Colostrum is that yellow secretion given by the ewe for the first twenty-four hours after lambing. The three main functions of colostrum include: Nutritional, protective, and laxative. The nutritional point of colostrum is due to the highly concentrated nutrients such as proteins, sugar, fats, minerals, and water which are easily and rapidly absorbed in the lamb’s gut. Colostrum contains three times as much protein and fat as regular ewe’s milk. When considering that lamb starvation is a major cause of lamb deaths, colostrum intake becomes even more important.
Colostrum contains the protective antibodies that the lamb needs to fend off disease. Proteins in the newborn animal are absorbed directly into the blood stream without being broken down, which makes antibodies readily available to combat diseases. However, the time frame for direct absorption is very short, the longer the lamb goes without colostrum, the less absorption potential. This is a critical point for lambs since during their first weeks of life they are challenged by many pathogens. Colostrum also has a laxative effect on the newborn lamb helping it to pass the gut contents produced during fetal life.
Make sure the lamb has nursed. Observe the lamb to see if the lamb is vigorous and has a full stomach appearance. The belly should be pear shaped if full. If a lamb has not gotten colostrum, they can be fed stored colostrum from another ewe or cow’s colostrum. A lamb of average size should be given 7 fluid ounces of warm whole colostrum as soon as possible. Ideally this amount can be split into two doses given four hours apart. If the lamb is unwilling to nurse, the use of a stomach tube is needed. The important thing is to ensure that every lamb gets adequate colostrum as soon as possible. If lambs are too chilled or are unresponsive, they must also be warmed to bring their body temperature to normal.