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Nutrition for lambs and kids

Nutrition starts with the mother. If ewes or does are poorly fed while pregnant, the offspring will not grow well inside the mother; they’ll be small, weak and thin at birth which makes them far more likely to die from factors such as cold, wind, rain, starvation or disease.

Kids weighing less than 2.5kg at birth have a poor chance of survival; those weighing more than 3.5kg have a good chance. The mother, especially does that often have multiple births, needs a body condition score of at least three (BCS 3) to produce healthy offspring. If natural veld is not enough, a supplement of 300g to 500g per ewe/day, of chocolate maize or commercial supplement should be given during the last four to six weeks of pregnancy.

Apart from making the lambs bigger and stronger, the ewe’s udder will be better developed and she will have more body reserves for milk production later. This will keep the offspring strong and healthy. Check the udders before lambing. There must be two functional teats and no serious signs of mastitis, otherwise the offspring will starve.

The nutritional demands of the mother increase to more than double her normal intake after she has lambed. Unless the veld is good and there is enough bush and grass, supplement the lactating mothers with 500g/ day.

The farmer will reap the rewards of this investment with good production and plenty of large, healthy lambs to sell later. Feeding lactating ewes is essential for the first four to six weeks after lambing, when the offspring depend mainly on milk for growth and survival.

You can supplement 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. The creep feeder will keep costs down by preventing the mothers from eating the supplements by protecting the feed trough with a gate that only allows the tiny youngsters inside. The young animals will be ready for weaning and marketing much earlier, so the farmer will recover the costs.

After 14 days the youngsters will nibble more at grass and bush, but they cannot survive on pasture alone until they weigh at least 15kg, preferably 18kg, so keep supplementing them and don’t wean them too early. They will gradually start drinking water on their own, but it is never a substitute for milk. Proper nutrition is vital to raising healthy, productive lambs and kids.

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