When to Stop Bottle Feeding Lambs

Lambs can be bottle fed due a number of reasons, the common one being due to loss of mothers. Orphan lambs are often bottle fed as a means to ensure that they consume sufficient colostrum for growth and development. After a certain period of time, they are introduced to solid feedstuff usually comprising of forage, grain or mixed foods. The main objective is allowing for healthier and hardy sheep. Errors during this process often lead a variety of health related issues. For this reason, great care should be taken in determining when to stop bottle feeding lambs. In fact, it is advisable for farmers to equip themselves with the necessary knowledge and skillset to avoid making errors that may adversely impact on productivity and profitability.

Pre-Weaning Stage

There are a few factors that ought to be considered with regards to weaning lambs. The most important factor is making sure that sheep are of good health. According to research, prior to taking lambs off milk feed, it is of the utmost importance to conduct health checks and offer timely treatment if the need arises. Vaccination is also important so as to protect young sheep from rampant diseases and infection. The exact period on when to stop bottle feeding lambs is said to be the most critical as sheep are more prone to health complications during the weaning period. Studies reveal that young sheep should be vaccinated at about 6 weeks old. This should also be done 2 weeks later in an effort to boost their immune system. Additionally, it is recommended to provide lambs with sufficient water for health reasons. Note that the exact timeframe of when to stop bottle feeding lambs is not only determined by the health of sheep but other factors are involved, including the preference of the farmer as well the purpose of the agricultural venture. Another factor to keep in mind is that sheep ought to have the same dietary plan rich in protein before and after weaning so as to enable continuous growth and development. This should ideally last for about 2 weeks after stopping bottle feed.

Weaning Stage

A profitable and successful lamb rearing venture relies on the weaning period, hence the need to have adequate knowledge on when to stop bottle feeding lambs.  Lambs can either be weaned earlier or at a later stage, depending on the weaning method among other factors. It is a common practise to stop bottle feeding lambs sooner rather than later. According to research, sheep that are weaned early tend to reach maturity sooner therefore allowing for increased production and profitability. Lambs weaned at later stage require an increased financial investment in the form milk supplements. That being said, weaned lambs must be provided with the proper ingredients for rumen development so that their digestive system can utilise the most amount of grass at weaning and minimise any potential growth checks. Farmers should be aware that weaning lambs off bottle feed should be done when their immune systems are strong. This is because lambs are born with poor immune systems that are developed overtime through colostrum or artificial milk replacements rich in relevant nutrients.

It is a common practise to stop bottle feeding lambs at about 4 weeks of age or when the lambs have consumed approximately 10 to 25 pounds of dry milk powder. Feeding milk replacer longer than this is not cost effective. Experts suggest that farmers can stop bottle feeding lambs abruptly from 4 to 5 weeks in order to encourage early maturity and increased production levels. However, lambs can be weaned successfully at lighter weights and fewer days of age.  Some studies reveal that the exact time to stop bottle feeding lambs is when they weigh approximately 25 to 30 pounds. It is also stated that this method works better than offering sheep with diluted milk replacer during the last week, which is a popular practice. It is important to provide lambs with a well-balanced dietary plan during the weaning period. Take care not to feed hay or oats, especially leafy alfalfa to recently weaned sheep as this may cause bloat. Ideally, this type of feed should be avoided for about 2 weeks after weaning.

Farmers have to know the proper feed rations need by weaned lambs. The dietary plan of young sheep is also said to be of the essence in determining when to stop bottle feeding lambs.  It is said that the dietary plan of lambs should consist of at least 200g solid feed prior to weaning. It is also recommended to offer the same feed soon after weaning to avoid sudden changes in diets that may put sheep at risk of bloat among other digestive issues. Early introduction to solid feeds including fibre and concentrates aid in rumen development and so lambs can be weaned earlier. In order to determine the exact period of when to stop bottle feeding lambs, keep in mind that lambs must have access to high quality feed concentrate. If high quality feed is not available, it is advisable to wean them at a later stage. Lambs should be given feed concentrates at about 4 weeks of age. Pasture can be introduced when they are roughly 6 weeks of age.  Ideally, weaned lambs must achieve daily weigh gain of 450g a day. Merino sheep should gain 6kg on the first 3 weeks of life.

Post-Weaning Stage

The stage soon after weaning is of the essence in ensuring healthy and productive livestock. Studies indicate that lambs should be provided with constant access to fresh water and high quality palatable solid feed to accustom them to eating dry feed and to minimize weight losses during and soon after the weaning period. Post weaning rations should be high in protein, about 15 to 20% of the overall dietary plan and must also be high in energy. The following is the recommended feedstuff for sheep soon after weaning so as to achieve target daily weight gain. As previously mentioned, these feedstuffs are also crucial in determining when to stop bottle feeding lambs.

  • Ground shelled corn
  • Ground alfalfa hay
  • Bone meal
  • Soybean meal
  • Feed Additives such as aureomycin or terraycin