As of this morning, five of the six yearling ewes have given birth. Each had a single lamb, 3 girls and 2 boys, ranging in weight from 7 lb 4 oz to 9 lb. The births have been easy enough, but the drama increases exponentially when you have first time mothers.
Number 14 was the most challenging. He arrived in the wee hours Saturday morning, discovered by John when he went out to feed at 8:00. He was standing in the midst of a swarm of sheep rushing for their breakfast–including his mother. He was dry, implying he had been born at least 5 hours earlier. It wasn’t too hard to get mother and son into the lambing pen. He weighed 7 lb 4 oz–dinky but oh so cute. Since he was up and dry, we assumed that he had been fed, and off we went to do our chores and errands. A few hours later I looked in. The lamb was sleeping in the exact place where I last saw him. UH oh. A weak lamb just sleeps and sleeps, and if you don’t help them, they starve.
We decided to trim mama’s copious wool “curtain” that hung over the access to her udder. During this trimming process [John holding the ewe, Marilyn wielding the shears], we got the lamb and tried to persuade him to feed off the exposed teats. It was not going to happen. Even prying his mouth open and literally stuffing the teat into it did not result in an eager sucking response.
Worried now, we decided to milk the mother by hand and try to feed the lamb using a bottle. There was plenty of yellow colostrum. Little mister 14 adapted to the artificial nipple in seconds, latched on and sucked with great enthusiasm till every drop was in his belly. But when we tried to encourage him to reach in under his mama, nothing happened. He’s sleepy, having just been fed, let’s try later.
Later came with the same result. We milked mother by hand and fed it to the lamb by bottle twice more before retiring for the night. Next morning, lying in bed, Marilyn can’t sleep in. She is thinking: ‘it is Sunday. I have this one day to get this lamb functioning independently. Otherwise we will lose him. Damn. We have had such a good lambing year. Gotta try–I’ll get our daughters to help.’ Once we were up we tried unsuccessfully to get the little fellow to connect the dots. We milked mama and fed baby about 1/3 cup of milk. He was very eager and friendly toward our legs, having learned that our legs are the source of his food.
The family was planning to come for lunch. Marilyn asked Susan and Tracy to bring farm clothes so they could help with the latest lamb. Suz, on her knees in the soggy straw of the lambing pen, tried in vain to connect lamb and mother. Half and hour later, with three of us in the stall, Suz held the mother, Marilyn squirted milk out of the teat, and Tracy got the lamb to suck on her finger and then quickly slipped finger out and teat in and suddenly it was happening! He fed for a full minute! So now we have a lamb who has fed from his mother, but only while she was sitting in the most unseemly position, on her behind with legs splayed out and the lamb between them. This is not the way things are done in nature. But the full belly made him sleepy again, so off we went to have lunch, feeling ‘sort of’ good about our success.
After lunch, another session. After half an hour of patient instruction, we finally got him to latch on in the “normal” way–tucking his head under his mother’s belly and reaching up for the teat. But once he released the teat, he seemed to have no idea how to get back there. Just wandered around near his mama’s nose. Before Tracy left we decided to give him his selenium injection, because he was quivering even while he slept, which could be related to weak muscles that are caused by the lack of selenium in our soil.
At 9 pm, Marilyn gave him a little nudge so that he was standing right next to his mother, facing the rear. In this position, mama turned around and pushed his little behind and bingo! Under he went. Now there was hope that it would not take a lot of fiddling around to get him to feed, just a little prod. At 11, John and Marilyn stepped into the barn for one last check and just as John arrived to watch, little Mister 14, all by himself, latched on for a feed.
Another fine success for the Harrison/Nelsen lactation team! Next time, we will not make assumptions about whether a lamb is feeding. We will verify, by gosh.
Update as of April 10: he and his mother are out on the pasture and doing fine. Here he is: