One of the key drivers in profitability in a sheep enterprise is lambs weaned per ewe, with a high litter rate and low mortality rate the key ingredients in achieving these.

The main goal for lowland flocks is for each ewe leaving the lambing shed to have two lambs at foot, though the realities of nature will mean that even at a scanning rate of two lambs per ewe, several ewes will have single or triplet lambs.

Triplet lambs put severe pressure on a ewe, increasing the risk of E coli, mastitis or energy depletion due to the draw of energy required to produce enough milk.

Lambs too can suffer, resulting in stunted growth or possible mortality.

Where there is a supply of single-bearing ewes with adequate milk lambing in the same period, fostering one of the lambs on to the single-bearing ewe can work very well.

Even for outdoor lambing flocks, in order to achieve cross-fostering, single- and triplet-bearing ewes should be housed one side of each other to be able to catch single-bearing ewes giving birth.

Single-bearing ewes should receive 200g of a high-protein ewe and lamb nut for the two weeks up to lambing to ensure sufficient colostrum production for their own lamb and the fostered one.

Collecting the lambing fluid from the single -bearing ewe and placing it on the triplet lamb will place the ewe's scent on the lamb and trick her in to thinking it is her own.

Cross-fostering works best when a triplet ewe has given birth first. The three lambs should have their navels dipped and receive adequate colostrum from the ewe or through supplementation.

When a single-bearing ewe starts to give birth, the strongest of the three lambs should be chosen as they have the best ability to compete with a single lamb.

The triplet’s feet should be tied together with cable ties or twine to prevent them standing and walking away.

The lamb should then washed in warm water to remove the smell of their own ewe from them and be placed in a large bucket or basin, which is placed behind the single ewe giving birth.


It is important to check the single ewe’s udder to ensure she has sufficient milk with two functioning teats before cross-fostering.

The single ewe should then be assisted, with all the lambing fluids collected in the bucket at the rear of the ewe as the lamb comes out, over the body and head of the triplet lamb.

The foster lamb can then be presented to the single ewe to lick clean, with her own natural lamb presented to her after a few minutes. After a period of 10-15 minutes, the legs of the triplet lamb can be untied.

To ensure that the fostering has been successful, the ewe and her natural and fostered lamb should be placed in an individual pen for 48 hours.

If a ewe rejects one of the lambs, placing her in a fostering crate until she allows both lambs to suckle freely may be required.