Survival: Caring for Orphan Lambs and Kids

I have a strange dance that I’m doing most days in my kitchen. It’s a step, slide, step, slide, turn around, lift over, step slide. If I stand still too long, I get chewed on – either on my knee or calf, through my pant leg.And why, do you ask, am I doing this strange dance? Because of little critters in my kitchen!

On Valentine’s Day this year, my husband Norm brought home a newborn kid for me to care for. His mother was a youngster herself and didn’t know how to care for him, much less have enough milk to feed him. As I held him and warmed him in my arms, I got to thinking – if YOU were given a newborn goat or sheep, could YOU care for it properly?

Beginning on that day, my kitchen has been filled for with kids and lambs, 1 or 2 at a time, in all stages of stress; they stay until they are strong enough to go back to the barn but then another little life would come into my life.

I don’t mean to sound like I know everything, but I have done this before; I have learned from books and experience how to care for these precious bundles until they become strong enough to go back to their mothers or to be able to eat on their own and join the rest of the animals in the barn.

When you have a stressed baby in your arms, the first thing you need is heat! The baby is probably still wet, weak and unable to heat himself. Feel the inside of his mouth – is it cold? Feel his feet – are they cold? Wrap the baby in a towel, in a blanket, in your coat, whatever you have available, and head directly to the house. I have found the best thing to warm the baby is a heating pad. I have several in the house for many different reasons and know where they are at all times. Wrap the heating pad in a pillowcase or soft muslin; place it in a small box just a little bit bigger than the lamb/kid with a towel over the pad. The heating pad should be set no higher than the 1st setting – you can burn the baby if it gets too hot. All the while you are getting the box ready, hold the baby in a dry towel or blanket, next to your body to help start the heating process. Or have someone else hold the baby while you use two hands to prepare the bed. After you place the baby in the box, cover the baby with a dry towel to help hold the heat in. A dog “wee-wee” (or training) pad makes a good waterproof barrier between the heating pad and the towel for when baby wakes up and piddles before you get him out of the box. As baby gets warmer, you can put the towel over the box, but not directly on the baby.

Grandma (or Great-Grandma, as the case may be) used to put the babies under the wood stove – if they were severely chilled, she would open the oven and put the baby in the oven (keeping the door open, of course) in a box until the worst chill was over.

As the baby is warming, get the food ready to feed. If you are fortunate, you will be able to collect colostrum from either the mother or another mother; or you might have some stored in the freezer. Colostrum is “mother’s first milk,” which has the necessary nutrients for boosting a youngster along the road to health. If you don’t have natural colostrum, you can purchase powdered colostrum at feed stores or at a veterinarian’s office. (If you have the slightest chance that you might have stressed babies, it would be wise to have some in the cupboard.)

Should you not have access to colostrum, you can use formula that is designed for kids and lambs and put about a tablespoon of karo syrup in about a quarter of a cup of formula. This sweetener will help give the baby a kick-start.

FeedingThere is a boosting liquid called “Survive” that has a lot of vitamins and minerals that will help boost a lamb or a kid along the way to survival – you push a squirt into the mouth 2 times in the first 12 hours.

Hopefully you will have a bottle and nipple for the lamb or kid. The lamb nipple fits on most plastic pop bottles. If not, there are options that will work. A normal baby bottle with the nipple’s hole made a little bit larger will do. If the baby is very weak, I use a syringe to push the formula down into the cold tummy. You need to be careful if you are using a syringe, as you could accidentally force formula down into the lungs. I use a 35 ML size syringe – you can get those at the feed store or vets’ offices if you don’t happen to have one (we have extras from giving injections to animals through the years). A smaller syringe or an eyedropper will work with the very weak – anything to get that food down into baby.

The formula needs to be “baby-warm” – as warm as the inside of your wrist – about 98º – so it is warm enough to help warm the tummy but not too hot as to burn the mouth or tummy. You may warm formula and powdered colostrum in the microwave, in a glass container, but don’t warm the real colostrum from momma there. Microwaved colostrum turns to custard! I usually warm colostrum in a ‘throw-together” double boiler – a small glass container in a small saucepan of hot water, heated on the stove.

There is the chance of scours (diarrhea) that can come from too much formula at the beginning, a change from colostrum to lamb replacer too quickly or not having colostrum to start with. In that case, I depend on Pepto Bismal. You can give a small squirt – no more than 10 ML for two or three feeds to help soothe the tummy and stop the scours. Scours will kill a young baby quicker than almost anything except for cold and wet.

Feeding schedules are just like with a human baby – start with about every 2 hours and build up to 4 hours between feedings. Hopefully by 4 hours, the baby will sleep most of the night. If you confine him in his box at night where it is dark and quiet, he is more likely to sleep longer. However, once he hears your voice, it’s all over! He will wake and holler for his momma! As he gets older, you can cut him down to 3 and then 2 feedings a day – he won’t think it’s fair but he will be drinking a lot more each time so will really have a decent amount. He will also start nibbling on alfalfa pellets or alfalfa leaves from the hay.

Okay, you have rescued your baby and he is getting better, stronger and is even starting to make a pest of himself. This is when you make a choice, depending on your situation and the weather. You can leave him in the house or you can take him out to the barn.

WalkingIf you leave him in the house, you need to confine him in an area where you can have his heating pad bed and have newspapers down for his potty area. Otherwise he will follow you all over the house, sleep at your feet and piddle all over the place, making it necessary for old towels and rags to clean up after him. He will also chew on your knees, hoping to find nutrition from them.

If you take him to the barn you will need to confine him away from the rest of the animals in a safe pen and have a secure heat lamp to keep him warm. But do this only if the weather is mild – severe cold will attack him even with the heat lamp. In the barn, he won’t be under your feet all the time and you won’t need to clean up after him as much. You can bring out the food and feed him where he is secure and warm and safe.

Now that I have told you all that I know, YOU are ready to do that strange dance – step, slide, step, slide, lift over, turn, as lambs or kids chase you around the kitchen hoping that you will feed them, adopting you as their mommy and wanting to be near you at all times. It’s hard work, but it’s a great feeling, and it’s fun. Fortunately it only happens for a little while, not for the whole year! But during this time, you can feel secure in the knowledge that you have saved a life or 2 (or 3 or 4?) and will look on these precious babies as your own the rest of their lives. Congratulations – you are now a mommy!

About cpthegreat

Connie (aka Spinning Grandma) lives on Ash Lane Farm in southwest Minnesota. She is an expert on spinning, weaving and knitting and a former history interpreter.

6 thoughts on “Survival: Caring for Orphan Lambs and Kids

  1. Yes we could. We have had to do that for several of our lambs and also we did it on purpose with out baby goats. It is fun, but I am always glad when they are able to join the others.

  2. I enjoyed reading of your adventures in your kitchen! This brought back some fond and some heartwrenching memories of all the baby lambs and kids (and kittens, birds, pups, calves and foals) I have nursed along. I had a few years off but this spring I am eagerly anticpating some more furry babies! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Have done it many times. We have a special baby play pen that we use for raising our “kids” the first few days of life. Since we have always milked our goats, we take the kids from the mother at birth and care for them.
    One day a woman came to the door to buy some of my home made soap and she saw the corner of the pink and blue playpen and heard tiny cries. Sure that we must have a new baby of the human variety, she asked to see the new babies. I hadn’t caught on that she thought they were human babies, and assumed she knew they were goat babies. She walked through the door, ready to do the ohhs and awws of seeing a sweet baby and shrieked a bit at the sight of 4 new born “kids”.
    We raised more than a couple lambs this way too. But like AmazingGraze said, we are always glad when they are ready for barn life with the others !

  4. Oh, what memories!! We always had lambs, kids, and calves – even piggies – in the kitchen in the spring. Our Main Coon cat, the oldest of our pet family, would jump over the baby gate (wondered why I kept it after our daughter was grown), approach the newbie, give it a really good sniff-up, hiss loudly, smack them on the snout, turn, and jump back over the gate. It was his way of letting the newbies know that he was the alpha “whatever”. The only time he didn’t evoke his seniority was when my husband brought our donkey up the back porch and into the kitchen so I could clean and medicate scratches on her upper lip. I had the flu and couldn’t go outside. The donkey wouldn’t let my husband touch her lip. In August 2007, we had to put our sweet Puddy Tat down. At 12, he developed hyperthyroidism and, as hard as we tried, we could not regulate the right dose of meds. Besides the “livestock”, he “showed the ropes” to 8 dogs and 5 cats. To ever imagine that someone had thrown him away still boggles my mind.

  5. I have 2 goat babies in my house right now. We heat cold babies in a warm bathtub. I make sure to use iodine on the navel afterwards and give an antibiotic shot also. After the kid/lamb is warm,dry with the hairdryer on low and held away from the babies. Sometimes I get the kids back to mom and she accepts them, sometimes it’s just to cold or too long to try.
    I have lost some babies in the past to bloat. Be sure not to mix the formula too strong. I even add a little extra water. If you catch it right away, Pepto will help take away bloat. Have your vet or feed store owner show you where to use a needle to release bloat well before you have a problem. Tubing can release bloat too if it’s not too bad. I have learned so much from lost kids, mostly that it really hurts and every one we save is a victory.

  6. 1becca, sounds like you have your hands full. Bloat has always been a hard thing to deal with – sad experience, big knowledge gain. What you are doing is on target but I’m sure you know each birth and baby are different. Good luck in days to come!!!