Even on nice spring mornings, it can seem too chilly for newborn lambs. Healthy lambs with ewes that are actively working to warm them up by licking them dry will be up and going pretty quickly.
But the healthy lambs are easy, what about a few of the other lambs that are not quite as vigorous or any orphan or rejected lambs? Do they need supplemental heat?
Healthy lambs born in good weather to an attentive ewe normally do not need a heat lamp. Weak lambs or lambs born in poor weather may benefit from warming up under a heat lamp.
Healthy lambs born in good weather don’t need heat lamps
If you have good sized, healthy lambs born in good or at least acceptable weather they probably do not need a heat lamp, as long as their mom is actively working to lick them off and get them up to nurse.
If the lamb is not of a good size or the weather is overly harsh or the ewe is not taking care of the lamb, then it may benefit from having a heat lamp put on it.
Lambing Time Supply List gives you the scoop on what you should have on hand.
Lambs born in cold weather may need heat lamps
A lamb that is weak, born during overly cold, windy or rainy weather or a lamb who’s mom is not attentive may need a heat lamp.
One of the biggest challenges for a newborn lamb is to get up and going in order to nurse and to help the lamb get to and maintain appropriate body temperature.
A heat lamp can provide an extra bit of supplemental heat to get a lamb that just needs a touch of help, up and going faster. For most lambs born in decent weather, heat lamps are not needed.
Lambing in a cold snap
If your lambing dates line up with a cold snap for your area or are in a normally cold part of the year, you should plan on having heat lamps and lambing jugs (individual pens) for any lambs born.
Planning to lamb in a cold time of year is normal for anyone raising fair lambs or anyone hoping to sell Easter lambs, but uncommon for us.
We find it to be more work than we want to put in, especially if the early lambs line up with a colder than normal few weeks.
We have had February lambs that were born in the single digits, definitely not ideal, which required us checking the barn every few hours throughout the night to see if any new lambs were born.
The checks were timed so that my husband and I took shifts to make sure the entire night was covered and any lambs born were quickly put into lambing jugs with their moms and heat lamps.
It was nice having some lambs outside of our normal window, which is spring, but having them born in a super cold few weeks was enough to keep us away from late winter lambs.
Weak lambs may need heat lamps
Sadly, some lambs are born weak but sometimes they can be helped out with a heat lamp. Not all weak lambs will rebound with the heat lamp, but some will so we generally give it a shot.
Heat lamps for slow to get going lambs
We put heat lamps on slow to get up lambs. This involves putting the lambs and their mom in a small pen and hanging a heat lamp over a corner for the new lambs.
Normally, if the lambs are going to respond well to the heat lamp, they will do so fairly quickly.
Of course, a heat lamp does carry a fire risk, so plan out what you are doing and make sure that the heat lamp is hung appropriately, by the wire hanger in the shell, not the cord.
We have also had the occasional weak twin, meaning that one of the twins was fine and kept up with the ewe easily but the other was small or slow to get up and going.
Sometimes the ewe will take off with the “good twin” and leave the weak one behind. Sometimes there is something wrong with the lamb so it will not live, other times it is just slower to get going.
This is a lamb we would bring in and put under a heat lamp to see if it can come around and go back with mom. If it still can’t keep up, it is now a bottle baby.
Should a bottle baby lamb have a heat lamp?
If you have a few otherwise healthy bottle babies, once they are dry and warmed up enough to toddle around, they should not need a heat lamp.
Keep them in a draft free area and make sure their pen is dry and they should be fine. If your bottle babies are weak lambs, then they may require a lamp for a longer period of time.
Should you help out weak lambs?
Should you help out weak lambs? This is a hard thing to deal with because weak lambs are tough to get going and quite often punk out on you later.
There is a school of thought that says something like “don’t do anything with your sheep that you do not want to keep doing”. Usually, this means that the lambs need to make it or not make it on their own.
I agree that this is what we are all hoping for, at least we are, but my question is how to get there when that is not the genetics of the flock now?
My concern with this line of thinking is that you, as the new sheep farmer, may not be able to handle the results, mentally or economically, unless you started with a flock that was heavily selected to be hands off.
Ideally, we do not do anything for the weak lambs, because in an ideal world we would not have them!
When we do have them, we do our best to help them get up and going and if a heat lamp is the thing to make that happen, that’s what we do. You’ll have to decide how to work this out for yourself.
Make sure heat lamb works before you need it
If you have decided to use heat lamps, give them a test before you need them just to make sure they work when you are in a rush to warm up a lamb.
If the bulb is new, give it a test anyway. We have occasionally purchased new bulbs that did not work.
If you are reusing heat lamps, does the heat lamp have the wire hanger still on it? If your bulb is dusty, clean it off before plugging it in. I’m not sure why, but dusty bulbs seem to break.
If you are looking for a different option, Premier 1 has a heat lamp with a plastic shell. (I don’t have any experience with this lamp, I’m just offering it up as an alternative that you could look into.)
If you are interested in more of my lamb articles, consider reading:
Why Do Sheep Have Paint On Them?
How Old Do Lambs Need To Be To Wean?
If you are interested in learning more about caring for newborn lambs, read Sheep 201: Care of newborn lambs which covers lambing jugs, colostrum and potential health problems.