Reviving newborn lambs

// Rearing and Weaning

The frequent cold snaps moving up the country are challenging newborn lambs, but an injection of dextrose can be a lifesaver for cold or weak lambs.

Sheep family

The frequent cold snaps moving up the country are challenging newborn lambs, but an injection of dextrose can be a lifesaver for cold or weak lambs.

Will Halliday, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Senior Advisor Biosecurity and Animal Welfare, says lambs born during a cold snap will exhaust all their energy reserves just trying to keep warm and won’t have the strength to feed. They are then in danger of starving to death.

 A 20% dextrose mix (ideally warmed) injected straight into the lamb’s abdomen will give it the energy boost it needs to survive but should only be used as a last resort.

He says it is important the dextrose is given before warming the lamb up.

 “If you warm the lamb up before administrating the dextrose, it can hasten its death.”

He says the ideal candidates for this treatment are lambs that are four or five hours old that have not fed off their mothers. Newborn lambs will typically respond to just being warmed up without the injection, although a dextrose injection won’t hurt them.

 Will says farmers can buy 40% dextrose off their vets and use sterile water (cooled boiled water) or saline to dilute it themselves. 

He stresses that table sugar is not a suitable substitute for dextrose and should not be used.

To inject a lamb, a 5ml or 10ml vaccinating gun should be connected to the draw-off tube or the dextrose extracted using a 60ml syringe. A 10mm 18G vaccinating needle is ideal for this purpose- it must not be longer than 12.5mm.

The dosage is 10ml of dextrose per kilogram of bodyweight. Most lambs in need of this treatment will weigh less than 4kg, so 40ml is suitable dose, says Will.

 After preparing the injection site with iodine, the needle is inserted just above the navel and pushed in at a slight angle towards the chest. There should be a slight popping sensation as the needle pierces the abdominal wall.

 The solution is then gently injected into the abdomen. Any swelling underneath the skin will indicate that the needle is not in far enough.

Another option is to inject dextrose saline (which is not the same as 20% dextrose) under the skin. This requires a much higher dose – 30ml/kg or 120ml for a 4kg lamb – and this is injected under the skin around the ribs on both sides of lamb and the area rubbed.

After the lamb has received the dextrose, it can then be warmed up and put back with the ewe, ideally with a lamb cover. It will need to be closely monitored to ensure the ewe has accepted and fed it. 

For farmers who do a lambing beat, Will recommends putting together a lambing kit using a waterproof backpack or container. This would contain dextrose, lamb covers, iodine spray, antibiotics, bearing equipment, gloves, veterinary lube, a towel and a thermos of warm water.

“This simple equipment will help give lambs the best possible chance of survival.”

For information on reviving newborn lambs, see our Reviving newborn lambs factsheet (PDF, 174 KB)