Tag Archive for lambs

Care And Management Of Hypothermic Lambs & Kid Goats

Gosh it’s cold outside!
Hypothermic lambs and kid goats can become a real problem in this kind of weather.
Throughout much of North America, the record cold is interfering with the health and well-being of many early season neonatal lambs and goat kids. Lambs and goat kids can take quite a bit of cold as long as they are well started, stay dry and get plenty of nourishing milk from their mothers.

But sometimes a new-born lamb or kid will suffer hypothermia because of inadequate mothering, a lack of regular feeding or simply because the lamb overslept and forgot to eat in extremely cold weather.
Hypothermic lambs and kids will die if not attended to immediately.

Hypothermia is the leading cause of pre-weaning lamb and kid goat losses in this country. Many deaths can be prevented with a few simple tools and a basic understanding of how hypothermia kills. Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature drops and the body’s vital signs begin to weaken. Heart rate and respiration decreases and the metabolism slows down.

Hypothermic Lamb

A Mildly Hypothermic Lamb

Past a certain point, the digestive system cannot help a lamb or kid overcome hypothermia. Without energy delivered properly and directly into the core of the body in the form of glucose, brain function is impaired and results in a continuing weakness, confusion, drowsiness, coma and the eventual death of the kid or lamb.

Severly Hypotherimic Lamb

This Hypothermic Lamb Will Die Without an Intraperitoneal Injection of Glucose

What follows below is information you may need to know to save a little life. If you are a new shepherd or goat keeper what I’m going to recommend may scare you. I encourage you to put your fear and apprehensions behind you. Do what you must do. Because if you don’t your hypothermic lamb or kid goat probably will die.

Thermometers and a Keen Eye Save Lives
That’s no hype or exaggeration. Nothing takes the place of good observation in cold weather. A very mild hypothermic lamb or kid goat can often be found before things take a turn for the worse. Mild hypothermic kid goats and lambs will commonly have a characteristic humped up look or will sometimes be off sleeping alone in a corner.
Such lambs and kids can be fed a little extra and warmed up without too much risk. The judicious use of a rectal livestock thermometer can save thousands of little lambs and goat kids. If you don’t own a livestock thermometer you need to get one. A human thermometer will work in a pinch. When I take the temperature of a goat kid or lamb I lay them across my lap. A thermometer is easily inserted with a little spit from me or Vaseline. I keep the thermometer in place for about 3 minutes. I’ve found it helpful to tie a piece of string or dental floss to the end of the thermometer so it doesn’t get “lost” while in service. I’ve never had this happen with a lamb, but it can happen with a big animal.

Normal Temperature for Lambs & Kids

  • Normal body temperature in healthy lambs and kids is 102 °F- 104°F
  • Moderate hypothermia is 99°F – 102°F
  • Severe hypothermia is below 99F° – and your lamb or kid is in serious trouble.

There Are Two Stages of Hypothermia & Two Different Treatments In Lambs or Kids

When treating your lamb or kid for hypothermia you need to understand which treatment is appropriate. Lambs and kids under 5 hours old have a special type of internal body fat that will keep them safe for a few hours depending upon the air temperature. Lambs and kids older than 5 hours have used up the supply of internal fat that they were born with and cannot be treated the same way. If your lamb or kid has a body temperature of 99°F – 102°F and can still hold its head up and suck and is under 5 hours old, warm sheep or goat milk is all you’ll need. About ½ cup fluid (120cc) every 3 or 4 hours by bottle or stomach tube is right for a medium breed of sheep; a little more for large breed sheep. Warm milk replacer works well but is expensive. Should none of those options be available to you, and while it is not ideal for lambs or kids, cow’s milk will work (raw is best) in an emergency. Melt about a tablespoon of butter per ½ cup (120cc) of whole milk or diluted canned evaporated milk. If you do not have butter on hand, find something else that is 100% animal fat – tallow, lard, chicken fat, bacon grease or whatever. No Crisco, vegetable oil or margarine. Make sure the milk is warm before you feed it. About 100° F– 105°F is perfect. If your lamb is fully conscious and can hold its head up, but cannot or will not suck, and its temperature is between 99°F – 102°F you should stomach tube the milk mixture.

Stomach Tubing

Stomach tubing is an easy to learn skill and is a life saver for just about all neonatal farm animals. A thermometer and a stomach tube used correctly will save more neonatal lambs, kids and calves than any other thing I know of. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a basic homesteading skill. To use a stomach tube is really quite simple.

Stomach Tube For Mild Hypotherimic Lambs & Kids

Stomach Tube For Lambs & Kids

Here’s how to do it: You’ll need milk, a Mason jar or pan and a large 60cc syringe with a stomach tube or catheter.

  • While sitting on a bale of hay or a bucket, lay the lamb across your lap or hold it between your legs. I do this well out of the sight of mamma sheep.
  • Have the warm milk ready in a Mason jar or pan.
  • Remove the catheter/tube from the syringe.
  • Dip the end of the catheter into the warm milk to moisten it. Now insert the tube in the corner of the lamb’s mouth. Gently pass the tube all the way to the stomach. The distance varies but is about 7”-11” in most breeds of sheep. If the tube doesn’t go in but a few inches or the lamb starts to struggle you are probably in the lungs and need to remove the tube and re-insert it. When a feeding tube is properly inserted the lamb will remain relaxed and will not struggle.
  • Draw a full 60cc syringe full of warm milk. Place the syringe onto the end of the tube. Slowly depress the syringe to a count of 10.

That’s all there is to it. To remove the tube, pinch it tightly between your thumb and forefinger and remove it very quickly. You don’t want any drops of milk to accidentally aspirate into the lungs.

If the lamb or kid cannot hold its head up and its temp is 99° or below or is unconscious DO NOT use a stomach tube or bring the kid or lamb into the house or try to warm it up in any way. You could kill it. You should give an intraperitoneal injection of glucose.

Intraperitoneal Glucose Injection

An intraperitoneal glucose injection is an injection of glucose directly into the abdominal cavity of the lamb or kid. The lamb or kid can no longer create energy via the digestive system. It must have glucose. It is the best way to save the life of a lamb or kid that is older than 5 hours and has a body temperature of 99°F or less. You must give glucose before warming the lamb because the lamb or kid may die from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
If you do not know how to give this injection get your veterinarian to do it or teach you how to.
If you can’t get a veterinarian fast enough here’s what you need to know to do it yourself. Be brave. It is very scary the first time you do this on your own. Just remember your lamb or kid is almost dead and you have nothing to lose and maybe everything to gain.

Here’s How to Do It
The needle size must be a 1” X 19 gauge used with a large syringe. A longer needle could nick internal organs and shorter needle will not reach the space in the peritoneal cavity. A 60 ml syringe works well.

Dextrose For Severe Hypothermic Lambs or Kids

Dextrose For Hypothermic Lambs or Kids

You need to use a sterile 20% glucose solution. You can dilute a 40% or 50% glucose or dextrose with sterile water if necessary.

The rough dosing is as follows:

50 ml for a large lamb or kid
40 ml for a medium lamb or kid
30 ml for small lamb, kid or triplet

If using 50% glucose or dextrose boil the water to sterilize it before mixing. For a large lamb or kid goat, draw up 20 ml of 50% glucose or dextrose into a sterile syringe. Now draw up 30 ml of sterile water.
The water can be very warm – in fact it works better if it is. You want the glucose solution to be slightly above normal body temperature -104°F- 108°F when it is actually injected.
Hotter water keeps the solution from getting too cold by the time you make it up and get back to the barn. I keep the syringe warm in the barn by keeping it under my clothes and close to my body until I’m ready to use it.

The injection site on the lamb is located 1/2″ to the side and 1″ down below the umbilical cord stump.
Be sure to have the warm syringe ready in hand before you pick up the kid or lamb. Hold the lamb or kid up by its forelegs in front of you while you lean against a wall or bales of hay. By holding the kid or lamb in this way the liver and other internal organs are dropped out of the way of the needle.

The lamb or kid probably won’t struggle much or at all. But you do need the lamb to be completely limp before you inject the glucose. Wait a few minutes if you have to for the kid or lamb to go limp. With an unconscious kid or lamb this isn’t an issue.
To give the injection when alone, first steady yourself firmly against a wall or bales of hay. Take the cap off the needle and insert the needle straight on and directly into the belly aiming slightly towards the tail or butt. Very slowly release the plunger on the syringe. That’s all there is to it.

Now it is safe to slowly warm the lamb or kid back up. The lamb should receive a course of antibiotics for 5 – 7 days. I use a long acting penicillin. But you should consult you veterinarian for the proper type, dosage and his/her recommendations for the appropriate antibiotic in your area.

How To Dock A Lamb’s Tail

All lambs born on my farm get their tails docked. There are many different ways to accomplish tail docking and it varies by location, culture and tradition.
Tail docking (shortening of the tail) is usually done in the United States to protect sheep against blowfly strike.

Sometimes when young lambs or adult sheep are on lush grass or are wormy, their manure becomes loose and it will coat their tails, read ends and back legs .

3 Day Old Lamb

3 Day Old Lamb

When the weather is warm and humid, a wet, dung coated sheep tail and backside is an attractive breeding ground for flies and is the perfect environment for them to lay their eggs. When those fly eggs hatch, they quickly turn into maggots that tunnel into the sheep’s flesh. Because sheep are so woolly and fluffy it can be hard to see what is happening. Often by the time a shepherd realizes there’s a problem maggots have been slowly eating the sheep alive. Blowfly strike can be fatal.

Banded Tails On Lambs

Lambs With Newly Banded Tails

Tail docking causes transient pain.
But experience has proved to me that the benefits of tail docking far out weigh any temporary discomfort to the lambs.
Over the years there has been much discussion about proper tail length. At one time very short tails were the fashion in show rings across the U.S.
Thankfully now a days most sheep producers will concede that no good comes from too short a tail.
It is generally agreed upon that whatever method of docking is employed, the tail should be shortened to just beneath the caudal tail fold.
A reasonable tail stump is one that is long enough to allow the sheep to “switch” their tails to keep the flies from biting their tender parts.
A sheep’s tail should be long enough to cover the anus in rams and the vulva in ewes.

Good Tail Length

Border Cheviot Ewes With Proper Tail Length

There are a few different methods of tail docking. Each has a particular advantage and drawback. The two most popular methods in the U.S. are banding and amputation.
Amputation is done in many different ways and I believe it is the most prevalent method worldwide. Tail amputation is the preferred method to reduce the incidence of tetanus. With amputation a lamb’s tail is cut between the vertebrae with a sharp knife or scalpel. Care must be taken with older lambs. Sometimes excessive bleeding is a problem, but usually it can be controlled and stopped with a hot iron or a clean rag applied to the stump.
A few people who I know who use the amputation method here in western Pennsylvania, heat bolt cutters until they are red-hot and then cut the tail off. The heat from the bolt cutters cauterizes the tail stump and prevents bleeding.

The method I use and the one that I think is the simplest for beginners is the banding method.
The banding method is bloodless.
With the banding method a heavy-duty rubber ring is placed over the tail with special pliers called an  Elastrator.

 Elastrator Pliers & Rubber Band

An Elastrator Pliers & Rubber Band Used For Banding Tails

With the band applied, blood circulation is cut off to the part off the tail beneath the band.
The tail will wither and drop off of its own accord in about 10 – 14 days.

Dropped Lamb Tail

A Dropped Tail From A Lamb

The banding method carries with it the risk of tetanus. That’s one of the reasons for ewes to be current with their booster shots before lambing. Neonatal lambs are protected from tetanus via the colostrum milk from their mothers
A tetanus antitoxin shot should be given to unprotected or at risk lambs at the time of their banding. And all lambs should be healthy and well started before having their tails docked.
With banding, I think the ideal time is when a lamb is between 48 and 72 hours old.
A lamb older than 7 days should not be banded in my opinion.
When the band is applied to the tail there is pain for the lamb, but within 30 minutes or so the pain appears to subside.
When I dock tails I hold the lamb between my knees and lift the tail.

Band Is Applied

Applying The Band Just Below The Tail Fold

I then place the band on the tail just below the caudal fold and roll the band off the elastrator with my thumb and forefinger.

Caudal Fold

The Caudal Fold On A Lamb’s Tail

Sometimes the bands are very stiff and hard to remove from the elastrator on to the tail, but in general, it goes very easy. Just remember that it’s always kinder to leave the tail a little longer than shorter.
Here’s a video I made that will show you how to dock a tail and how to insert a swivel ear tag.