Gosh it’s cold outside! Hypothermic lambs and kid goats can become a real problem in this kind of weather. Throughout much of North America, the record cold is interfering with the health and well-being of many early season neonatal lambs and goat kids. Lambs and goat kids can take quite a bit of cold as long as they are well started, stay dry and get plenty of nourishing milk from their mothers.
But sometimes a new-born lamb or kid will suffer hypothermia because of inadequate mothering, a lack of regular feeding or simply because the lamb overslept and forgot to eat in extremely cold weather.
Hypothermic lambs and kids will die if not attended to immediately.
Hypothermia is the leading cause of pre-weaning lamb and kid goat losses in this country. Many deaths can be prevented with a few simple tools and a basic understanding of how hypothermia kills. Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature drops and the body’s vital signs begin to weaken. Heart rate and respiration decreases and the metabolism slows down.
Past a certain point, the digestive system cannot help a lamb or kid overcome hypothermia. Without energy delivered properly and directly into the core of the body in the form of glucose, brain function is impaired and results in a continuing weakness, confusion, drowsiness, coma and the eventual death of the kid or lamb.
What follows below is information you may need to know to save a little life. If you are a new shepherd or goat keeper what I’m going to recommend may scare you. I encourage you to put your fear and apprehensions behind you. Do what you must do. Because if you don’t, your hypothermic lamb or kid goat probably will die.
Thermometers and a Keen Eye Save Lives
That’s no hype or exaggeration. Nothing takes the place of good observation in cold weather. A very mild hypothermic lamb or kid goat can often be found before things take a turn for the worse. Mildly hypothermic kid goats and lambs will commonly have a characteristic humped up look or will sometimes be off sleeping alone in a corner.
Such lambs and kids can be fed a little extra and warmed up without too much risk. The judicious use of a rectal livestock thermometer can save thousands of little lambs and goat kids. If you don’t own a livestock thermometer you need to get one. A human thermometer will work in a pinch. When I take the temperature of a goat kid or lamb I lay them across my lap. A thermometer is easily inserted with a little spit from me or Vaseline. I keep the thermometer in place for about 3 minutes. I’ve found it helpful to tie a piece of string or dental floss to the end of the thermometer so it doesn’t get “lost” while in service. I’ve never had this happen with a lamb, but it can happen with a big animal.
Normal Temperature for Lambs & Kids
- Normal body temperature in healthy lambs and kids is 102 °F- 104°F
- Moderate hypothermia is 99°F – 102°F
- Severe hypothermia is below 99F° – and your lamb or kid is in serious trouble.
There Are Two Stages of Hypothermia & Two Different Treatments In Lambs or Kids
When treating your lamb or kid for hypothermia you need to understand which treatment is appropriate. Lambs and kids under 5 hours old have a special type of internal body fat that will keep them safe for a few hours depending upon the air temperature. Lambs and kids older than 5 hours have used up the supply of internal fat that they were born with and cannot be treated the same way. If your lamb or kid has a body temperature of 99°F – 102°F and can still hold its head up and suck and is under 5 hours old, warm sheep or goat milk is all you’ll need. About ½ cup fluid (120cc) every 3 or 4 hours by bottle or stomach tube is right for a medium breed of sheep; a little more for large breed sheep. Warm milk replacer works well but is expensive. Should none of those options be available to you, and while it is not ideal for lambs or kids, cow’s milk will work (raw is best) in an emergency. Melt about a tablespoon of butter per ½ cup (120cc) of whole milk or diluted canned evaporated milk. If you do not have butter on hand, find something else that is 100% animal fat – tallow, lard, chicken fat, bacon grease or whatever. No Crisco, vegetable oil or margarine. Make sure the milk is warm before you feed it. About 100° F– 105°F is perfect. If your lamb is fully conscious and can hold its head up, but cannot or will not suck, and its temperature is between 99°F – 102°F you should stomach tube the milk mixture.
Stomach tubing is an easy to learn skill and is a life saver for just about all neonatal farm animals. A thermometer and a stomach tube used correctly will save more neonatal lambs, kids and calves than any other thing I know of. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a basic homesteading skill. To use a stomach tube is really quite simple.
Here’s how to do it: You’ll need milk, a Mason jar or pan and a large 60cc syringe with a stomach tube or catheter.
- While sitting on a bale of hay or a bucket, lay the lamb across your lap or hold it between your legs. I do this well out of the sight of mamma sheep.
- Have the warm milk ready in a Mason jar or pan.
- Remove the catheter/tube from the syringe.
- Dip the end of the catheter into the warm milk to moisten it. Now insert the tube in the corner of the lamb’s mouth. Gently pass the tube all the way to the stomach. The distance varies but is about 7”-11” in most breeds of sheep. If the tube doesn’t go in but a few inches or the lamb starts to struggle, you are probably in the lungs. Remove the tube and re-insert it. When a feeding tube is properly inserted the lamb will remain relaxed and will not struggle.
- Draw a full 60cc syringe full of warm milk. Place the syringe onto the end of the tube. Slowly depress the syringe to a count of 10.
That’s all there is to it. To remove the tube, pinch it tightly between your thumb and forefinger and remove it very quickly. You don’t want any drops of milk to accidentally aspirate into the lungs.
If the lamb or kid cannot hold its head up and its temp is 99° or below or is unconscious DO NOT use a stomach tube or bring the kid or lamb into the house or try to warm it up in any way. You could kill it. You should give an intraperitoneal injection of glucose.
Intraperitoneal Glucose Injection
An intraperitoneal glucose injection is an injection of glucose directly into the abdominal cavity of the lamb or kid. The lamb or kid can no longer create energy via the digestive system. It must have glucose. It is the best way to save the life of a lamb or kid that is older than 5 hours and has a body temperature of 99°F or less. You must give glucose before warming the lamb because the lamb or kid may die from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
If you do not know how to give this injection get your veterinarian to do it or teach you how to.
If you can’t get a veterinarian fast enough here’s what you need to know to do it yourself. Be brave. It is very scary the first time you do this on your own. Just remember your lamb or kid is almost dead and you have nothing to lose and maybe everything to gain.
Here’s How to Do It
The needle size must be a 1” X 19 gauge used with a large syringe. A longer needle could nick internal organs and shorter needle will not reach the space in the peritoneal cavity. A 60 ml syringe works well.
You need to use a sterile 20% glucose solution. You can dilute a 40% or 50% glucose or dextrose with sterile water if necessary.
The rough dosing is as follows:
50 ml for a large lamb or kid
40 ml for a medium lamb or kid
30 ml for small lamb, kid or triplet
If using 50% glucose or dextrose boil the water to sterilize it before mixing. For a large lamb or kid goat, draw up 20 ml of 50% glucose or dextrose into a sterile syringe. Now draw up 30 ml of sterile water.
The water can be very warm – in fact it works better if it is. You want the glucose solution to be slightly above normal body temperature -104°F- 108°F when it is actually injected.
Hotter water keeps the solution from getting too cold by the time you make it up and get back to the barn. I keep the syringe warm in the barn by keeping it under my clothes and close to my body until I’m ready to use it.
The injection site on the lamb is located 1/2″ to the side and 1″ down below the umbilical cord stump.
Be sure to have the warm syringe ready in hand before you pick up the kid or lamb. Hold the lamb or kid up by its forelegs in front of you while you lean against a wall or bales of hay. By holding the kid or lamb in this way the liver and other internal organs are dropped out of the way of the needle.
The lamb or kid probably won’t struggle much or at all. But you do need the lamb to be completely limp before you inject the glucose. Wait a few minutes if you have to for the kid or lamb to go limp. With an unconscious kid or lamb this isn’t an issue.
To give the injection when alone, first steady yourself firmly against a wall or bales of hay. Take the cap off the needle and insert the needle straight on and directly into the belly aiming slightly towards the tail or butt. Very slowly release the plunger on the syringe. That’s all there is to it.
Now it is safe to slowly warm the lamb or kid back up. The lamb should receive a course of antibiotics for 5 – 7 days. I use a long acting penicillin. But you should consult you veterinarian for the proper type, dosage and his/her recommendations for the appropriate antibiotic in your area.