HouseLambsThis year I ordered a bottle lamb milk bucket and the corresponding teats from Premier. They pre-drill the holes in it for a dollar, and I thought, yeah, that’s worth a buck to me versus tracking down the right hole saw size and drilling them myself… I pessimistically ordered six holes drilled in the bucket. Figuring, well, I’m planning on about sixty lambs, so I could have 10% of them end up on the bucket.

Oh, I how I pre-destined myself!

I started out with one early bottle lamb who just seemed to have gotten separated from his momma in the miserable weather. He did fine, and “graduated” onto the bucket and back out to the pasture before I ended up with the second bottle baby, the Jacob cross ewelamb that I pulled from her mastitis-suffering mother. Then I inherited a little dude from the ewe that had a disastrous triplet birth where the other two didn’t survive, and she had failed to bond with any of them.

Then I got the bummer lamb, who nearly died from watery mouth. So, fine, up to three in the house, racing around like a herd of elephants, leaping off the staircase and hogging the fireside spot at night. Open-mouthed smile I dropped them off at my mom’s on the way to the bus stop in the morning, and picked them up on the way home, so she could give them midday feedings and help them learn the bucket.

LambsInHouseAnd then. One morning I rode the ATV out to feed at 5am, and saw a ewe tangled in the hotwire. You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me. Not another one strangled! But she wasn’t strangled like last year’s lovely ewe, twisted up, head swollen, dead in the wire. This one’s head was through a wire square, but not tangled at all, no constriction. Her front feet had slid through two bottom squares as well, but again, not tangled. Just neatly inserted, and the nearest post just laid down, not five stakes pulled out of the ground in either direction like the struggle that ensues from an entanglement. And there she lay, dead, dead, dead.

Near as I can figure, she somehow got shocked across the skull. The hotwire fencing and pulser comes with severe warnings for human heads: don’t be tempted to bend down and pick something up with your noggin’ near that wire. Getting shocked in the arm or leg is one thing, but getting shocked across the brain is another. So that’s my best forensic guess, a freak accident where this ewe got shocked in a weird way, and she was killed instantly, with no opportunity to try to pull her head back. I had a fresh battery out there, and she was near the source and on wet ground, so it would have been a good shock of a few thousand volts, albeit a quick jolt. Crazy. This does not happen very often at all, so lucky me.

Her week-old twin ewelambs lay curled up beside her, patiently waiting for her to get up. Crap! I fed the sheep, then tackled the wily twins, and drove the ATV back up to the house, barely steering, with an upset,  objectioning lamb under each arm. Their presence in the house at 5:15am created a ruckus, between the three acclimated lambs checking them out, and the Border Collies over the moon with excitement about lambs that were still afraid of dogs!

So, my mom got five lambs for a few days. What a good lamb sitter! Five barnyard animals in the house is a little nutty. But considering how much feeding and watching they require in the first few days, it’s just easier to have them in the house than somewhere else. And they are pretty cute and funny. They are hard to photograph since they are so friendly, always approaching, looking for milk.

I got the little boy, and the bummer lamb, graduated back out to the bucket a few days later, joining the older fella who was still using it. Back down to three household lambs. The last two were a battle; lambs that have been nursing on a ewe for a week are not keen on adopting a latex nipple, nor fake milk. They were miserable, confused, conscious objectors for the first day, despite multiple dedicated attempts by my parents to get them to swallow something.

But by evening, their stomachs sent their brains a message: get over the latex and the funky tasting milk thing: we need calories, and this is food. Over the next couple of days, they warmed up to bottle nursing, and to humans. Then slowly they figured out the bucket.  The Jacob ewe was just as slow, even though she had a week more of schooling: I’m chalking it up to her head injury. Sheep can’t really afford to be learning disabled, and this one just had a tough time catching on to the whole you can feed yourself whenever you want concept. But she did eventually grasp the idea.

So finally, they all went back out to live like sheep, albeit with a square white plastic momma filled twice daily with pitcher of milk! The transition for the last three was easy, they had each other, and their other two “friends” out there, so they didn’t even miss me. Lucky I had six holes drilled in that bucket. I am grateful for the lessening amount of work, life feels almost back to normal!

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