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Bottle Lamb Shenanigans

This is a Covid-19-free post, so read and enjoy!

We have a whole passel of bottle lambs in 2020. We have the two remaining ewe lambs from the quadruplet situation. We have a BFL ram lamb who never caught on to nursing his mother. We have a Border ram lamb who was rejected due to having sharp teeth (we fixed the teeth but couldn’t repair the relationship. Then, we have triplet BFLs whose mother just can’t keep up with their needs.

Almost all bottle lambs start out in the house. Because we can’t feed them as frequently as a real sheep mom, we choose to keep them indoors where they will be warm enough to not suffer chilling and hypothermia. Hypothermia causes most needless deaths of young lambs – lambs who are too cold won’t nurse or digest milk, resulting in a downward metabolic spiral. We try to give the lambs motherly attentions that they would receive from a real mom – ewes don’t hold their lambs, but they mutter to them and nuzzle and groom them. Petting and stroking the lambs meets their need for attention.

This guy likes sleeping among the woollens. Of course, where he sleeps is also where he relieves himself, so I’ve been cleaning up ever since!


Of course, bottle lambs in the house are adorable. We show you the cute pictures of a lamb snoozing in a corner, but we don’t show you the mess they make. Lambs do not potty-train, so we do upwards of two large laundry loads of towels each day just trying to prevent indoor lambs from destroying our floors and furniture. Diapers aren’t really in the lamb’s best interest as we don’t want to leave manure in contact with their wool for any length of time. Finally, scampering lambs need space which is best found outdoors in the barn. They need playmates and guidance from ewes, too, so they learn to be good flockmembers and not frustrated wannabe-humans.

We gradually introduce houselambs to life outdoors by sending them out to the barn for short periods and then not bringing them back into the house eventually. We then must train these lambs to use the nursing bucket instead of the bottle. We use a Pritchard teat initially to facilitate nursing initially to facilitate nursing. Once the lambs are larger, however, they are too strong for small rubber teats. At that point, teat-bucket feeding becomes more practical.

The bucket is a competitive space, but we work to ensure that all lambs get the milk they need without overfeeding the aggressive ones.

We have set up a lamb creep as well. A creep is an area of the barn only accessible to lambs through a gate that admits only small sheep. In the creep, we offer grain, nice hay to nibble on and a sunny, dry floor. It takes the lambs a few days to discover the space, but once they do they really take to having a clubhouse just for them. We do feed some grain at this stage to help out the many triplets we have. Not all ewes can provide enough milk for fast-growing triplets, so this is our most practical option to grow them out effectively without overtaxing Mom.

So that’s the news from the lamb barn. We have 71 lambs bouncing about and only a few more ewes expecting. We are tired but finally beginning to catch up on sleep.

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Off the Rails

Yesterday, lambing really went off the rails.

A few days ago, we noticed that ewe 1417 had developed a hernia-like lump on her side. Heartbroken, we had to acknowledge that she ruptured her prepubertal tendon. Uncomfortable and vulnerable to pushing and shoving from other sheep, we placed her in her own space so she could eat and drink freely. We are very concerned with her comfort.

Based on our concern, we decided that inducing lambing would be a good choice for 1417. The lambs would certainly be viable, and she could get relief as soon as the lambs were out. We administered meds, and then the waiting began. For a while, it seemed like nothing was happening. Then, after delivering twins from Clementine, we noticed that she was discharging some goo. It was hard to see labor in 1417 – I assume that losing a key tendon might make her muscles function differently. So I reached in and found she was ready to deliver two smallish lambs. The first was a normal, healthy lamb, the second a smallish weak lamb. We rushed the weak one into the farmhouse while allowing the ewe to begin licking the stronger lamb.

While we were debating what to do with the weaker lamb, we checked on the ewe to find her slowly birthing a third lamb. We thought there might be more in there, but I hadn’t been able to identify them with my hands while examining. Triplets made a lot of sense given the size of the belly of the ewe. We borrowed lamb #1 for a bit and let Momma lick lamb #3. Normally, we would let Momma lick all of the lambs and only assist in drying the lambs a little, but we knew that the weakened ewe would struggle to keep up with too many lambs. After lamb #3 straightened out, Matt went to town for some colostrum replacer. The ewe had none, owing to being induced before her udder was prepared. We took some colostrum from Clementine, who fortunately had a huge supply. Colostrum is vitally important for normal immune function in lambs.

I went out to check on how lamb #3 was doing, only to find 1417 delivering lamb #4, a huge ram. It’s strange to admit this, but I felt better about the ewe’s injury knowing that with such an excess of lambs, she was in great danger of issues or injuries of some kind. Four lambs is simply too many.

Decision time: Momma ewe was not going to be able to raise four lambs in her compromised condition. We delivered the ram lamb to a friend who will raise him. We have the weakest lamb plus a second ewe lamb in the house, and Momma has one lamb to raise, which is about all she’s going to be able to manage. No sooner were the quads delivered but Chloe the BFL had twins, and at the 3am check I was up for an hour and a half caring for 1601’s new Border triplets. So everyone is exhausted and strugging and chugging coffee, but we’ve successfully started our first -ever set of quadruplet lambs here at Cloverworks Farm.

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Six Inches of Button Thread Saves a Life

Midnight:  Matt tells me that Chloe is starting labor – she has a bag protruding and is restlessly shifting.  I set an alarm to wake up in 90 minutes.

1:44 – I can see on the Barn Cam that Chloe has birthed one black lamb.  Out to the barn I go to find a large, handsome ram lamb.   I set Chloe up with a pen, and I notice a foot sticking out of Chloe.  Usually, lambs are born in a crouched position, front legs forward.  The sole of this hoof was facing upward- clearly the hind leg of a lamb coming out backwards.  Lambs can be born backwards, but it is usually smart to help; the umbilical cord will break before the lamb’s head is out, prompting the lamb to breathe.  If the lamb tries to breathe while its head is still inside, it can drown.  I locate the second leg and a thin white lamb slips right out.  She coughs and splutters and finally manages a big inhale and a tiny “maaahhh.”   I towel her and her brother off, as it’s quite chilly out and they can chill before they muster the energy to stand.

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They are blurry because I didn’t have my glasses on, and because the wiggling wouldn’t stop

Back in the house, I set an alarm for 2 hours.

3:44 – Despite my hopes, the lambs have chilled and aren’t standing well.  Chloe doesn’t look great herself, spending an unusual amount of time lying down.  I focus on the lambs – I bring them in, mix them up some stored colostrum and give them a quick first meal to help them along.  I’ve found that often, a little energy boost gives them what they need to stand up and learn to nurse.  Failure to intervene would likely result in hypothermic or dead lambs in the morning.  I warm the lambs by the fire and feed each one.   Both respond well, and soon they have little coats on and are headed back to Mom.  I know that they can make it through to morning on this feeding, even if they don’t decode nursing on their own.

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Getting toasty – you can see the bleeding issue a little in this photo.

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Momma is happy to see them again.

Back in bed at 5am.

At 8am, Matt goes out to do morning chores.  Usually, this is my job, but Matt has kindly agreed to let me sleep given all of the hustle and bustle overnight.  He comes back immediately, reporting that the ram lamb is bleeding out!  I had noticed that the ewe lamb was bleeding more than usual from her umbilicus, but I didn’t really register it as an emergency.  When Matt brought the ram in, however, he was weak and shaking, with a massive sausage-like bruised mass of an umbilicus.  (I’m putting the photo of this at the very bottom of the post- it will be educational for shepherds but it’s more gross than I usually show).  The vet confirms my suspicion – it didn’t look like a hernia where all of the intestines are coming out.   I tied the umbilicus off with six inches of button thread from Matt’s sewing kit and we offered the ram lamb some electrolytes.  In minutes, he was up and more alert.  Success!

At 9am, we are noting that the ewe lamb isn’t nursing.  Matt and I take some time trying to nursing-train her.  We get her to latch, but she didn’t drink a lot.  We are still concerned about Chloe, and it occurs to me that she could have a mild case of Milk Fever, which happens when the body deploys too much calcium to provide milk for the lambs, leaving the ewe’s calcium levels low.  We ground some Tums in our coffee grinder and added water to make a drench.  Some Tums and hot molasses-water had Chloe looking brighter.

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Fruity tums-drench.  Blecch.

We debated what to do about the ewe lamb- would she be better off on the bottle?  How much intervention is too much?  How do we provide just enough help without lessening her chances of ever nursing from her mother?  Even after seven years of kidding and lambing, I always ponder this question at length.  Matt and I agree that if she is too weak, we will bring her in for warming and go from there.

I go back to sleep after this- it’s now 11am.

I’m a little vague on times after this, but Matt went back to keep working on getting the lambs to nurse.  Once the ram wasn’t bleeding, he was up and at-em, nursing away.  But the ewe still needed help.  He milked Chloe into a bottle and fed the ewe lamb, but couldn’t get her to latch.

At 3pm, I was up for the day and went out.  Finally, after lots of patient guidance, the ewe lamb latches and suckles for several minutes.  I let her go, and she latches herself and nurses again!   Doing a victory dance in the middle of their bonding pen would have been counterproductive, so I saved that for my announcement of the news to Matt back in the house.

We will keep monitoring this little family, but finally, I am comfortable that everything is headed in the right direction.

 

 

 

Here’s the hemorrhaged umbilicus, for those who want to see it:

 

 

 

 

 

Bloody umbilical stump in lamb, bleeding abnormally.
This was pretty messy, but a tie-off and electrolytes saved the day!