My husband and I have been wanting to add sheep to our little farm for a while, and one thing that keeps putting us off is how expensive sheep are. But it's lambing time, and there are ads on Craigslist for bottle lambs for cheap!
Is this a brilliant way to start our flock, or a stupid way? We are planning on rotationally grazing them with our two dairy cows (one of whom is pregnant due in September). If they're not raised around other sheep will they still know how to be sheep? Are they more likely to have health issues down the line? Is raising bottle lambs so much of a pain it's not worth the savings?
Any input would be much appreciated!
Our ram is bottle fed. He's like a well disciplined dog. We would take him for a walk with no leash, with no concerns he'd run away. He followed us closely. O guess we were "mom". Today, there's no worry if he slips out of gate when we go in.
Health concerns may be valid, but we haven't witnessed anything.
It might be great for the ewes; I've heard tame rams are TROUBLE.
I have no experience with sheep, but I know that when the goat kidded, the goose that was not setting yet but laying was curious about the kids. She went up to investigate and the gander rapped one of the kids on the head.
I'd be concerned that the ram would be upset with the ewes going to you and hurt you.
I suggest you need to know why these lambs are bottle lambs.
If the ewe had a genetic fault that meant they could not care for the lamb then it might be passed on. If this is the case you could end up with multiple sheep that are more effort than they are worth.
Take into consideration the cost of they feed they will need before they ever produce anything for you, this might end up being far more than the cost of buying adult sheep.
Mostly bottle lambs have ended up that way because they were multiple births. I was talking to a farmer once who had treated his ewes so they were all carrying multiples, ideally he wants twins, but in order to make sure they all have twins, some end up with more. He didn't care about the extras. So it's not necessarily the sheep's "fault".
If you want a small flock that will come when called instead of having to chase them about, starting with bottle lambs is as good a way as any.
We hand raised a few, but the ram that we bottle fed grew up great with us, like a big dog, but absolutely lethal with children and strangers. He would run up to them and ram them over as he had no fear whatsoever of humans and would treat them just as he would a rival ram. Not good, and we never cured him of it.
Bottle lambs are an excellent, low cost way for homesteaders to get a few sheep. I have sold tons (literally) to homesteaders over the years and look at this as a win-win for everyone.
There are a variety of reasons us commercial sheep farmers have bottle lambs for sale, and it usually is cost and not genetics. Lets say that I get triples; a pretty common occurrence with sheep. With a ewe that has two teats...that math does just not work. What do I do with that third lamb. Even if it could be rotated enough to suckle off its mother...a doubtful proposition, nutritionally it would drag the ewe down. And since a ewe will not take another lamb that is not hers without a lot of work on the part of the Sheppard, it means you cannot just take a lamb and swap it with a ewe whose lambs have dies. That means bottle feeding, which means getting up every 4 hours and feeding it, and since no one wants to tromp out to the barn at 3AM, they end up in the house. After about 2 days they start baaing for their bottles...at 2 AM in the morning...in your house; so you can see where this is going. There is enough going on with lambing season to not want to put up with that...all for a lamb that will suck up a $60 bag of lamb formula by the time its weaned. There is not a lot of profit in that for the amount of hours put into it...so we sell it...cheap!
Now for a homesteader who has the time, wants to nurture this type of lamb, and is spending $60 on a lamb that normally would be $175...it is a great deal. And there is something about getting to give that lamb a bottle at 3 AM; they get to know it, and it grows up with them. There is nothing wrong with that, so that is why I say it is a win-win. A commercial sheep farmer just does not have the time, and since they might have multiple bottle-lambs, it means multiple bags of expensive formula. For us it is best to put a low price on the bottle lambs, sell them quickly, and move on. But the lamb itself? It is just fine.
Another common reason for bottle lambs is the mother just won't take to her own lamb; a very common occurrence with yearlings (ewes having their first lambs). There is nothing wrong with the lamb, they just don't know how to be a mother, so they abandon it. Again it is hard to graft a lamb onto another ewe, so it means bottle feeding, and again a perfectly good lamb. I have one in the house now that is that way, born yesterday to a yearling that won't let the lamb suckle. Very robust, healthy ram-lamb; it will go up for sale soon.
As for head butting: I have watched for patterns of behavior on this and cannot find any. This year I have raised maybe two dozen bottle lambs, and out of that lot, my only head-butter is a ewe-lamb, and the rest of the ram-lambs and ewe-lambs have been fine. I don't perceive her to be a problem, she was just weaned yesterday from the bottle so she should simmer down with some time. However I have had ram-lambs be head-butters in the past. Most of the time they go for market-lambs so by the time they are of age to do anything aggressive, it is time for them to go into the freezer. Bottle-Fed Ewe Lambs typically get handled enough on smaller farms and 4H farms to get used to human handling and behave, so about the only issue to watch for is a bottle-fed ram-lamb that a homesteader might want to keep for breeding. What is the percentage on that? I have no idea, but VERY low. In 9 years, hundreds of sheep, many different breeds, little handling commercial sheep farm structure; I have put 2 down because they were aggressive.
As for genetics; obviously I can only say what I do, and know not every commercial sheep farmer does this. But I do not like to give away problem sheep, but I have on occasion GIVEN genetically deficient lambs away, telling the people that the lamb has issues. I do this for two reasons; One, there are some amazing people who can devote the time it takes for one lamb to recover. They are just sheep-whisperers. Myself, I just do not have the time. And two, some people cannot have full sized sheep and so they raise these animals to adulthood in a size they can handle. I give them away, I don't charge, and the people know the lamb might not make it because it has problems. But I am giving that lamb the very best chance at life that I can, and that is where it is at...doing the best I can for every sheep here, born here or bought.
So after all that; yeah I think it truly is a win-win situation for homesteaders to buy bottle-fed lambs.
There is one word of warning however; it is like bottle-feeding a newborn infant at 3 AM. Yeah the lack of sleep is bothersome, and it makes you grumble to get out of bed, but there is also something magical about providing for a helpless lamb. It gets under your skin and once you give lambs bottles, there is always a special spot in your heart for lambs thereafter. Lambing season is an incredible amount of work, yet I look forward to it every year.
What about breeder vs commercial? Will breeders do this or are their stock worth so much more that they would simply pay someone to raise orphans/extras?
I don't know any commercial guys in my area, but there are loads of breeders that have public websites and phone numbers many of which are right around where I live.
Also, does anyone have any info on cows milk? from what I am reading it works well but can (theoretically mostly) cause problems. But everything I am hearing is people feeding straight cows milk. But since the problem is that cows milk has like half the fat can I not just skim the cows milk, add half milk back into the cream, then feed that?
Rumen Pack is when a young ruminant animal has a diet with too much water in it. Normally it refers to giving silage to young animals because the water concentration is 66% or so. In that case, the lamb eats plenty of silage and fills its belly, but because 2/3 of it is water and has no nutritional value, it literally starves to death. It THINKS is full, but its not. It is the same thing with cows milk. Since it lacks the fat, and lambs require high amounts of fat in their diet at an early age, they would succumb to death as well. This does not bother older sheep because their nutritional needs decrease as their rumens grow. I feed my sheep silage, but because of rumen pack no farmer can feed their young stock silage, and this includes dairy farmers, goat farmers, etc.
If a lamb does not get colostrum it will not automatically die; I would say a 50/50 chance at survival though. I highly recommend giving a lamb colostrum, and you can buy it in powdered form at the store, and on a pinch you can give colostrum milk from a cow to a lamb as it is better than nothing, but the best approach is to milk out the mother, then just stomach-tube the lamb with it so that you are assured the little guy (or little gal) has got what it needs.
Our rule, especially with kids and strangers, is never touch/pet/play with a kid or a lambs head, horns, or buds. Pet his neck, or his body, but playing with his face stimulates headbutting behavior, which is a natural thing, but you don't want him to play that way with humans.
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