By: Laura T. Kieser, Extension Educator, Carver & Scott Counties
January, February and March are typical months for sheep and goat farms to be welcoming new additions to the herd. The benefits of lambing or kidding in the early months of the year include higher rates of gain, lower disease incidents, and increased profits from spring and Easter markets. In order to take advantage of these benefits, producers have to make sure to keep these new babies clean, dry warm, and draft free. Common methods for assisting in keeping young small ruminants warm include: heat lamps, blankets or coats, extra bedding, and barn winterization.
Heat lamps are perhaps the first option that comes to mind when thinking about keeping new lambs or kids warm. Heat lamps provide heat similar to radiant heat, much like the sun's rays. Many supply companies offer options for safe heat lamps in barns. It is important to consider the risks of heat lamps in your situation. Lamps should be protected from hay and straw. Cords from lamps need to be protected from the animals as well. One popular method to use a heat lamp is to mount the lamp in the top of an empty 55-gallon drum. Then a hole is cut in the side of the barrel to allow lambs or kids to go in and out. In effect, this makes a small warming house for the young animals. When using a heat lamp it is important to use the proper sized bulb (usually 175 watts) and to keep the bulb at least six inches higher than the lamb or kid can reach.
Blankets or coats for small ruminants are available for purchase from various supply companies. Coats can also be made at home as part of a 4-H project. Some people use dog or puppy coats for kids. Others use fleece or water resistant material. It is important to make sure to size a coat correctly for a lamb or kid. Straps or material can become a hazard if the young lamb or kid can get tangled in it. It's helpful if coats can be made of washable materials. This makes the coats re-usable throughout the current year and into future years.
If producers are not comfortable with using heat lamps or coats, the remaining options are management decisions. To decrease drafts around young lambs and kids, be sure to provide and refresh bedding often. By refreshing straw, you are keeping the animals dry, and also increasing a layer of insulation. Consider evaluating the barn that lambs or kids are housed in. Make sure that the structure is draft free at the animal level, but at the same time has proper ventilation to allow air exchange and decrease humidity. If barns are closed up too tightly, lambs and kids can be susceptible to respiratory diseases.
In general young lambs and kids will thrive when born in January, February and March when their environment is kept dry, clean and draft free. These conditions will allow producers to have lambs and kids that grow rapidly, are healthy and meet marketing goals.