Lambs that are nursing are already on a watery diet, as are lambs on lush grass. Do lambs need drinking water as well or is grass wet enough?
All lambs need water. Bottle lambs need access to water at a week of age or as soon as solid food is available to them. Weaned lambs and ewe raised lambs need access to water at all times, even if on some days they do not drink any.
Lambs need water when they eat solid food
Lambs need to have access to water when they are able to eat solid food. If the lambs are with their mom and you see the lambs eating hay, you should make sure that the lambs can also reach the water.
Notice the “reach the water” part here. Not so surprisingly, the ewes will also drink from the same trough, which makes the water level go lower, maybe too low for the lambs to reach it.
If you are not using an automatic waterer, use a float valve to keep the water level high in the trough or plan to check water multiple times a day and refill as needed.
Do Lambs Need Creep Feed? is my article that goes into more details on when and how to use creep feed for your lambs, if you decide they need it.
Have water in place before the lambs need it
Have water available to the lambs earlier than you think they will need it, since sheep like things that are familiar and the lambs need time to explore and get used to a water source before they will use it.
I know this sounds a bit crazy, but if your lambs are bottle lambs or weaned, they can be scared of the new thing on the edge of their pen and not go over to drink if things are too new.
The easy way to prevent problems here is to put the water trough (or whatever you are using for water) in the pen with the ewes and lambs then use the same trough when you have lambs only.
The confusing part here is that we think of sheep as needing water (they do) and drinking some when they are thirsty (they will) but we forget that the ewe taught the lambs about drinking water.
If your lambs are not used to water troughs or are bottle lambs so they grew up without a mom, these lambs can be too scared of the trough to drink.
If you need to switch from bucket to water trough for lambs that are new to drinking water, put both in the pen, then when you see some of the lambs drink from the trough, take out the bucket.
Until you see that some of the lambs have accepted the new trough, leave the filled bucket in the pen also.
Bottle lambs need water after first week
Bottle lambs do not need water, at first, but as soon as they start to explore around a little or you put hay or lamb feed in their pen, they must also have water to go with it.
Lambs that were raised on a bottle then abruptly switched to water will not make this transition well. There are too many things happening at once.
The change from bottle to water trough must be made slowly and you need to be sure that the lambs are drinking the water, not just spilling it, before you totally wean them off of the bottle.
You can help them learn to look for water by having a low bucket in the pen once they are about a week old and a good while before you need them off of the bottle.
When you get close to weaning time, start cutting back the bottle amounts to encourage them to look for water to drink.
When you see that they have found the water and are drinking it, this takes a few attempts to get right, then the lamb can be weaned.
If there is more than one lamb in the pen, this will go faster. All you need is one of the lambs to figure out the water drinking idea, then the rest will mimic the leader and soon figure it out.
5 Reasons To Not Keep Bottle Lambs As Breeding Stock is my article that goes over the disadvantages of keeping bottle lambs as compared to ewe raised lambs for replacement stock.
Weaned lambs need water
If the lambs are weaned, they need to have water. When sheep are eating pasture, they can get quite a bit of their water needs from the grass, since it is a wet food.
If the weather is mild, they may even be able to get the majority of their water needs from grass and hardly ever go to the water, but it should still be available in case they need it.
Wind and heat makes lambs drink more
Even on nice days, if it is windy the lambs will need more water than you would guess and of course they always need more water when it is hot.
In the winter, lambs on grass with access to snow may get all of the water they need from the grass and snow, but until you know for sure, give them the option of water, as well.
Eating dry foods makes lambs drink more
Lambs on hay, which is a fairly dry food, or lambs on less succulent pasture will need to have water to add to the forage in order to digest it well.
We give all of our outside sheep water no matter the season, some days they drink it and other days they don’t, but since we do not know for sure when it’s a water day, they need water everyday.
The exception here is sheep that have access to a natural source of water, like a creek. These guys will just get their own water and we spy on the creek once in a while to make sure it’s still flowing well and clean.
Sheep 101: What else is there to eat? has a list of things a lamb can eat from nursing lambs and creep feed to weaned lambs, all of which will need water, as well.