.

Ideally, in most situations, if the number of single and triplet-bearing ewes is relative to another, a farmer will try to cross-foster one of the triplet lambs onto a ewe carrying one lamb.

However, this can be difficult to do, especially if farmers are working full-time off-farm and aren’t around the lambing shed at all times.

So, in this case, if cross-fostering can’t be carried out, then farmers are left with three other options.

These include: 

  • Allow the ewe to rear her three lambs;
  • Sell the surplus lambs;
  • Artificially rear the lambs.

Allow the ewe rear her 3 lambs

Generally, surplus lambs come about when a ewe has three or more lambs; some farmers will allow the ewe to rear three lambs, while others will take one or more of the lambs away.

However, in the case of a ewe rearing three lambs, a lot will depend on whether she is in good health, has a good body condition score (BCS), and if she has plenty of milk.

If a ewe falls short in one of the three areas (above), then she will struggle to rear her lambs.

Ideally, ewes that are rearing three lambs should be managed as a separate flock, as they will need to be supplemented with concentrates after lambing.

According to Teagasc, ewes – that are rearing three lambs – should be supplemented with 0.5kg of high-quality concentrates – daily – in addition to being offered good-quality grass for the first five weeks of lactation. Furthermore, lambs should be offered concentrates as well – up to 300g a day.

It is important that farmers keep a close eye on their triplet ewes in the first few weeks of lactation, as some ewes may not be able to sustain rearing three lambs.

Sell the surplus lambs

Another option for farmers, especially if they don’t have the time to rear their surplus lambs artificially, or to cross-foster them onto another ewe, is to sell them.

Every year, there is a demand for pet lambs, especially if a farmer lost a lamb at lambing and is looking to buy another lamb to foster onto a ewe.

Artificially rear the surplus lambs

A common practice on many farms, especially if there is a large flock of ewes, is to rear the surplus lambs artificially, if cross-fostering isn’t a viable option.

There are a number of ways that lambs can be fed artificially.

These include:

  • Feeding lambs with a bottle or a multi-feeder buckets;
  • Ad-libitum feeding using lamb-feeding devices;
  • Automated lamb feeders that automatically mix the milk replacer with water – in small amounts – as the lamb drinks it.