Care of newborn kids and lambs

Kids and lambs that are born in cold weather are at risk for hypothermia and starvation

The vast majority of lambs and kids that are born during favorable weather conditions will not require additional care or assistance at birth. However, there are several risk factors that producers need to consider when animals are giving birth during cold weather: milk supply, kid/lamb size and vigor, maternal behavior and weather conditions. The most critical issues during a cold weather birth are starvation and hypothermia.

It is important the kids and lambs get dry as quickly as possible after birth. During freezing temperatures, this is even more important. If the mother is not doing a good job, the kid/lamb should be dried with a clean towel. Ears especially are subject to frostbite during freezing temperatures. If the kid or lamb is already severely chilled, it may be necessary to put the newborn in a hotbox or warm area to warm it up. If you place your finger in the newborn’s mouth and it feels cool, the animal must be warmed up before feeding. Never feed a newborn that is chilled.

It is also important that these newborn animals get colostrum as quickly as possible. If the kids/lambs have not nursed, it is reasonable to feed these animals colostrum with a stomach tube. Stomach tubes can be purchased from nearly all goat/sheep supply companies. Milk about two ounces of colostrum out of the doe or ewe into the feeding syringe and then place the tube tip into the newborn’s mouth and gently push it back. A warm kid or lamb will begin to swallow as the tube hits the back of the throat and this will help to ensure that the tube is in the esophagus and not the trachea. If the tube is in the trachea the kid or lamb will look distressed and shut its eyes. If this happens, immediately remove the tube and reinsert it into the esophagus. Once the tube is inserted into the stomach, push the colostrum slowly into the kid or lamb. If the colostrum is pushed quickly, there is the potential the newborn could aspirate some of the colostrum causing pneumonia or even death.

Navels should be treated with a three to seven percent iodine solution to reduce the incidence of navel ill in newborns. Navel ill occurs when bacteria enters the umbilical cord and causes an infection. Symptoms include swollen joints, pericardial infections and liver abscesses.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that producers have a plan and equipment in place to help save newborns when kidding/lambing during cold weather. Once newborns are dry and nursing well, there is much less risk of starvation and hypothermia.

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