From birth the young animal is vulnerable to disease. It is completely dependent on the mother for food and if the mother dies the orphan will need a foster mother if it is to survive. Operations such as castration, cutting the tail and disbudding the horns must be done at a very early age to avoid unnecessary risks and least stress to the animal.
Checking the navel cord
Ideally the navel cord of the newborn animal should be dressed with tincture of iodine, gentian violet or Dettol immediately after birth.
This should be repeated 2 to 3 days later.
After 1 week the cord should have dried and dropped off. If infection has developed, treat it as a wound.
Checking for extra teats
Some female ruminants are born with one or more extra teats. This is especially the case with calves. The extra teat(s) can be removed by:
Restrain the animal firmly.
Identify the extra teat(s) for removal.
Use a pair of clean, sharp scissors to cut off the teat flush with the skin.
Dress the wound with tincture of iodine or antibiotic powder.
Fostering of the young animal will be necessary if the natural mother has died or fails to produce enough milk for her young. The sheep or goat can only properly feed two young so any other young must be fostered. Fostering can be done by:
Remove the skin of the foster mother's dead young and tie it around the orphan. After several days remove the skin.
Rub the orphan with the afterbirth and fluids or under the tail of a mother who has just given birth. Allow the orphan to suckle with its back towards the mother's head so that she can smell it. This method is mainly used with sheep and goats.
The foster mother can be tied up by the head in a small pen or shed and the orphan left with her. The orphan will usually suckle if the foster mother is prevented from kicking or moving away. This method can be used with sheep and goats but is also successful with cattle and buffalo. In the case of large ruminants tying a rope around the belly will stop the mother from kicking the calf as it suckles.
Place the orphan and the foster mother in a small shed or pen and tie or leave a dog with them. The female will protect the orphan from the dog and will then allow it to suckle.
Hand rearing orphans
If no foster mother is available, the orphan will need to be fed by hand.
You must make sure that the orphan has colostrum, if possible for 4 days or 8 feedings.
Collect the colostrum from other mothers into a clean bottle.
Do not boil colostrum as it will curdle.
Lambs and kids can be fed warm milk from a bottle fitted with a rubber teat or nipple.
Clean the bottle thoroughly after each feeding.
They will need 4 to 6 feedings a day.
Calves can also be fed from a bottle but it is best to get them used to drinking milk from a bucket when they are a few days old.
To get the calf to drink from a bucket get it to suck your fingers and then as it sucks gradually put your hand into the bucket of milk.
Do this several times, holding the bucket at knee height, and the calf will feed from the bucket after a few lessons.
The calf will need feeding 3 to 4 times a day.
Clean and wash all bottles and buckets after each feeding.
Hand Rearing Orphans
The stomach of the calf needs time to develop fully and become able to digest plants.
At first it can only digest milk and a 2-month-old calf will drink 4 to 6 litres of milk daily.
The calf should be allowed to take all the milk it needs from his mother for the first two months of its life.
From 3 weeks of age a calf will begin to eat a little grass and by 3 months of age a calf can eat plants and ruminate. At this age the calf can be weaned. It is allowed to take less milk and is given solid food which is increased until drinking milk is stopped. It can be given grain during weaning.
If the calf is left with the mother it will not be fully weaned until it is 8 to 12 months old.
Feeding lambs and kids
Lambs and kids will suckle from the mother until they are 4 months old, but they will start to show an interest in green plants from 3 weeks of age.
Remember that most newborn animals die because of lack of food.
Cold and wet conditions are very bad for the newborn and can cause lung diseases which may kill the animal.