Here's big 427, 9 1/2 months after his birth, on the farm to be sheared this coming Monday. Click the "Lamb 427" Category in the lower left side panel for a history of 427.
Sunday morning, the news wasn’t good for little 427: he was hungry, he was thin and he was crying. 94 had dried blood on her hocks indicating that she had recently lambed, meaning she was probably the mother of 427; but she butted him away when he tried to get to her teats.
I can’t fault a ewe who has had a hard time lambing for refusing her lamb, most don’t refuse them no-matter-what, but some do. Perhaps 94 will reconsider caring for 427 if she is confined with him in a jug, a small area (~24 sq. ft.) that is private and away from the other sheep. Sometimes after several hours the ewe’s maternal instinct returns, the pair bonds and all is well.
We moved 94 & 427 to a jug and made them comfy by putting out hay, water & a little grain. The next, and perhaps the most important, order of business, was to get 2 ounces of 94’s colostrum into 427. Delivery with a stomach tube is the most expedient way of getting colostrum into a newborn. Colostrum, the first milk from the udder, carries antibodies that will ward off disease for 6 weeks until the lamb’s immune system develops.
Fortunately 94 had a good full bag; some ewes are dry at birth and you must use colostrum from another ewe who has recently lambed, if you have one.
Dominique tubes 427, or places colostrum into the lamb’s stomach with a tube connected to a large syringe.
Then as insurance against the possibility of 94 continuing to refuse 427, the lamb must be trained to a bottle with a nipple on it; this is easy with a day old lamb but the older the lamb gets the more difficult training becomes. 427 took to the bottle better than any other lamb I’ve ever had; he was a real goer and filled himself quickly. And this was good because after a day together 94 still ignored 427.
Dominique even smeared 94’s afterbirth on 427 to enhance his scent. This is a modified slime graft, an old-world technique, which usually involves a ewe who has one of her lambs die. The shepherd skins the dead lamb and cuts leg holes into the pelt; he places the legs of an orphan lamb, like 427, into the holes making a Persian lamb coat for the orphan. This familiar smelling pelt fools the ewe into thinking the orphan is hers and she cares for it. After a day or two when the ewe has accepted the orphan the pelt coat is taken off and discarded.
But no slime luck with 427; he was going to be a new-age bottle baby, a fat and friendly little guy whose mother is the world.
On Friday 94 walked better but she still hadn’t had her lamb. For several days, I’d been afraid for her, afraid she'd go down, wouldn’t be able to get up, be too weak to lamb and die in birth.
Saturday is always a day of crossed fingers, you hope the weather is with you, you hope you do well at market and you hope the sheep back home are safe. Saturday night after market we go back to the farm and transfer the unsold lamb from the coolers to the freezers. As we pulled up to the barn, Dominique grabbed the Maglite and said questioningly, “I’m going to see if 94’s OK.” It had been a long day. When I’m this tired, everything—good or bad—can wait until morning; but I don’t like to say “no” and say nothing.
I began to unload the truck as Dominique, her flashlight bobbing its yellow ray across the fields, disappeared into the dark. I waited; I knew the longer she was away the worse it was going to be. 15 minutes later I saw the yellow light bobbing back. “There’s a dead ewe—but it’s not 94—and there’s a new lamb without a mother.” I took the light, “Where’s the ewe.” We went over the fence; the ewes and lambs parted as we made our way through the flock.
I shined the light on the ewe; her eyes were dead-open; she was still supple (no rigor mortis) when I rolled her over (to see her number, 385) meaning that she had probably died that afternoon. I was relieved to find no teeth marks on her; coyotes hadn’t breached the fence. She was a healthy, young ewe. How her back was arched in death made me suspect enterotoxaemia from Clostridium Perfringins Type C commonly called “overeating disease.” Usually enterotoxaemia affects lambs, but occasionally one sees it in mature sheep.
“I’ll take care of her in the morning, where’s the lamb.” I swept the light over the sheep and found the motherless 6 lb. newborn lamb in the middle of the flock going from ewe to ewe, being butted away. Ewes only accept the lambs they've birthed; they know their own lamb by smell.
Dominique picked the lamb up, saw that it was a ram, dipped his navel in iodine, put a tag in his right ear, number 427 and spray marked his back orange to identify him from a distance. The thing to do now was to leave 427 there with the hope that his mother would find and accept him. Dominique put him down and we turned to go but 427 stumbled after us, “maa, maa…” I picked him up, carried him to a group of ewes, possible mothers, and let him go there. Looking over our shoulders to make sure he wasn’t still following us, we walked quickly to the fence and crossed it.
Sunday, we’d be there in the morning—our day off—to see if ewe and lamb got together—sheep never take a day off.