Sheep Health

On this page I list guidelines only. I can take no responsibility for them, If you are unsure, check with your vet. If you find better information, let me know and I may be able to use it here.


Diarrhea is condition where the faeces (manure) is more fluid or watery than normal. It can be caused by bacteria, parasites or diet. The following are the various situations you can experience when lambs have diarrhea.

1. Lamb is eating normally and appears to be okay except that it has diarrhea.

Your lamb probably has coccidia. If the lamb is on pasture, it may also have worms. Take a sample of his manure to the veterinarian and have it checked. If positive for coccidia, you will want to treat it with sulfamethazine. If positive for worms, it should be dewormed. Talk to your veterinarian or your leader on how to obtain the drugs and how much to give.

2. Lamb is not eating his grain, will eat hay, has diarrhea.

You have probably increased his grain too rapidly and the lamb has a slight case of acidosis. Take his grain away for 2 days, then start feeding 1/4 lb a day and work the lamb back up just as you did when you first started feeding him.

3. Lamb is not eating hay or grain, acts droopy or depressed, has diarrhea.

Same as 2 except the lamb got way too much grain. Treat the lamb with penicillin or Tylan 200 for 2 days. Give 1/4 cup of Pepto Bismol. If the lamb does not appear better in a couple of days, treat for acidosis or take him to your veterinarian.

4. Sometimes you will see worms in the manure of your lamb. Usually he will not have diarrhea. These are tapeworms. Tapeworms are the only ones big enough to see. Worm with Safeguard.


Coughing can be caused by dusty pens, dusty feed, or infectious agents. If the lamb only coughs at feeding time, dusty feed is the problem. You can dampen the feed by adding a tiny bit of water or molasses. If the lamb only coughs after running and jumping, the dust in the pen is probably the problem. You can sprinkle down the pen in late afternoon. If the lamb is coughing throughout the day, then infectious agents may be the cause.

If there is more than a month before sale time, give an injection of a long acting tetracycline (LA 200) every other day, over a 6 day period (3 times). Use a dosage of 10 mg/lb. 100 lbs = 4.5 cc or 75 lb lamb 2cc.

If the coughing continues, the
infectious agent is a virus and there is no good treatment. Do try to keep the dust down, so that the coughing is not made worse by irritants in the air.

Coughing itself is rarely a big problem. However coughing, together with diet and other stressors such as coccidia, can cause rectal prolapses.

Feed Hay First

Sheep are ruminant animals; this makes it possible for them to consume and utilize roughage or highly fibrous feeds. Animals with simple stomachs (pigs or dogs) are not capable of fully digesting fibrous plant material such as hay. However, the ruminant animal can digest more complex carbohydrates such as cellulose that is the major component of the fibre in hay. The microbes that inhabit the rumen of the sheep can break down the fibre and make the energy, protein and other plant components available to the sheep. It is very important that the microbial populations in the rumen are maintained at a proper level to ensure efficient breakdown of the roughage (hay) consumed by the sheep. Furthermore, much of the protein absorbed by the sheep is in the form of microbial protein. Therefore, the microbial populations in the rumen are continually being replaced. When the hay is fed in relation to when the grain ration is fed will affect the growth of microbes in the rumen and affect the ability of the microbial population to break down fibre and supply microbial protein to the ewe.

When hay is eaten by the ewe, large amounts of saliva are secreted. This saliva is basic (high pH) and creates an environment in the rumen to encourage the growth of microbial populations that will digest the fibre in the hay. The saliva also acts as a buffer to control the pH in the rumen from dropping too low When the rumen pH becomes acidic, the microbes needed for efficient digestion of the forage are killed. If the pH in the rumen falls too low, the ewe will become ill and suffer from acidosis, commonly known as grain or rumen overload.

When grain is fed to the ewe, it creates an environment in the rumen that is acid (low pH). If too much grain is fed at one time or if grain is consumed by the ewe into a rumen that has not been buffered with the ewe’s saliva, grain overload or acidosis can occur. When large amounts of grain are being fed, it is important that the rumen is properly buffered. A large amount of grain would be in excess of one pound per feeding. The rumen can be properly buffered by feeding part of the total hay consumed by the ewe to her before feeding grain. I would recommend the ewes consume hay for about 30 to 45 minutes before feeding grain. By allowing the ewe to eat hay before feeding grain a drop in rumen pH can be avoided. By feeding hay first, the forage in the rumen will break down more efficiently because the pH is maintained at the proper level to promote regeneration of microbial populations. Carbohydrates supplied by grain provide energy for microbial regeneration.

By improving the efficiency of fibre breakdown, the amount of total dry matter intake (DMI) can be increased. When DMI is increased, the amount of crude protein and TDN (energy) for the ewe is increased. This increase in nutrients should result in increased production. This increase in production is important in late gestation and during lactation. Improving DMI in late gestation, helps prevent pregnancy toxaemia and reduce the number of stillborn lambs. If DMI can be increased during lactation, the production of milk will increase and this translates to improved 50 day lamb weights. Body condition should also be more easily maintained during lactation; this may improve conception rates for ewes on an accelerated lambing program because less time will be required to get the ewe into breeding condition after weaning.

By feeding hay first, an environment in the rumen is created to promote proper microbial growth, the efficiency of fibre breakdown is improved, dry matter intakes are increased, and the risk of grain overload will be reduced. The consumption of more nutrients by the ewe will improve the production of lamb and wool and hopefully improve the profit per ewe per year.


Bloat is a condition where the lamb is unable to belch up the gas which is formed in the second stomach (rumen). The pressure will build up until it interferes with the lambs breathing and heart and he can die. It is caused by certain lucerne ((Lucerne = alfalfa = Medicago sativa) hays, clover and lucerne pastures).

The lambs abdominal area (belly) will be very swollen looking, particularly on the left side. The left side will often be higher than the top of the back. The lamb will be uncomfortable and depressed. This is an emergency situation. You need to get the lamb to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Why do some of my uncared for/rejected lambs have a bloating problem? Bloating is one of many problems a stressed lamb faces. Lambs that can't/don't get colostrum at birth have a nearly zero chance of survival. Keep a frozen supply of sheep colostrum from ewes that had singles or ewes that lost their lambs. Small plastic soft drink bottle make good storage and feeding containers. Use a lamb tube to feed a new born lamb in stress a couple ounces of sheep colostrum.


Limping can be caused by injury or infection. Infection can be located in the hoof or the joints. Infection in the joints is called arthritis. Infection in the hoof can be several things. Footrot, or foot abscess are two foot diseases.

First determine which leg the lamb is limping on. In a disease called polyarthritis, the lamb may limp first on one leg and then on another. That is the one way to diagnose polyarthritis. Take the lamb's temperature. The normal temperature of a lamb is under 103. Remember, though, if you had to chase the lamb, his temperature will rise. It will also be high if he is standing in the hot sun.

Look at each foot to see if there is any evidence of cuts, scratches, or dog bites. Feel the joints to see of they feel swollen or hot. Compare the joint of one leg to that on the opposite leg to help you decide if it is normal or not.

If the joints aren't swollen or hot and you can't find a cut or injury, give him several days to see if the limping gets better. If not, take the lamb to your veterinarian.

Raising uncared for/rejected Lambs on a Bottle

A ewe had 3 babies and has kicked one of the babies out and now I have a baby and do not know what it wants or needs to drink as a substitute for the mothers milk ??? what do I do ??? "

Hopefully, this information may prevent a similar tragedy from occurring, especially to people new to raising sheep.

Caring for animals is a responsibility and a commitment. Regardless of which animal you choose, whether it is a puppy, rabbit, or sheep (or a human baby for that matter), you MUST learn what the animal's needs are BEFORE you bring the animal home. If you do not take the time to do this, you are acting irresponsibly.

Wiltipoll sheep don't need a lot of chemicals or a lot of intervention, but having the following few items on hand when lambing is a good idea.

  1. A bag of lamb milk replacer; once opened, keep it in sealed gallon jars. A couple of bay leaves lain on top before you seal will help prevent weevils. You sometimes can buy lamb milk replacer from a feed store, but BE ALERT: do NOT buy calf milk replacer.
  2. Also get a bag of colostrum replacer (Colostrx) while you're there. Colostrum contains immunoglobulins that prevent infections; nutrients that fuel heat production and help prevent hypothermia (chilling); and growth factors. By the time you have a bottle baby on your hands, it often is too late to milk the mother for colostrum. If you can milk her, get all you can during the first 24 hours after lambing and freeze it in an icecube tray for up to a year. Trust me, you will need it later on.
  3. Two Pritchard Teat (nipples). They fit nicely on a glass or plastic pop bottle.
  4. I personally like giving each newborn lamb a couple squirts of Baby Strength Oral. It contains Vitamin E and is a rapid energy source for weak or starving lambs.
  5. 140 cc syringe. Get a syringe that has both cc and oz units of measure so that you don't have to do so much math. . They are much more convenient than a 60 cc syringe.
  6. Stomach tube. Connect to the 140-cc syringe to feed lambs that are too weak to nurse or suckle a bottle."
  7. Digital thermometer

Here is what you can do for an orphan lamb:

If you have colostrum on hand:

A 6-lb lamb born in a lambing shed that is 32 degrees F needs 480 cc of colostrum in the first 18 hours of life. The same lamb born outside will need a total of 570 cc. Feed the lambs 4 to 5 times in the first 18 hours of life if the lamb is unable to suckle on a ewe. When feeding lambs with a stomach tube, give no more than 20cc per pound of body weight. This is roughly 4 ounces per feeding in a 6 pound lamb (1 ml = 1 cc; 1 oz = 30 cc).

[The following information is taken verbatim (except where modified for smaller Wiltipoll lambs) from Laura Lawson's book, Managing Your Ewe and Her Newborn Lambs

If no colostrum on hand, prepare a newborn milk formula
8 oz. baby bottle with nipple
1 tsp butter
1 tsp dark Karo syrup
Canned evaporated milk (NOT condensed milk)
Add Baby Lamb Strength Oral or Hartz liquid pet Vitamin A&D plus oral liquid Vitamin E to one daily feeding. Probios dispersible powder should also be added to one feeding unless the lamb is being given this is a paste form.

Directions: Enlarge nipple hole slightly with a hot needle.
Take the 8 oz baby bottle, put 1 tsp butter in it.
Set bottle in hot water to melt the butter.
Add 1 tsp of dark Karo syrup.
Fill the bottle with undiluted evaporated milk to the 8 oz mark. Heat until warm.
Add the Baby Lamb Strength Oral or pet Vitamin A&D plus liquid Vitamin E and Probios to the warmed milk once a day.

Feeding Schedule and Amounts

Milk Replacer After the initial colostrum feeding, lambs should receive about 15% to 20% of their body weight in milk replacer daily.
Example: 5 lb lamb X 16oz/lb= 80 oz X 20% = 16 oz daily.

Divide the above daily amount by the number of feedings in a 24-hour period. Increase the amount as the lamb gains weight and gets older. As you do this, increase the time between feedings.

Suggested Feeding Schedule: For the first 24 hours of life, give the lamb colostrum. Feed it every 2 hours if possible through the first 24 hours of life. In the next 24 to 48 hours of the lamb's life, begin gradually mixing the colostrum or colostrum substitute with lamb milk replacer. By day four of the lamb's life, it should be receiving nothing but the lamb milk replacer according to the schedule listed below.

Follow the schedule listed below after the lamb is over 24 hours old:

Day 2 through 3: every 3 hours
Day 4 through 7: every 4 hours
Day 8 through 21: every 6 hours
Day 21 through 35: every 8 hours
Day 25 until weaning: every 12 hours.

Don't overload the lamb's stomach by giving it too much milk at one time.

Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you give the lamb cow's milk. If you can't get lamb milk replacer, use goat's milk until you get lamb replacer.

What to do if your lamb is sick

When you spend a few minutes at feeding time observing your lamb, be sure to observe his manure and watch to see how he urinates and how long it takes him. Watch his breathing and be familiar with the ease and rate that he normally breathes when it is cold outside and when it is hot. Watch how he moves and how he holds his ears and head. If you are familiar with his normal behaviour, it will be quite evident when something is wrong. If he "doesn't act right," evaluate what it is that isn't right. The following are descriptions of things that could be wrong and what to do in each case.

First, however, there are a few things you need to know about one of the common treatments, antibiotics:

Antibiotics are drugs which are used to treat bacterial diseases. They are not effective against viral diseases or diseases caused by feeding accidents. However, we often use them to prevent bacteria from causing even more problems when the disease is not caused by bacteria.

Dosage is also important. Many of our drugs do not have dosages for sheep. If such is the case, use the dosage for calves or cattle. Every drug has a concentration on the label. For example penicillin may have a concentration of 200,000 unit per ml (cc). The dosage is 10,000 units (80 x 10,000). So, you need to give 4 cc of penicillin (800,000 divided by 200,000). Do not under or over treat unless instructed by your veterinarian.