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How to Feed Orphans Almost as Good as Mom

Since lambs intentionally orphaned for OPP eradication/control are often weaned earlier than those raised on their dams, we begin

this orphan rearing section with some information on time of weaning. Following are management protocols that have worked for two

OPP Society members, along with directions for heat-treating colostrum and comments on sanitation of milk feeding equipment.

Some Thoughts About Physiology and the Economics of Early/Late Weaning

Woody Lane, PhD Livestock Nutritionist — Lane Livestock Services, Roseburg, Oregonwoody@woodylane.com


New transmission finding has expanded your options.

Orphaning and severe culling are no longer necessary to eradicate OPP.  See our ‘Library’ and ‘News’ pages for more information.

Orphan Rearing Protocol for Small Purebred Flock

Judy Lewman — Minnesota, 24 Ewes — lewman@frontier.com

While traditional methods of orphan rearing work well for many operations, others may find that buyers of breeding stock are looking for heavier weaning weights. This is what has worked for us. Our method evolved over 9 years, during which time we artificially raised 15-20 lambs per year.

When we began orphaning lambs in 1989, no one knew that the Johne’s organism could survive pasteurization. We purchased cow colostrum from a producer recommended by our veterinarian and heat-treated it as an added precaution. Confident of that herd’s health status, I’d probably do the same again today. However, if there’s any doubt about Johne’s, commercial colostrum substitutes are available or one can forgo colostrum and use 7-way vaccine per Gene’s protocol.


Heat Treating Colostrum

These directions are shared courtesy of Wisconsin dairy goat guru, Judy Kapture.

— Important Note: While this method will kill the virus causing OPP, it cannot be relied on to protect lambs from Johne’s disease! —

A water bath is necessary so you won’t scorch the colostrum and so it won’t boil over to mess up your stove. I use a 12-qt. canning kettle with a rack in it. Put the colostrum in a proper pail and set it on the rack, then pour water into the kettle. Put it all on your stove and turn on the burner.

A good thermometer is a must. The two-inch stainless steel dial thermometer with a clip to hang on the side of the pail is easiest to use and well worth the money. It is faster to read than glass thermometers and less likely to break.

Colostrum is tricky. It must be heated to 130°F to 135°F and held in this temperature range for one full hour. The easiest way to do this is to use a thermos bottle.

Warm the colostrum up to the temperature in the water bath. Meanwhile, fill the thermos with water that is 130°F to 135°F (no hotter and no colder) to prewarm it. Keep stirring the colostrum. When it reaches the right temperature, pour the water out of the thermos and pour the colostrum in. Put the stopper on and set it aside for one hour.

When the hour is over, open the thermos and check the temperature. If you did everything right the colostrum should be 130°F or a bit warmer. Practice with plain milk first to get the routine right and to make sure your thermos is working OK.

Do not let the colostrum get hotter than 140°F. If you do, the antibodies will be destroyed and the colostrum will probably turn into a pudding. And be sure it stays above 130°F. If it gets cooler there isn’t enough heat-treatment to kill the virus. And be sure the heating is for one full hour. A half-hour is not long enough. It has to be for an entire hour at these temperatures.


Orphan Rearing Protocol for Large Commercial Flock

Gene Schriefer — Wisconsin, 450 Ewes — sheepfarm@charter.net 

I've been dealing with OPP for going on 9 years now.  It's been a long and pitched battle but in the long term something I felt needed to be addressed in overall flock health. The first time we had ewes without milk it wound up getting blamed on gossypol in the cotton seed meal I was feeding late gestation/lactating ewes; the following year I went to soybean meal for protein and had even more incidence of no milk and now hard bags. In trying to figure out what was going on, I kept coming back to this OPP thingy. So tested some ewes that year, damn, here it is. OPP.  The recommendations at the time were test/cull every 6 months or orphan at birth and artificially rear. Most of the ewes were still capable of rearing twins/trips; culling the ewe early would only purchase 1/2 a replacement ewe versus spending money/labor on milk replacer. I decided that we would try the orphan route — it's usually the 3rd or 4th lamb in our prolific flock that we are orphaning — and simply try and out grow it over time. I'd prefer not to have any/many orphan lambs, but, in the short term, I'd bite the bullet and raise 'em.

The situation forced me to get very good at rearing orphans, I'd estimate the material cost of rearing an orphan lamb at $13-$15/head plus some labor. Part of the reason folks seem to think there is a lot of labor for orphans is they're raising a single animal at a time. This is the same as feeding sheep at the bunk; it takes a fraction of a second longer to fill a 5 gallon pail and feed 20 sheep as it does a single sheep. The same holds true for feeding orphans; total labor/animal decreases with size.

Food Science & Lamb Bar Sanitation

The following information is contributed by organic producer Mary Falk of LoveTree Farm in Wisconsin.

Mary and her husband Dave are well known for their award winning “Trade Lakes” artisan sheep milk cheeses.

Milk in its raw form (unpasteurized) is considered to be God's perfect food (if it comes from a healthy animal). The milk contains natural bacteria that counterattack pathogens and are usually very successful at doing so as long as the milk is reasonably clean and not contaminated with dirt, debris, etc. If the raw milk sits for a length of time above refrigeration temperature (usually over 8 hours on a normal day with a temperature of approximately 70°F, less time if much warmer) these natural bacteria will continue to multiply and in doing so will eat the lactose in the milk and turn it into lactic acid. This process uses up the lactose which possible pathogens like to feed on, and it also decreases the ph balance of the milk rendering it inhospitable to pathogens. This "bacterial generation" also makes the milk easier to digest due to the increase in beneficial bacterial flora. Raw milk will not rot (go bad); it will simply sour and can still be used to make pancakes, or if allowed to continue past the "sour" stage will result in . . . yogurt. If you drain the fluid away (the whey) you will have a fresh cheese. Lambs like yogurt and fresh cheese. So what does this have to do with lamb bars? Well, a little info can be powerful good medicine . . .

Lamb milk replacer is a pasteurized product that has been processed to eliminate pathogens and contaminates. Although it is "hygienic" this also eliminates the good bacteria from protecting it against the bad bacteria. Milk replacer, like pasteurized milk, will rot instead of "turning sour". If you need to use a lamb bar in warmer weather, simply adding a tablespoon of a good quality yogurt (that has active cultures in it) to a gallon of milk replacer will inoculate the milk with the good bacteria and act as another safeguard for the lambs, plus they gain a bonus by ingesting the beneficial bacteria that aids in the digestion of the replacer and helps to maintain a healthier digestive tract, which translates to faster weight gain and healthier lambs. This does not replace the lamb's need for colostrum or meeting basic sanitation guidelines. The #1 "guardian at the gate" for a lamb is the consumption of the proper amount of colostrum which will fortify the immune system and aid in the "immunity" against the barn bugaboos.

Over cleanliness (always scrubbing out the lamb bar with strong detergents, etc.) can lead to setting the stage for the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria and could possibly leave a residue on the bucket which will kill off any beneficial bacteria. Feeding milk replacer that has maintenance antibiotics in it will also render the yogurt useless, which should give you a clue as to what it also does to the natural flora in a lamb's gut.

To properly clean out the lamb bar, first use a good warm rinse to dissolve any particles on the sides of the bucket (if you use hot water first you might actually bake the milk on), and then switch to very hot water to finish getting them out, and then flush with a very cold water rinse. You can alternate this rinse method by cleaning the bucket out on alternate days with a solution of apple cider vinegar and water (1/4 cup to one gallon of water), making sure to rinse it out or you will have curdled milk very quickly.

Good health can really be this simple.

“I have observed a growing awareness of OPP, and remarkably accurate knowledge among producers as to how to eradicate this costly disease, thanks to the efforts of the OPP Concerned Sheep Breeders Society.”




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