Small stock production: Nutrition for kids and lambs


Question: What are the nutritional requirements for raising kids and lambs?

Nutrition starts with the mother.  If ewes or does are poorly fed while pregnant, the offspring won’t grow well inside the mother.  They’ll be small, weak and thin at birth and liable to die from factors such as cold, wind, rain, starvation or disease.

Also read:
Managing ewes in the last six weeks of pregnancy
Part two – Managing ewes in the last six weeks of pregnancy

  • Kids weighing less than 2.5 kg at birth have a poor chance of survival.
  • Those weighing more than 3.5 kg have a good chance.
  • The mother – especially does that often have multiple births – needs a body condition score of at least 3 to produce healthy offspring.
  • If natural veld is insufficient, a supplement of 300 g to 500 g per ewe/doe, per day, of “chocolate” mealies or commercial supplement should be given over the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Apart from making the kids or lambs bigger and stronger, the doe/ewe’s udder will be better developed and she will have more body reserves to produce milk later. This will keep the offspring strong and healthy.

Also read: Overcome nutrient deficiencies in goats and sheep

  • Always check the udders before lambing.
  • There must be 2 functional teats and no sign of serious mastitis, otherwise the offspring will starve.
  • After birth the nutritional demands of the mother increase to more than double the quantity she needs when not pregnant.
  • Unless the veld is good and there’s enough bush and grass, supplement each lactating mother with 500 g per day.
  • It’s expensive, but should be seen as an investment.
  • The farmer will reap dividends in terms of good production and plenty of large, healthy kids or lambs to sell later.
  • Feeding lactating ewes and does is essential for the first 4 to 6 weeks, when the offspring depend mainly on milk for growth and survival.

Also read:
Manage small stock feed flow for best production
Overcome nutrient deficiencies in goats and sheep
Pasture management: Get the most out of natural or planted pastures

You can supplement the kids and lambs with a high-quality lick (known as creep feed), but it’s very expensive. Introduce it when the youngsters are 14 days old, or older.

Also read: Lambs thrive on creep feed

Because of its high costs, stop the mothers from eating the supplement by protecting the feed trough with a gate that only allows tiny youngsters inside.

Also read: Creep feeder from farmer patent applied everywhere

The lambs and kids will be ready for weaning and marketing much earlier, so the farmer will recover the costs. After 14 days the young will nibble more often on grass and bush, but they cannot survive on pasture alone until they weigh at least 15 kg (but preferably 18 kg), so keep supplementing them and don’t wean them too early.

They’ll gradually start drinking water on their own, but don’t let it become a substitute for milk. Proper nutrition is absolutely vital to raising healthy, productive lambs and kids.

  • This article was written by Prof. Gareth Bath and first appeared in Farming SA.

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