How to Care for Bottle Baby Lambs

The industry calls them “bummer” lambs, but I prefer to call them “bottle-babies”. These are the lambs that may be orphaned or lambs that the mother refused (or was unable) to care for. This is a guide on how you should care for these lambs.

Bottle feeding lambs is hard work. It is not something a busy farmer does for the fun of it. Knowing what to do will hopefully make the process easier. Ideally have the family take turns caring for the lamb, this will help everyone not become too overwhelmed.

If new born, be sure to dry off the lamb and warm it up. This may mean bringing it into your home.  The best situation is where a ewe is simply too weak to care for her lamb or has not produced milk, but is not pushing it away. I myself have a situation like this. The mom bonded with her lambs but cannot feed them. She provides all other maternal care with the exception that we are bottle feeding her two lambs.

Sometimes you may find a ewe simply gets overwhelmed caring for her lambs, and after a few days, one or more of the lambs looks poorly, standing hunched up and generally not thriving. In this case you should watch to see if the ewe is letting the baby suck or not. If she is, then perhaps you need a vet check for the lamb. Otherwise you may just need to supplement the baby lamb by bottle feeding it.

Occasionally you may have success grafting the lamb onto another ewe, this is something to try if another ewe has given birth and lost the lamb, or had only a single. Never give a ewe more than three lambs to care for. Even then, two is much better as with three a young ewe will have a hard time keeping track of them, and may sit on one, in addition to having a harder time producing enough milk.

Bottle Feeding

The first and most important thing is to ensure your lamb gets COLOSTRUM, this is a mothers first milk. Colostrum contains antibodies and it is very important that the lamb get some within the first 18 hours after birth. It does not have to be their first drink.

Colostrum can be obtained by milking the ewe, by milking another ewe who has also just given birth, or by purchase. If you have several ewes, you might even want to purchase Colostrum before hand and store it. Colostrum may be purchased from a Veterinarian,  Veterinarian supply store, or some livestock feed stores. It may come frozen or powdered. In an emergency, powdered calf colostrum (which you mix with water) is acceptable. Colostrum can be fed by gently squirting it into the lambs mouth with a syringe. Use caution, if you go too fast you risk it entering their lungs.

You will need to purchase proper lamb milk replacer. This is a powder you can purchase at your livestock feed store. Do not use calf milk. If lamb milk is unavailable look elsewhere, or get goats milk replacement. You can also buy bottles and nipples from your livestock feed store. I like the kind of nipple that attaches to 750ml pop bottles. If you don’t have a bottle and nipple on hand, use a syringe or even a turkey baster at first. If the stores are closed, you can use canned evaporated milk, adding a wee bit of molasses will give the lamb extra energy.

Bottle feeding is tricky at first because the lamb will not understand the milk is coming from you. It is their nature to look for a nipple from their mother. Pick up the lamb and hold it in one arm. Then use your hand to pry open its mouth and put the nipple in. When I use the plastic pop bottles as bottles, this enables me to gently squeeze some milk into the lamb if it is too week or confused to suck. After a few days the lamb will start to understand what is going on and will be able to drink normally from the bottle while standing.

This is a photo of my wife and one of our bottle lambs.  Read her Story.

In a day, bottle lambs need about 5 oz of milk per pound of weight. You can figure this out and then break the feedings down to multiple times per day. In the first 24 hours you will want to feed around the clock, usually every 2 hours in the day, every 3 at night. Then to make your life easier, the lamb will be okay over night if you feed as late as possible, and again as early as possible. With the other feedings 3-4 hours apart throughout the day for the first week. The water used to make the formula should be warm, you can test it on your wrist to make sure it is not too hot.

As your lamb gets bigger it will eat bigger meals, but less often. After about 1 week your lamb can be fed every 5-6 hours. You can reduce this so that at 4 weeks of age it only is feeding twice a day. Of course as you reduce the number of feedings you need to increase the feed.

Your lamb should also have hay (or grass) after a few days of age. They start to eat by watching their mother. You can teach your lamb to eat by picking grass or hay with your hand, or by having it with other lambs who are eating. Lambs can also have lamb ration feed, a crumbly product you can buy at a feed store. They wont understand that it is food so you may have to put some into their mouth. Of course, when introducing any new food it is best done slowly so you do not overwhelm their tummies.

At one week of age your lambs should also have access to fresh water, although they probably wont drink much.  Take care that they cannot fall into the water.

If your bottle baby was kept in the house it is important to get it out with the other sheep as soon as possible. Even if you have to keep it in a pen with some of the more gentle ewes and their lambs. Sheep need to bond with other sheep, and if they are not accepted into the flock at a young age, it will be very hard for them later.

This ram lamb was a bottle baby, you can see how friendly bottle lambs become.  My photo, he is a hair sheep, they have many advantages, which you can read about here.

Proper care and a good start should help your lamb to survive. Good luck with your little bottle lambs.

Related Links

Our Sheep Blog

Supplies Needed for Lambing

How to Know which Ewe is Next to Lamb

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User Comments
  1. coffeeadict

    On March 22, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Lovely – I see you can get really attached to them…

  2. papaleng

    On March 22, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    a very interesting article.

  3. Katien

    On March 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    A lovely, informative article.

  4. clay hurtubise

    On March 22, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Good piece, can’t say anything Baaaaaaaaaad about it!

  5. Mr Ghaz

    On March 23, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Great work! Nicely done. Thanx for sharing this great stuff.

  6. Ruby Hawk

    On March 23, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Little lambs are so pretty but I’m sure they are a lot of work especially when you have to bottle feed them. You look just like a homesteader Mark.

  7. beth

    On April 5, 2009 at 4:04 am

    finally found some helpful information! We just became the proud parents of a bottle baby yesterday, after her mother rejected her. She’s thriving on goat’s milk. thanks for provide amounts and feeding schedule!

  8. riley

    On April 27, 2009 at 8:44 am

    it works good

  9. lisa

    On May 11, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you so much. info is very helpful. my girls love there baby who they named oscar. he is a lamb and is 6 days old and is doing great. thankx again

  10. Alex

    On July 5, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Thanks heaps,
    I got a lamb todayand had trouble to take the bottle, added mollasses and he took it with great gusto.

  11. l.white

    On July 8, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    haaaa good info the bottle fed sheep is dead cute

  12. Anna Rose

    On July 20, 2009 at 5:50 am

    Thanks for the information. Every year i get a lamb from a near by farm and bottle feed it for the farmer. i love them so much and become so attatched to them. They are my favourite pets! so cute and fun to train. At my school we also used to have competitions for the best trained lamb.. calling its name, leading it around etc. very fun. Great article!! thankyou

  13. Leah

    On May 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for making this information available. I rescued a starving sheep from the BLM land behind my house. She was abandoned by her owner. I tried to find him but the branding inspector says no one is claiming her. She had a lamb the other night. I didn’t expect that, because she was still rather skinny. I found out by my dogs barking about the babys’ bleeting for momma. She rejected her and I took her in the house to dry her off and warm her up. I discovered by reading your article that I have done all of the right things for my little package. She is a true blessing of enjoyment and love. When she sees me come close she bleets mom, wow! Makes me feel very good to feel her excitement.

  14. Mark Gordon Brown

    On May 17, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks for saving the sheep, and good luck with her lamb… bottle babies can become really pets.

  15. Mary

    On June 6, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I have a bottle baby but he doesn’t drink very much, certainly not 5 oz per pound. I am having a hard time getting him to eat much, though his internal organs seem to be working just fine as he has no problem with elimination. I added molasses but he scoffed at it and won’t touch it. He is a twin from a first lambing ewe, born 3 hours after the first one and was MUCH bigger, now much smaller, 2 weeks old, 10 lbs. The other one weighs about 16 lbs.Any suggestions?

  16. Mark Gordon Brown

    On June 9, 2010 at 12:52 am

    There may be other problems with the little guy. You may need to get him to a vet, as there could be issues that are taking away his appetite. If they did not get fed anything by the mum and did not have supplemental colostrum then they won’t have certain things essential for developement. It’s time to consult a vet.

  17. Debbie

    On November 20, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Thankyou for writing this article. My girl is going on to 2 weeks now… a twin that was rejected. She got the colostrum and has had no trouble taking to the bottle… Its the diarrhea that i cant get rid of. Ive taken to vet within 2 days of being born, got the anti-scour paste… doing everything right… Ive been told to put everything from red cordial to pollard?? (local farmers etc) into her feed to get rid of it. The vet says make an another appointment and some more money to give me the answer!! which i cant afford.
    Any advice would be appreciated.

  18. Mark Gordon Brown

    On November 22, 2010 at 1:38 am

    to Debbie
    I am not a vet
    I can suggest check to make sure you are mixing the formula correctly, not too much water, not too much powder.
    I only once had a lamb with diarrhea and we gave it a pill from the vet and it was fine.
    is the lamb also getting hay, at that age they should have hay too, and even lamb starter.
    I really wish I could give you more info, it could be a bacteria infection, a stool sample would be good to check and wouldnt cost as much as taking the lamb to the vet.

    good luck.

  19. Terry

    On December 7, 2010 at 1:41 am

    It’s been a while since I had to raise one. This little girl is doing great she eats well and is very energetic. Although her poop is yellow and runny. What can I give her to help? She is 5 days old. Thanks.

  20. Mark Gordon Brown

    On December 7, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    to Terry
    I had a lamb like that too, our vet gave us a pill (we got it from the vet, not expensive) and it cleared things up right away. I do not want to give product names because that would be unprofessional of me as medications differ world wide, and I am not a vet to prescribe something. Scours is the term used for diarrhea in such animals and will cause dehydration.

  21. Randi Gray

    On December 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    We have a lamb that is 1 week old that the mother has refused to care for after 3 days. We have been bottle feeding it. It seems that everytime the lamb eats it loses it’s balance and walks on its front knees with its back legs still straight. I am curious to know if there is anything that we are doing wrong or if this lamb is just ill.

  22. Tomos

    On January 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    i reard 53 lambs one year and im 15 had to get up 6:30 am every mornig befor school very hard work!!!!!!!!

  23. Brianne

    On January 29, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Fantastic!! Thank you!!

  24. Amber

    On February 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    good one..i’m getting a 6 day old lamb tomorow.

  25. Andrew

    On February 27, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Hi, I just wondered how long should you keep on bottlefeeding a bottle baby lamb.
    My mom is feeding 2 lambs for almost 2 months now.
    Thanks for your answer!

  26. Marla

    On April 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    For the one who had a baby with diarreah – Use a little bit of PLAIN YOGURT in th ebottle when feeding the milk replacer. Mine had it when I changed over from Cow’s milk they were feeding her to goat’s milk. Then I put her on Lamb Milk Replacer.

  27. Marla

    On April 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Abrupt changes in the diet will upset their stomachs!! Also make sure you get Milk Replacer especially for LAMBS!! Goat’s milk is okay if you have NOTHING else, but it doesn’t really have all the nutrients they need, like fat content and such. I had soooooo many questions about my lamb and was VERY confused from all the different advice I was reading about so I called a lot of Veterinarians for Large Animals and called alot of the Universities that have the Teaching Hospitals for Large and small animals. They were a Wonderful help and even into the early morning hours they were there to help.!! I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their patience and help. You can find them by searching through the internet. Good LUck all you that are blessed with such an awesome innocent baby!! You get sooo attached to them and what a feeling to watch them grow knowing you helped them

  28. Syndel H

    On April 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Hi everyone…we have twins that have been bottle babies since they were three days old (Mama died)

    This is our first time lambing, not sure if we’re doing it right.We have them inside and with diapers on. I feed them about 10 oz every 4 hours. They are 2 weeks old now. How long should I keep them inside?

    We have Llamas and juts their dad, Ram. I could put them back in the barn, but they would be alone. Would that be OK? Or should I just keep them inside and feed them here? We’re in Oregon, so its rainy and a bit cold. But not freezing.

    Also, they have runny poo too. Not sure if that’s normal or not or what it should actually look like.

    I’ve introduced them to hay, and they seem to like it. But are still drinking the same amount of formula.

    ANy advice for this first timer?


  29. Mark Gordon Brown

    On April 24, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    to Syndel sorry it took so long to get back to you

    If your temperatures are not too far below freezing they will be fine in a stall in the barn, they will be okay and you just have to go out and feed them. On warm days they can go out but you should watch to make sure they are not bullied by the ram or llamas. They can have lamb starter crumble or even a small amount of oats 2 x a day . If they still have diarrhea get something from the vet to stop it as it will dehydrate them
    Increase their formula too

  30. Rhonda Hutcherson

    On July 6, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    What Kind of hay do you feed lambs? Is Alfalfa hay too strong?

  31. Jo Anne Dreyer

    On September 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Hi and thanks for the information in your article. I ended up with a lamb 2 days ago, it was 5 hours old when I got it. It is very hard work but the lamb is doing very well now because of the information supplied by you. I stay in a big city in South Africa and we do not have these products available in our pet shops do you think that if I should give it pro nutro (similiar to baby cereal) as an extra that it will do any harm. And will normal grass (lawn) be adequate. At this stage it does not look like it can be send back to the herd as there is nobody there to feed it during the day.

  32. Mark Gordon Brown

    On September 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Jo I am not familiar with pro nutro enough to say if its good or not. We have given lambs rolled oats but not too many or they will get very sick. I mean rolled oats from a livestock feed supply store, not for breakfast for people although those might be okay if nothing else, just not too much and real oats or lamb starter food are better.
    I would not put such a young lamb back with the flock, it will get hurt, even then it MUST have milk at least 4 times a day at this stage, even if you can give 1 morning feed, 1 feed before you leave, 1 feed when you get back, and 1 at night.
    I should have hay and water when you are not there.
    It will not live without these feedings unless you can get another ewe to care for it on her own.
    Good luck.

  33. Jo Anne

    On September 29, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Thanks Mark

    I will keep it with me at home for as long as possible I understand what you say about the lamb not being able to fend for it selve. I will start giving pro nutro today and see how it goes. At the moment she is feeding well on goat milk wich I get at the health shop but as you can imagine this is costing a fortune. But so worth it the kids are loving it I just dont want the kids to form to strong a bond with the lamb as the aim here is not to keep it as a pet (the neighbours will freak). Thanks again for your advise.

  34. Elouise Wilson

    On January 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    Hi I have a bottle baby also who was rejected. But the very unusual thing is the baby has been adopted by our bluehealer dog. She has been a lifesaver, I can feed the lamb but I can’t keep her company. Our bluehealers name is Caroline and she even lets the baby act like its feeding from her., like she was nursing her mom. It’s the funniest thing and the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. The lambs real mom was slambing her against the stall wall, so I had to bring her into our carport where Caroline was, she started licking the lamb, like she was cleaning her. Now the lamb follows Caroline everywhere she goes.

  35. Andre

    On February 6, 2012 at 12:42 am

    I have a question, is it okay to give a lamb Colostrum for kids?
    Where I live they don’t have another kind. The mother is weak and the lamb only sucked a little. Is this enough or do I still need to give him Colostrum? I read on another website that you can give a lamb goats milk.
    Your help will be much appreciated.

  36. Diamond B

    On February 21, 2012 at 5:04 am

    we have a baby lamb that we are bottle feeding . shes very weak . now she has diarrhea. do we stop making her drink so much milk or what do we do ? thanks

  37. Andre

    On February 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Question, how much water do they need?
    Our bottle baby lamb wont eat hay or grass, it’s just sucking and chewing a bit, but I will keep on trying till it eats them.
    And the same is with feed, (in my country lamb feed is not available so we give him some crushed feed for goats).
    We have also a problem with scours and will take him to a vat, and bringing along a stool sample, the stool is watery with a bit of clear colered slime)
    Thanks in advance for your help!

  38. Andre

    On February 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I want to add that our lamb is 8 days old, he got an multivitamine and antibiotic shot. The stool sample needs to be analised, maybe he has an illness, last week we lost two more lambs. One of them the mother collapsed before giving birth and didn\\\’t stand up anymore, it was like her legs were parilised, we had two sheep like this and they both died.
    Does anybody know what this illness might be? (of the 2 sheep).
    Our bottle baby lamb drinks and jums around, so he looks healthy accept for the scourse.

  39. Mark Gordon Brown

    On February 21, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    To Diamond B – you can ask your vet for “scours” medication – I will tell you that scours is also common in cold weather too so that might be the cause.

    To Andre – I know there are many diseases in Africa and places that I am not familiar with here in Canada. I dont know where you live but your vet will be most familiar with diseases in your area.

    DO make sure the goat food does not contain COPPER – Copper is deadly to sheep – could that be the problem with your sheep?

    As I mentioned above – scours is sometimes due to weather but could be other things too, even the food.

    He should have a pail of water but might only sip a cup of water at a time. Especially with scours it is important they have water or can get dehydrated. At a week old he for sure should be eating hay and grass.

  40. Andre

    On February 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Mark Gorden Brown, I think there is coppersulphite in it but have to check because I lost the label of the goatsfeed.
    But our lamb is 16 days old already, we will keep on giving milk replacer and putting hay and grass in it’s mouth (since it won’t eat by himself). We will keep on treating him like a new borne lamb, the vet himself said that he might have a birthdefect. The vet gave him 3 shots of antibiotics with multivitamins, (with intervalls of 2 days). It still has scource and him stoolsample was free from parasites and worms.
    Yesterday his poo was a bit ticker, and then the diarhea started again. We don’t know really what to do next.
    B.t.w. I live in Aruba, Dutch Caribbean.

  41. Andre

    On March 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I didn’t know about copper in goatsfood, now we have sepperate food for the goats and sheep.
    An other unfortunate thing, the store where we got the lamb milkreplacer is out of milkreplacer. We had to give another type of milk. They told me also that the milkreplacer they sold me was contaminated with something. It’s the only place on the island that sells lamb milkreplacer. We got food for sheep so we give him a bit of this. I must say this is very tiring, the lamb is almost three weeks old and there are still no changes.
    Thanks for the advice Mark.

  42. James Van Meter

    On March 26, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I just wanted to say thanks for all the info. My wife is the sheep specialist on our farm but when tending to the babies in here absence this sitehas been very valuable.
    Thanks again, James

  43. todd

    On March 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    MARK GORDON BROWN, where can i get a bummer lamb from??

  44. Mark Gordon Brown

    On April 3, 2012 at 11:51 am

    to Todd

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you.
    In some areas there are livestock auctions, if you happen to be in Alberta there is one in Innisfail Easter Friday, with the lambs selling in the morning they usually have 3-5 bummer lambs.
    You can also check for online sale sites too, some of the ones that list pets also have livestock listings.

  45. carol

    On April 9, 2012 at 10:20 am

    What is the earliest that a lamb would be weaned, that is to ask; How long do I have to bottle feed? It’s been ten days for our little guy. I see older lambs at 3 and 4 weeks are eating hay.

  46. cherry

    On May 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I live in Austalia and after much research afound that new lambs which need to be bottle fed go very well on human quality powdered full cream milk. 200grams to one litre.

  47. cherry

    On May 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Just to finish the recepe above! One tablespoon of Full cream plain yoghurt, or some sort of probiotic in each feed plus two egg yolks all mixed well in blender. Use boiled water. Hygiene essential. If lamb is with mum and there is any chance of lamb suckling again use a stomach tube to feed the lamb this will ensure it strives for it’s mother. I agree with everyone colostrum is essential I milk the ewe for very weak lambs and stomach tube them so as not to waste a drop of the precious liquid. The key to prevent scours is not too much food.
    Use an electrolyte mixed with water until the stool is normal. New lambs have very soft yellow stools so this is normal but lots of runny stool is abnormal.

  48. richiestac

    On May 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    My bottle baby is about 3 1/2 weeks old and we have been increasing her volume to 12-14 0z per feeding but decreased to 3x daily. She is not really eating any grass, hay or feed, but has recently starting making pellets(stool). This evening she appeared very bloated and refused her bottle which is very unusual. Usually she feeds very aggressively. I have 3 older sheep several months to years and 11 goats 3+ years old to 3-4 months old. She is terrified of them and won’t leave my side. She is so small still, I’m afraid that the larger animals might injure her, but that is my secondary concern. should I be concerned about the bloat or like human gas, it will eventually pass?? Have not changed formula or the way it is mixed. Using lamb milk replacer.

  49. Mark Gordon Brown

    On May 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Bloat can be fatal, your lamb may need medicine from the vet, she likely got something she should not have eaten or the bottle had some bacteria. At that age she should be eating hay or grass for sure, most start eating in a few days.

    To carol – above.
    Lambs can eat grass at only a few days of age, they should still have milk until 2 months at the earliest, most people prefer to leave them with their mom until 3 months of age.

  50. Hamish

    On July 30, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Is it ok to bottle feed a lamb after 3 weeks of age? Its been with its mom for 3 weeks. I have a friend wanting to buy and bottle feed it…will the lamb take to a bottle after 3+ weeks? Thanks

  51. Shelby

    On March 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I have never bottle fed a lamb before but we just had one of our sheep to reject her baby because she was young and she didn’t bagg so he could not nurse he done very well the first three days but he is very small but here is the thing he will eat like two oz. at one time and then he will turn away we can’t make him take any more for a couple hours but the fourth day he started having flem coming from the sides of his mouth we have not offered him grass or hay should we offer him hay or grass we did start the lamb out on the colostrum replacer and now started the lamb replacement milk can you suggest any thing please

  52. teresa regan

    On March 27, 2013 at 7:18 am

    we are feeding our two week old lamb 4 times a day about 8 once each time but she is not looking to good .she has a hump on her back and she is curled up some of the time but she is with the other sheep and seems to be able to keep up with them

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