It’s been raining cats and dogs and now it is raining lambs and we aren’t even out of March yet. Maybe I should focus more on the old phrase, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” or, in this case, lambs. Our ewes appear to be lambing earlier than usual because Red let himself ‘free’ two weeks into October. Apparently the girls were just waiting for their chance. As of today, we have 22 lambs and more are dropping every day!
There have been a few tragedies so far, as happens during many lambing seasons. Lambs not cleaned off by their mothers will die from asphyxiation. Did the ewe inherently know this lamb would be weak or did she just not wish to feed so many babies? Did she even think about it? Another morning I arrived too late to help a ewe with her babies stuck sideways inside her. She was barely alive and try as I might, I could not get the first lamb unstuck. The ewe looked at me, lay down her head, and died. I wondered whether I could have saved the babies if I had just tried a little harder, but my vet neighbor said the lambs were probably already dead and there was nothing I could have done without a scalpel and a C-Section. A bit beyond my expertise.
Of course, this makes our lambing season sound horrible, when in reality every day we are carrying more and more bouncing babies into the barn for a few days of bonding with their mothers, some observation, some shots, an ear tag, and quiet. Watching them play in the stalls, at only several days old, always brings a giggle and a smile. The girls perform well for our farm stay guests as the miracle of life is enacted in front of their eyes.
For one family, in particular, this will always be a memorable March. They fed young lambs. They carried in new lambs from the field when we discovered more than I could handle on my own. They followed my sighting of buzzards overhead and accompanied me to the other side of the creek to pick up just born twins. And, as we dropped these near the barn, they watched a mom give birth to the third of three lambs. They also observed this same ewe rejecting one of them.
There are times when a ewe will decide, even as her baby struggles to nurse for the first time, that she doesn’t want it. The lamb becomes something called a ‘bummer’ and requires human bottle feeding to survive. I am more aware these days to watch from birth for signs of rejection. I will hand-nurse a ewe for several days in an attempt to feed as much colostrum and mother’s milk to her baby as possible. This makes the lamb smell “right” to the mom, but it rarely works to rebond the two. Switching to formula is expensive and requires regular 4-hour feedings to start. This doesn’t make me a happy camper. My solution: bring the lamb in the house for several days so middle of the night feedings aren’t so cold for either of us.
Enter the rejected lamb, LIBby, or so I named her in the end. Usually a name comes to me out of thin air but this little, white lamb just didn’t speak her name so I could hear. I began to refer to her as the “lamb in the box” because I can’t have baby lambs piddling on the rug and scaring the cat when they stay inside with us, so I set up a cardboard box with straw, placed near the old grandfather clock. It’s a good spot – nice and warm and central to the household.
During our guests’ stay, the mom and her daughters often held the LIB. Soft and warm, taken to nuzzling, I could sense a bond I wasn’t sure could go anywhere. We have had plenty of children in tears as they left the farm and their favorite play mates. I made a joke. “Do you want to take the lamb with you?” To my surprise, this conversation had already been going on in the family. They thought they could keep the lamb in the condo to start and then there were friends with five acres who might like a lambmower. I pointed out the benefits of a Katahdin. No shearing, just hoof trimming.
They left without the lamb, not for not wanting her, but needing to lay the groundwork. Several calls and a day later, I drove my lamb in her box 35 miles to the Interstate where we had a sheep drop at a trucker restaurant! I pulled my newly named LIBby from the front seat and presented her to her new owner, the friend with 5 acres on the outskirts of Portland. She told me she would probably ditch the box for her radiant heat kitchen floors. This would be LIBby’s new playground until she was large enough to spend the night outside. What a happy ending for this lamb. Love and attention as if for a dog. Our guests, as close visitors, to pet and brush her. A chance at a long life. Who could have predicted it might end this way?!
My only sorrow – I never took a photo of LIBby in her box. But, I do have several shots of her right before we loaded her into the car for her adoption. She’s a cute girl. Hopefully, there will be future photos to come, and I will be able to report on her progress as a city lamb with a lawn as her pasture.
Photo: (top) Annie and Libby just prior to the lamb’s adoption. Libby is 3 days old and has just started to take a bottle; (bottom) Cisco, the dog, walked into the shot and gave Libby a big lick in the face…probably because she tasted of milk!
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