Until further notice, I see these in my dreams.
Current status: run off my feet with lambs. I’m not sure yet how many will need me for the long haul. I’m feeding one and half from the four batch, and the littlest lamb from the three batch. He was getting lethargic and falling behind. One of the kids asked if we could try feeding him. I assured them that it wouldn’t work. It takes a day or two for the new ones to get the hang of the bottle and after a week with just mom, most won’t touch it unless they’ve been hungry for a long time. First try, Jr. was sucking back on the baby bottle like a pro. Now he’s the first to come crooked happy leaping when he sees me.
None of the five batch have taken to the bottle yet. One does ok. I’m trying everybody on little nibbles and swallows so nobody gets dehydrated and Lily gets help with the milk supply. Overfeeding means scours (diarrhea) which means dead if it isn’t fixed. It’s a juggling act with bottle fed lambs to give enough nourishment, but not too much.
Milk is mixed, measured, and delivered at mom milk temperatures. Amounts are tracked according to when each lamb was born. The finicky five group, still deciding who is going to give in and who refuses to budge for sub par, takes extra time to cajole. From preparing through to clean up, each feeding takes about 30 minutes. Times five feedings a day means a lot of time and a short leash for being away from the farm.
Lily with five lambs stresses me. Lambs always do best with the mother. Mothers do not always do best with so many lambs. My sheep advisor (200 plus ewes and 700ish lambs) recommends removing any lambs past three, period. Only the very exceptional ewe can take four, he says. He has a separate barn for all the bottle fed lambs. They can bleat their hearts out until they settle in at the orphanage and grow slowly.
In years past we tried lambs in plastic tubs in the house, the garage, tiny pens in the yard. It is just soooo much work and away from the mom, they don’t thrive. You kill yourself for scrawny, weak, and barely, maybe. When you finally put them in the pasture with everyone else, they run to their mother, and she knocks them down and refuses to have anything to do with them. As is already clear to real farmers everywhere, I am not psychologically designed for farming.
But what if we are asking too much of Lily to raise all those little lambs? She doesn’t seem stressed but am I missing something? Decision still pending. Sleep still disturbed. Lambs fill and empty me both. Meanwhile I am stretched. Tough teachers those little four pound weaklings.
Friends of ours keep a chalkboard at the end of the driveway each spring for cars to see. It’s a tally of how many lambs have been born so far. Unlike us, they are actual farmers, so their tally goes on for a few weeks and reaches 600 plus sometimes. We like our lamb count around 9 or 10. That’s enough excitement for us.
This year, the skinniest ewe (who we suspected would be late – if she was even pregnant) was the first to deliver. She must have been keeping one in her leg, as she birthed not one but three healthy lambs. Saturday morning, her lambs will be a week old. They look great. Very spunky. Two boys and a girl. They’re the snowy white lambs in the pictures. Lambs are born with a yellow coating gooped all over them. Their cute because they’re little and new to the world, but they look very dirty. After a few days, the yellow is licked and rubbed off, and then they are downright gorgeous.
The mid sized ewe was second to deliver. She had four. This is one too many for perfection. Our sheep breed, the Rideau Arcott, was developed in the 1970’s in Canada (Animal Research Centre Ottawa . . . ARC OTT). They’re a great sheep for a couple of reasons; they tend to have multiple births for one. Many other breeds typically have one lamb per birth. Rideau Arcott typically have 2 or 3, and 4 is not uncommon. The problem is that for milk supply, a ewe can really only handle 3. The extra are usually separated and bottle fed. We did this for a few years. It works, but the bottle fed lambs never thrive the same as the lambs with the mother. Based on our friend’s experiments and some ideas of our own, we currently have all the lambs with the mom, but are also bottle feeding every few hours during the day to supplement. So far, everyone looks good.
Our large, bursting any minute ewe, Lily (our original ewe, and herself a bottle fed, “extra,” from a multiple birth) is still waddling around giving us fits wondering what exactly is going on inside her. Her biggest year she delivered a group of 5. Last year, she was bigger than ever before and we thought another basketball team was en route. Instead, she birthed two lambs bigger than the two week old lambs. We called them the football players.
This year’s group of four is interesting. They’re only three days old, so they’re still pretty yellow. Unlike most of our lambs, they have quite a few markings of black and brown patches. A few more pictures will come next week. Currently, the camera has no zoom, and lambs were not in the mood to sit still while I shoved a camera in their faces for a close up.
You can see the dirty coat as well as a little of the speckles, although it’s hard to see which is which. This one is yelling for his mother to save him from all the scary other lambs out there and reminding her that she is not to go more than a few feet away. If anyone wanders it is supposed to be him, not her. (Amazing what they can communicate in one mad little bleat, yes?)