Lamb brought warmth and satisfaction

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bottle feeding lamb
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

It was a typical day during lambing season. Barn checks were done every whip-stitch, while trying to finish up necessary chores in-between. When I headed to the barn for the 11 a.m. check, I knew something was not quite right.

The flock was worked up, the noise deafening. I was stunned to see a wet, newborn lamb crying, stuck between two board fences.

There was no ewe nearby laying claim to him. I slowly and carefully worked to untangle those long, fragile legs, then tucked the cold little lamb in a towel as I moved toward an open corner pen with a heat lamp.

Providing care

I rubbed the forlorn-looking ram lamb, to dry him as well as stimulate blood flow. I left him under the heat lamp and went in search of the ewe who had left him. Soon enough, I found the ewe giving birth to a second, smaller ewe lamb.

I went and picked up the ram lamb, scooped up the newly-born one, and tried to urge the mama to follow. She wanted nothing to do with that plan. It took a whole lot of time and patience, but I was finally able to accomplish it, secured the ewe and her lambs in that warming pen, then worked at putting down fresh straw. I checked all the other ewes to be sure none showed sign of birthing. I stood back, letting the ewe get settled.

Each time the ram lamb would try to get close enough to nurse, she head-butted him, aggressively. I climbed back in the pen and tried to help. She would kick and bolt away from the lamb, though she was showing signs of accepting the second-born.

I tried leaving the pen again, observing from a distance. It was clear she intended to get rid of that ram lamb, no matter how long it took. Nothing makes me more angry than this.
Nourishment. I spent the rest of the day in the barn, helping, then retreating. I made sure both lambs nursed, knowing the importance of that colostrum, fighting her kicks, until she began aggressively head-butting me.

When Doug arrived home, he tied her for a time. As nighttime settled in, the temperatures falling, we decided taking the ram lamb in the house was the only thing to do, knowing that tiny lamb would be dead by morning if we didn’t.

“Just one night,” I said with every intention of meaning it. Diapering a lamb is something I never, ever thought I would do. This long-bodied lamb required two diapers: one covering the back end, a spot cut for the tail. A second diaper wraps under him, attaching over the topside.

All the important stuff covered, I warmed a bottle to help him settle in for the night. From night into morning, the lamb quietly slept. He welcomed me with a happy dance, running in that humorous way that newborn animals do, urging me to get that milk delivered!

The sound of his hooves on our hardwood floors took me back to watching the Red Skelton show, enjoying both listening and watching that silly guy tap dancing. Does anyone tap dance anymore? Well, this lamb sure does. His silly antics have made us laugh harder than we have in a long time. This ram has his own fan club.

“Just one night” has turned into five.

Doing well

He is growing incredibly well, twice the size he started out on that chilly morning. He can drink his bottle much faster than the previous day, and it shows. He quite obviously thinks that I am his mama.

He has visitors and Facebook friends. His favorite place to sleep is in a cushy dog bed, and he tries to play with the dog toys lying about. My dogs don’t know what to make of this little thing that has a very strange bark and loves sleeping in their bed.

I don’t know what to make of the fact that I sort of feel like his protective mama. He has won me over in a way I never in a million years expected, while his birth mother earned herself a one-way ticket out of here one day soon.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Judy, I like to read your columns every week. I have enjoyed them for many years. I have been living on a sheep farm for most of my life, since my father started with them in the mid 1960’s. I keep about 180 ewes and lamb in April. We got so tired of winter lambing years ago. I have raised many orphan lambs , and it can be discouraging. The ones that survive make it all worth while.
    The case you described in the latest article is typical. I believe you could live at the barn and still get those same results. Be sure to vaccinate that lamb with something like Covectin 8 as soon as possible. Overeating is really a problem with bottle lambs. It’s not that they overeat but the time between feedings causes problems. No matter how diligent you may be you can not match the eating schedule a real mother provides.
    We have a wether named Rupert that my son raised when he was 10 years old. That lamb that the mother abandoned was like part of the family. He grazed in the lawn and got along well with our Australian Shepard. In the late summer that year we had a bad dog coming in at night and killing even ewes! One night we had about four ewes and several lambs killed all over the farm. The county dog man and the trapper from the USDA that we had working on the case were there and of course Rupert was one of the victims. After we disposed the bodies and cleaned up, I was really upset because I was going to be the one to tell Noah about Rupert. When Noah got home from school and I broke the news to him, he cried for about an hour and I was just about as bad.
    I had just returned from the woods where I was looking for clues about the bad dog and was coming in for dinner when Rupert showed up! The lamb I had found was one that looked like him. I had driven all around the farm checking on the sheep and never saw the real Rupert.Needless to say Rupert has been special on this farm.He is about eight now and still going strong. We did finally get the bad dog.
    We use ear tags on all of the sheep now , so that kind of mistake will not happen, and we have two Great Pyrenees guard dogs , Kate and Pippa that prevent a lot of those things from happening.
    I am still learning new things about sheep. I lost about thirty of the April lambs this past Nov./Dec./Jan. from Coccidiosis . We have had some of that in the past , but never this bad,and I always blamed it on Parasites.
    Live and learn. Good luck Ralph

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