BottleFeedingI always hope I’m going to get something done on my vacation (other than being a sheep midwife), but it never seems to happen. We are up to 31 lambs today, out of seventeen ewes; so hovering near the halfway mark. Some items that add to the shenanigans:

Triplets and a Tooth

On Easter Sunday, we ventured to visit a cousin in Olympia, a two-hour drive away. I was worried about being gone so long, but it was fine. When we got home at 8pm, a set of triplets was on the ground, but the last one was still “fresh.” The other two had full bellies and were napping. Guy #3 had plenty of get up & go, and ample time to feed himself competition-free. But, he just could not figure it out. Finally in the middle of the night I wrestled the ewe down and milked her, twice, to be sure he got colostrum from a bottle.

GoldLambHe really liked the bottle. So much so, in fact, he just never bothered to continue learning how to nurse. His mother was perfectly accommodating, but there is only so much she can do to nudge a baby along in the right direction. So, bottle baby #1 had arrived, and there went my sleep schedule. I had hoped he might come around and start nursing after being aided for a day, as some of them do. But not this one.

The ewe was a real pain to milk, and usually she is very docile. I was really irritated with her, and figured her maternal instincts were causing her to be such a crab. In my midnight stupor, in the dark, I did not think too much of a scab on her jaw, underneath the halter I’d put on her. But a day later when I pulled her family into the barn to keep her bottle boy company, I realized she had a huge swelling in her jaw. I pried her mouth open with a broom handle to keep from getting bit, and saw bloody saliva (though she wrestled me too much to really look at her back teeth). I assume she has a abscessed molar. I gave her some drugs and her sweet demeanor returned; so I guess she was probably in some pain!

ToothAbcessShe is a great ewe, so I hope she’s ok. She’s eating fine, and the swelling is disappearing. It’s amazing how tough animals are with tooth problems, when we humans would be in bed, taking Advil by the bottleful. I have read that when sheep lose a molar, the opposite one grows unhindered, and carves into the gum line over time. So it may shorten her life. Darn.


Tuesday night brought a flush of lambs, with six ewes lambing after dinner and through the night. That’s a slow night for a 1,000 ewe operation, but busy for me. They all had twins. One of them had a dead, decomposed twin that must have come out first. It disintegrated in the birth canal, covering the lovely live twin behind it in disgusting slime. I treated that lamb like a biohazard, laying everything that touched her on a towel then taking the bundle back up to the barn to disinfect it all. I carefully picked up the placenta and what was left of the dead lamb inside an OB glove turned inside out, for disposal. When I was done, I stripped all my clothes off to go straight into the wash, and also disinfected my boots.

The dead lamb’s head was about the size of a silver dollar, so I think that translates to about 120 days old. I looked back in my records to see if any events happened around month 4 in her pregnancy, and vaccinating for CDT stands out. Though I handle them as gently as I can at that time, it’s possible she got bashed around and the placenta came loose and caused the baby to perish.

But both lamb and ewe are fine. Concerned about septicemia after the last ewe’s fatal end, I gave this one antibiotics as a precaution. This ewe has raised triplets the last couple of years, so it’s a bit of a disappointment that she’ll only have one to raise. But I bet it’ll be a big lamb!


I believe that about 70% of the ewe-lamb bond is the ewe’s responsibility. But the lamb has a role to play too. Good lambs have the instinct to stick close to their mamas in the first couple of days, until they are competent at nursing, and until they know how to find their dams when they are hungry. Most newborn lambs are very insecure and cry out if they are taken more than a few feet away from their mothers; which triggers the mother to immediately reply and look to help the lamb return to her side.

But some lambs don’t get the memo on this. They get some colostrum in them, are feeling like champions, and start wandering all over the place. They are inclined to nap someplace random, and before they know it, they have no idea where their mothers are or how to find them. They start trying to join up with random ewes, all of whom butt them away. If this happens a lot in the first 48 hours, sometimes the mother forgets she has this extra baby and won’t take him back.

Now, ideally, the mother should not allow this to occur. And indeed, most ewes object mightily if one of their babies tries to go for a stroll in the first day. But there is only so much she can do to convince the baby to stay in the zone. And she may draw the line, if it means she is leaving another compliant baby behind to chase after the wanderer.

This phenomenon is masked, of course, in operations that jug every ewe-lamb pair for two+ days. But in the pasture, you can really see nature unfold either right or wrong, from the way things are designed to work.

And so, I have had three such wanderers so far. I started them all on the bottle right away, and moved their families up into the barn so it would be easier for them to stay close to their mothers. One of them seemed to be semi-rejected by her dam too. But once jugged, this baby learned how to nurse her dam from the back, and she no longer wants the bottle. Another one, I realized, had a sharp tooth, which may have been causing his dam to disallow him from nursing. I filed it, but it was maybe too late. A third lamb was waffling between the bottle and her mother, but then fell ill (likely with e. coli scours, aka “watery mouth”), so ended up in the house to recover. All in all, three permanent bottle lambs so far. BackFeeder

Cheers to Good Ewes

Despite these anomalies in the system, I can’t forget to mention all that’s going right. Ewes with twins that deliver unaided (in fact, I haven’t had one malpresentation so far) , lambs up and bellies full in twenty minutes, and mamas that keep close track of their progeny and are very protective.

I moved the grazing square the other day, and one mama lost one of her twins in the shuffle; he was off hanging out with another group of sheep. I watched her. She knew she was missing one. She was worried, and she moved about the new square, checking ever inch, calling for him. All while keeping the other twin close to her, patiently encouraging him to keep up in the search effort. She didn’t panic and race around hollering in a hysteria, but rather persistently and urgently looked for her baby until she located him and knew he was safe. Good mamas, level heads.