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A sheep farming family has developed a successful sheep enterprise by making the most of orphan and cade lambs.

• Strategy enables sheep to do well at grass

• Policy helps to increase overall farm profit

• But a good price is needed to cover costs

A sheep farming family has developed a successful sheep enterprise by making the most of orphan and cade lambs.

“Artificially reared lambs can be a significant proportion of our total lambs born,” says sheep producer Scott Horton. “They can contribute to profit provided prices hold up because we need a strong price to cover the higher costs.”

Mr Horton and wife Lindsay run a flock of 650 mainly mule ewes with Ollie East at Chess Valley Livestock, Amersham. Rearing heathy lambs artificially before selling them on helps improve the performance of lambs left on the ewe, says Mr Horton.

Ewes are housed at the end of February depending on grass. They scan at around 200% and lamb indoors from 1 April. Once lambed, ewes are kept in individual pens for 24 hours and then moved to a community pen for a further 24 hours before going out to grass. 

Maximum quality

Rearing cade lambs artificially is an integral part of the farm’s strategy to allow ewes and lambs to perform well at grass, says Mr Horton. Removing excess lambs helps maximise flock performance – but means doing the best job possible with the cades too.

“Most cade lambs are from triplets, although we will remove a double if a ewe has insufficient milk or is blind on one side. We will also occasionally take lambs off ewes at grass if it turns out she does not have enough milk.

“We often choose the best triplet to go onto milk replacer as this leaves the ewe with a balanced pair of lambs which can help reduce competition for milk.”

Triplets will stay on the ewe for 24 hours to ensure they have access to sufficient colostrum in the first six hours, but they will be topped up with colostrum if required.

Once removed from the ewes, lambs move onto Milkivit Energized Lamb Milk replacer (ELM) fed through a Forster Technik feeder. They are initially put into a training pen before being numbered and moved into the main pen.


Milk replacer is formulated to fully support lamb performance and ensure animals can be rearerd profitably. With high digestibility of energy and protein sources it helps minimise the risk of digestive upsets.

New-born lambs have limited energy reserves, so the replacer provides sufficient energy in a highly digestible form to support survivability and body temperature maintenance – as well as a robust immune system, while promoting high liveweight gains. 

Protein digestibility is also important. The replacer contains 100% of protein from dairy sources. To reduce digestive upsets, it is formulated for low osmolality, making it closer to ewe’s milk.

Higher osmolality – a measure of sugar and mineral content – can be caused by mixing the formulation incorrectly. It can damage gut integrity increasing the risk of scours and compromising future growth rates.

Fresh water, straw and creep feed are available from day one and lambs are abruptly weaned at 35 days. Lambs will stay on creep and straw until ready to slaughter at 40kg, explains Mr Horton.

“We found the lambs on milk replacer grow very strongly and have averaged 0.34kg/day. The average for lambs on our previous milk replacer was closer to 0.23kg/day. This means that if lambs are on it for a month, we will see an extra 3kg of growth.”

Cade lambs from the farm are usually sold first in early July – along with early born singles. 

This year we had 60 lambs on milk replacer which is a little over 5% of the lamb crop so it is important they do well,” says Mr Horton. “Rapid growth means we achieve better prices and we only lost two lambs this year, both for unavoidable reasons.”