Lambing: How to Tube Feed a Lamb
Tube feeding is not hard…really. Sometimes it is necessary. It is not a bad idea to try it once or twice in a non emergency situation…
You will need a feeding tube and a catheter tip syringe (available from livestock supply catalogues, your feed store or online. A turkey baster will work in place of the syringe in a pinch. You will also want a bowl of warm water and a container of the milk or colostrum you will be feeding.
Measure the tube along the outside of the lamb with the tip located behind the front leg,this is where the stomach would be, and along the neck to the tip of the nose. Note about how long this is, that is how far you will insert the tube. Wet the tube with warm water to lubricate it.
Hold the lamb in your lap with it’s head facing your dominant hand and cupping it’s lower jaw in your other hand; pointing the nose comfortably upwards, that closes the windpipe and makes is easier to slide the tube into the esophagus. Gently inset the tube into the lamb’s mouth, letting the lamb swallow the tube if it is strong enough, if not gently and slowly keep inserting the tube into the lamb’s throat…if you are in the “wrong pipe”, the lamb may cough and struggle if it is not too weak. If you are not sure where you have placed the tube, place the end near your cheek, if air is coming out as the lamb breathes try again, or hold the end under water to see if it bubbles with breathing. If the tube is in the windpipe (trachea) you need to take the tube out and insert it again, into the esophagus.
When you are sure the feeding tube is in the right place, attach the catheter tip syringe or turkey baster tube (with the bulb removed)into the end of the tube. You do not need to hurry. If the tube is in the right place it should not be uncomfortable for the lamb. Fill the syringe or baster with an ounce or two of the milk. Let the milk flow into the lamb via the syringe or baster by gravity, do not force it with a plunger or bulb in place. To remove the syringe or baster, put your thumb or finger over the end of the tube as you remove it in one smooth motion, this helps to keep milk from dribbling in to the windpipe. Try it with just a little warm water on a healthy lamb…you will be more comfortable if you have to do it in an emergency in the middle of the night if you have tried it once.
Lambs often get really warm after you feed them, a flush…like a hot flash ( some of us may be able to relate to that too)…it is normal. If a lamb is too weak to suck and swallow , don’t force any milk in without a tube, milk in lungs will make a pneumonia situation that is hard to treat.