Hypothermia and exposure are major killers of newborn lambs and kids, especially those born during the cold winter months. Lambs/kids with low birth weights and/or from large litters are especially vulnerable. Kids seem to be much less cold tolerant than lambs. Hair sheep lambs may have an advantage over wooled lambs, due to their thicker birth coats.
There are many strategies for dealing with the risks posed by cold weather. In some cases, it may be necessary to move lambing and kidding to the warmer months. Good indoor housing is a prerequisite for lambing and kidding in the winter. Cold is okay, but ewes/does need a dry, draft-free place to give birth and bond with their offspring. At the same time, it’s important not to keep the barn too tight. Adequate ventilation is a must, to prevent respiratory problems.
Heat lamps are frequently used to provide supplemental heat to newborn lambs and kids. While heat lamps can be used safely, often they are not, and they are a primary cause of barn fires. Not a winter goes by that you won’t see “horror” stories of barn fires caused by heat lamps.
If you opt to use heat lamps, be sure to use them safely and for no longer than is necessary. Start by using well-made lamps and good quality bulbs. Premier’s Prima heat lamp (www.premier1supplies.com) is a good choice for sheep and goat producers. The lamp assembly is fully enclosed and should not cause a fire if it falls onto the bedding.
Heat lamps should be hung at least 20 inches off the ground. They should be properly secured so that animals cannot jostle them or chew on their cords. The lamp should be hung with chain, not baling twine. The Prima lamp can be clipped onto a panel. Premier recommends that the Prima lamp not be used in a barrel to warm livestock, as the heat from the lamp needs to dissipate.
Once the lamb/kid is dry and actively nursing, there is no reason to continue using a heat lamp, unless the newborn is sick or compromised in some other way. It is important that lambs/kids regulate their own body temperature. You are not doing your animals any favor when you over-manage them. “Kindness” can sometimes kill them.
A safer option than heat lamps is to put a coat, cover, or jacket on the lamb or kid. This will prevent heat loss. There are many different kinds of coats, including reusable cloth coats and plastic biodegradable coats. Old clothes can work, too. As with heat lamps, there’s no reason to use covers on healthy, thriving lambs/kids.
Another option is to provide a place where newborns can cuddle to stay warm. A 55-gallon barrel can be used. Cat or dog crates work well. Straw bales can block drafts. A manure pack, with deep bedding provides protection from drafts.
The best protection against cold weather is a good mother. A good mother will lick her babies dry, push them towards her udder, and make sure they get a bellyful of warm colostrum.