Baby Lambs ~ Signs of Ill Health for Homesteaders


Mike holding lightening after we brought him in the house to warm him up.

As a homesteading family, my husband and I do a great deal of animal husbandry ourselves.  Many families moving into homesteading do and will follow the same approach.  With the increasing costs of vet care being nearly the same now as that of child health care, bringing a ‘vet’onto the farm for every sick baby rapidly becomes cost prohibitive.  We do use vets.  In fact, we have a great vet we love who is just out of college, wants to learn everything all the time and therefore takes on many different animals.  Additionally, she’s willing to do the ‘research’ on the latest science to assist our farm.  She does two amazing things right.  First, she gets that too many drugs are BAD, not good (we are organic so we don’t just throw drugs at every problem on the farm).  And two, I can call her cell and she’ll tell me what to do when I am stuck on treatment issues, which is less costly than a ‘vet trip’ for every illness.

So, for homesteaders with lambs, I am writing today about the illness that came down with our little baby ram yesterday as food for thought for you in your care of your little ones in cold weather when illness comes on.

Our lambs were born last Tuesday.  All was well with the delivery and the babies were dry and nursing great all the way through yesterday (Sunday).  We watch them very closely in this first week of life to make sure we catch ANYTHING out of the ordinary as soon as possible.  Homesteaders, I can not tell you how important it is to catch problems with young lambs and kids as SOON AS POSSIBLE.  That can not be understated.  Yesterday morning around 8am, my husband and I both noticed that the little boy lamb seemed a tad weak on his hind legs and appeared to not want to nurse.  These are two big signs of concern.  We’d given him his BOSE shot (for selenium (lacking trace mineral in our soil) and vitamin B) on Thursday along with the Tetanus Anti-toxin when we docked his tail.  If he’d be having a reaction to the shots that would have shown up the same day as the shots being given.  We watched for about 45 minutes to truly observe the lamb.  He was getting weaker fast.  His legs were shaky and he was becoming anti-social not wanting to play with his twin sister.  She, contrary to him, was doing extraordinarily well.

At this point in your own assessment of your babies, it is important to rule out what the problems can be.  First, due to Storm Jonas raging through, it was frigid outside and in the barn.  We thus brought Lightening in the house to warm him up.  Second, ALWAYS TAKE THEIR TEMPERATURE!!  The temperature of the baby lamb will tell you a great deal.  I am truly surprised at how many homesteaders have neither a medical kit or thermometer easily available on their farm.  These are quick ‘problem identification’ tools that can save many baby’s lives.  My husband is a great assistant in all of our vet care.  He kept the baby lamb warm while I took Lightening’s temperature.  Lamb temperatures should be between 102 degrees F and 103 degrees F.  Lightening’s temperature was 106 degrees F.  THAT IS THE CLUE of what to do next.

Once we realized his shaking was tied to a high temperature we did several things (these activities took place around 10:30am).  First, we provided two shots of a sheep drench to provide him with the necessary nutrients he needed.  Second, I administered .5cc of Bio-Mycin 200 to try and slow the infection.  We kept him warm and watched how he was doing.  At this point we began to notice a rattle in his breathing and also a snotty nose beginning.  If the lamb has a snotty nose and NO TEMPERATURE, that can be a cold.  But, if a lamb has a snotty nose and a temperature, that can mean pneumonia.  So, this was becoming a very serious health issue for our farm.  Once lambs or kids become sick, the longer you wait, the harder it is to keep them alive.


Lightening in the house with his snotty nose

At this point, it was time to call our vet.  As I said, our vet is wonderful.  I literally called her on her cell phone on her way back from a ski trip to VA.  We love her because she answers and provided the next phase of healthcare for the lamb.  She advised I also administer, based on the weight of the animal, penicillin (which we gave .01cc IM) and LA200 (which we gave .25 SQ).  IM means in the muscle and SQ means under the skin.  We administered these shots around noon.  Now why would we administer these meds you ask when bio-mycin is similar to LA200 and less painful to administer?  Well, our vet said that while they are similar, they don’t do everything the same and the additional of the Pen and LA200 would address the additional symptoms as long as the dosages are correct.  In this case we were very much trying to get the fever dropped down.  Thus, the full treatment we administered assured us with confidence we did what needed to be done to address the fever, the nose, the breathing/lungs and infection.  We then put the lamb back in with his mother and created a warm space he could curl up in to stay more warm by creating a little hay bale cave in the stall.

We went to check on the little ram lamb around 4pm, giving him several hours to recover, be with his mom to de-stress him and her and let the medicine kick in.  Upon checking in on him, he was active, no snotty nose, nursing well with a very full belly and chasing his twin sister around the stall.  These are huge signs that the lamb is feeling better.

Today, we will have our vet out this afternoon to assure he is recovering and to determine the next round of medicine we give him, OR NOT, based on her advice.  Once again, we use medicine to the degree it is needed and not more.  However, with infections you usually need to treat for three days or more.  So, I will have our vet give us that advice today.  Additionally, while she is here, she will administer rabies shots for our dogs and we’ll do some preliminary planning together for our pregant ewes who have poor deliveries on occasion.  So, this ‘strategic’ time with our vet makes the ‘trip fee’ worth it because we are ‘teaming’ with our vet on the overall health strategy of our entire farm.

I am seriously considering a vet technician degree.  On a farm, it is truly up to the homesteader to be very pro-active in your livestock’s health and to know when they are becoming sick.  It’s critical to understand overall nutrition as so much of health is tied to what they eat, the trace minerals, and overall healthy upkeep of the facilities, feed and water of the farm.  Homesteaders have an important job in learning all these elements so that you can tend to your animals yourself.  And, having a vet willing to ‘strategically team’ with you on this philosophy/vet care style is brilliant for your farm and also for the vet as they can truly differentiate their practice.  Last, I highly encourage all homesteaders to maintain an accurate up to date record of health for each of your livestock.  Here is a sample of ours.  We track name, birth date, sire/dam, weight at birthing, date of medical care, why the medical care, and the dosage of treatment.  This is a vital record for your animals.  It is also a great way to know how to treat animals in the future if their lambs next year demonstrate the same illness.  You then know exactly how to treat them upon advice from vets and your knowledge/experience saving other animals previously.


A sample health maintenance chart we use at our ranch/farm

As homesteaders, we understand that the life and death realities of farm life cut deep.  Mortality rates on your farm do not have to be high if you do the following:

  1. Maintain high quality feed, sanitation, water and necessary minerals/nutrients.
  2. Stay visually vigilant to the behavior of your animals – they will tell you when they are sick.
  3. Treat illnesses as soon as you recognize there’s a problem.  That includes quickly identifying that which is contagious and separating livestock, but also identifying if they can stay with their mother, as separation is HIGHLY stressful as well.
  4. Maintain good bio-hazard conditions (have a bio-hazard plan) – i.e. bleaching boots if necessary, sanitation procedures, etc. so as not to spread contagion to other livestock/the farm.
  5. Keep medical records accurate and up to date.
  6. Develop a ‘strategic’ relationship with a vet in your area willing to ‘team’ with you on your farm.
  7. Become as educated as you can on animal husbandry and vet care (both natural medicine and contemporary medicine) to provide optimal health for your entire farm.

UPDATE ON THE BABY LAMB:  As of today, four days later, the lamb is doing exceptionally well. His fever is gone and his temperature is back to normal.  He is also playing and nursing well.  This, we can say, was a success.  And we, along with our vet, agree that the lamb has recovered with the highest chance of survival moving forward.  This is the outcome every farmer/homesteader wants.

We hope this is helpful and we wish all you homesteaders the best in 2016.  May you have a happy and healthy flock in 2016!

God Bless!  L. Davis

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