There are various options when rearing orphan lambs, namely bottle-feeding, cold ad-lib feeding or warm ad-lib feeding. However you do it, you’ll have to start with bottle feeding to get them used to drinking from a rubber teat. You can buy replacement ewe’s milk from agricultural merchants (or use goats milk if you can get a reliable supply for cheap enough). Mix it up as per the instructions on the packet. To start with, it needs to be at blood heat. Each lamb will need about a litre a day (again, instructions are on the packet) but in small amounts at a time. The smaller the better, but start with feeding them at least 4 times a day. A lamb will naturally suckle from its mother something like 20 times a day, so little and often is much better for them. The packets say that you can feed them just twice a day after a week, but drinking half a litre at a time twice a day will make them much more prone to getting ‘bloat’ which can kill them. Ad-lib feeding is much better for them as they can help themselves to small amounts, as if they were feeding from a ewe, rather than having to wait for you to turn up with a bottle. They will drink twice as much ad-lib compared to bottle feeding, which is good for them, but bad for your wallet. You will end up with bigger lambs though. To feed them ad-lib you need to set up some sort of bucket feeder. You can buy electric ‘shepherdess’ systems which keep the milk warm, but these are very expensive to buy and ofcourse need electricity to run them. Alternatively you can set up a bucket feeder and once they are used to feeding from the bucket you gradually cool the milk down over the course of a week, so that eventually they are drinking cold milk. As you make the milk powder up with cold water, it keeps much better than if it were warm and the lambs are less likely to guzzle it all down at once. Bucket feeders are fairly simple things, basically a bucket with some way of hanging it on to a hurdle, with teats placed at the bottom. The problem is that if a lamb chews a hole in the teat, or even pulls it out, because the teats are at the bottom you lose all the milk. Also depending on the bucket, the teat attachments don’t necessarily reach all the way to the bottom of the bucket and if it is a big bucket there is always half a litre of milk at the bottom that the lambs can never get to. As the milk is very expensive, this wastes a lot of milk. Cleaning out the bucket can also be difficult unless you have a very big sink. The system that I prefer has a plastic plate that the teats fit into, connected to a plastic tube, with a non-return value at the other end of the tube. This goes in to the milk. I use 4 pint milk bottles to put the milk in. These can be rinsed out easily and replaced regularly.
Last year’s lambs kept chewing the teats and cost me a small fortune in replacing them all the time. This year’s lambs are much better behaved and I haven’t had to replace any yet.