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Bringing Home Baby | Spring 2011 Out Here Magazine

Lambs and calves with need protection from common diseases. Talk with your veterinarian about vaccinations and at what age the animal should be vaccinated.

Young livestock need extra tender loving care

By Heather Smith Thomas
Photography by iStock

Before you bring home that lamb, kid, calf, or flock of chicks this spring, make sure you understand these young animals' unique requirements for diet and care.

Be ready beforehand by preparing a place for them and having the appropriate feed and supplies.

A young calf, kid, or lamb will need shelter from sun, wind, and rain. A small three-sided shed in the corner of a pen is usually adequate.

These babies also need a source of fresh water, even if they aren't weaned yet and you're feeding them milk replacer. In hot weather, they need more fluid than what milk alone provides.

Make sure their water containers, feeders, and pen/shelter are kept clean. Good sanitation is essential for minimizing disease in young animals and keeping them healthy.

Feed requirements for a weaned animal will be different from a younger one that is still nursing, such as a lamb that's been orphaned or rejected by its mother, or bottle-fed calf. If you're raising the baby on a bottle, buy the appropriate kind of milk replacer for its age and species, and follow mixing and feeding directions. You don't want to underfeed, but overfeeding can also cause serious problems.

Calves, kids, and lambs are ruminants with four stomachs, digesting forage in the largest stomach (the rumen). When they're first born, however, the rumen is small and they depend on milk. They can't handle much hay or grain until the rumen develops.

Feed small amounts of hay and grain (preferably in the form of pellets that contain milk products) at first, gradually increasing the amount of forage as the rumen grows and develops a colony of microbes to break down roughage. Don't make sudden feed changes or the young animal may get indigestion or bloat.

Young chicks need a special type of feed, and need to start eating within two or three days of hatching or they'll become too weak to look for food. Make sure the feeders are placed where your new chicks will easily find them, and that they're not too high for the chicks to reach.

If you covered the bottom of their brooder box with litter (to make it soft and comfortable) they may try to eat it instead of their feed. Cover the litter with burlap or paper towels until they learn where their food is.

They must be kept warm, and they need to start drinking water by the time they are four days old, or they will die. Provide water in a chick waterer they can reach, and make sure they know where the water is by dipping each of their beaks into the water.

Become familiar with health needs of the animals you raise. Lambs and calves will need certain vaccinations against common diseases. Talk with your veterinarian about vaccinations and at what age the animal should be vaccinated.

One of the best sources of information regarding care of young animals is the person from whom you bought them.

The farmer who raises these animals can usually answer your questions and let you know what kind of feed and care are needed. Don't hesitate to ask.

Heather Smith Thomas is the author of several books on livestock care.