Farming Magazine - January, 2013


Small Livestock: Handling Hypothermia in Newborn Lambs and Kids

By Sally Colby

For those who have flocks or herds that give birth during cold weather, it's important to recognize the signs of hypothermia. Quick action on hypothermic newborns can mean the difference between survival and death.

Newborns cannot regulate their body temperature until about 36 hours after birth, and they can become chilled quickly. A small newborn has a larger surface area in proportion to its weight and will become chilled more quickly than a larger lamb. This is one reason multiples are at greater risk of chilling. In addition, a doe or ewe with multiples, especially those born in rapid succession, divides her attention and may not dry each newborn off thoroughly. The offspring of first-time does or ewes may become chilled more quickly than those of more experienced mothers that immediately begin licking and drying newborns.

This lamb has been brought inside for revival and warming and will probably need a cover of some kind when it returns to the barn.
The newborn suffering from hypothermia appears weak and unwilling to move, and will often have a cold mouth. However, rectal temperature is the most accurate way to determine hypothermia. The normal rectal temperature for a newborn lamb is around 102.2 degrees. Mild hypothermia

The newborn suffering from hypothermia appears weak and unwilling to move, and will often have a cold mouth. However, rectal temperature is the most accurate way to determine hypothermia. The normal rectal temperature for a newborn lamb is around 102.2 degrees. Mild hypothermia is characterized by a temperature between 98 and 102 degrees, and a temperature below 98 degrees indicates severe hypothermia. To improve their chance of survival, chilled newborns must be warmed immediately, but gradually, and from the inside out.

Vigorous rubbing with a clean terry cloth towel is often sufficient for lambs with mild hypothermia. In the case of multiples, alternate between lambs and wrap each lamb in a towel between rubbings to help maintain body heat. Newborns require energy supplied by colostrum as soon as possible after birth, so if a newborn isn't nursing on its own, try bottle-feeding with 4 ounces of its mother's colostrum. Many lambs can be revived quickly with just one bottle-feeding, but if there is little or no suckling reflex, tube-feeding may be necessary.

To tube-feed, prepare 2 to 4 ounces of colostrum by warming it slowly in hot water. Colostrum contains essential antibodies that help protect the newborn from disease, and it also contains concentrated protein, energy, vitamins and fat required by the newborn.

Ideally, colostrum should be from the newborn's own mother or from a doe or ewe that has given birth in the last 12 hours. The next best alternative is thawed colostrum, but if that isn't available, use a commercial colostrum substitute. Have the warmed colostrum in a nursing bottle sitting in warm water, and a stomach tube with a large syringe attached, ready to use.

Instead of risking fire with an unsafe heat lamp, lambs can stay warm with a sweater made from the sleeve of a discarded sweater or sweatshirt.
Photos by Sally Colby.

If you have to use the stomach tube, restrain the newborn on your lap, making sure the neck is straight, and pass the tube into the side of the mouth. Use gentle pressure to slide the tube down the esophagus and into the stomach. If you feel resistance or if the newborn coughs, the tube has likely entered the windpipe and should be withdrawn immediately.

Colostrum that enters the lungs via the windpipe causes aspiration pneumonia and it's likely the newborn will not survive. Once the tube is properly situated, hold the tube at the newborn's mouth to keep it in place, and then slowly pour the colostrum into the syringe. Hold the syringe slightly higher than the lamb's mouth so the colostrum flows slowly into the stomach. Some newborns require only one tube-feeding, but monitor rectal temperature and be prepared to administer additional colostrum within one to two hours. Whenever possible, leave the newborn with its mother between tube or bottle-feedings.

Chilled lambs often appear hunched and shivering, although severely chilled lambs are usually unable to stand.

Although some shepherds use heat lamps in jugs, many are hesitant because of the fire risk. In that case, prepare a warming box in which the newborn can be placed until its body temperature reaches 99 degrees. Be careful not to overheat the warming box; maintaining the temperature at 103 degrees is ideal. A sweater made from the arm of a discarded wool sweater or sweatshirt will keep newborns warm after they are dry and fed. Clothing that will be used on newborns should be laundered in scent-free detergent and air-dried. Rub some birth fluids on the sweater to make it smell as much like the ewe and her lamb as possible.

Chilled and lifeless lambs can often be revived by submersion in a bucket of warm water. Be sure to start with lukewarm water, and add warmer water as the lamb's body temperature increases. The water may become quite chilly if the lamb is severely chilled, so be aware of temperature changes. After warming in a bucket, lambs should be thoroughly towel-dried and fed as soon as possible.

Remember that lambs and kids that have been warmed should still be clipped and dipped. Clip the navel cord with sharp, disinfected scissors to about 2 inches and immediately dip it in your choice of disinfectant to prevent disease. Ideal coverage is achieved when the umbilical stump is immersed rather than sprayed.

The author is a frequent contributor and freelance writer who farms and raises Great Pyrenees in south-central Pennsylvania. Comment or question? Visit and join in the discussions.