I’m continuing to supplement my little not-little-anymore ewelamb, one of twins on a ewe with a damaged udder. I figure as long as they welcome the bottle, and run after me begging for milk, that they could use more than they’re getting from the dam. In this case, I actually think the ewe has enough milk for two, even though she has a fairly one-sided udder. But, her ram lamb is enormous, and is doing exactly what we breed meat lambs to do: eat, constantly. This is making it difficult for his smaller sister to get any time on the better side of the udder.

She is mostly nursing the bad side, so I assume she’s getting some productivity out of it, or she wouldn’t bother. But clearly it’s not enough. My goal is to very rapidly teach these “help-out” lambs (and orphan lambs too) to use a bucket feeder, which has nipples on it. This contraption is less work for me than bottle-feeding. Here’s how I go about doing the bottle-to-bucket switcheroo. The challenge is teaching the lambs that milk doesn’t come from someone, but rather something.

Step 0: get enough nutrients in the lamb, via tube-feeding, or forcing the nipple into her mouth to get her suckling, that she has the energy to function and use her brain. Use warm milk here.

Step 1: get the lamb running for the bottle, and latching onto it on her own, if you just hold it in the air, and offer no clues. Make her work for it, the less help, the better. Leverage hunger to encourage learning. Keep using warm milk here, as an enticement.

Step 2: Now switch to cold milk. Yuk. But, the lamb will accept it if she is hungry enough. Stay on this step until she’s aggressively self-latching and drinking the cold milk.

Step 3: Introduce the bucket. Try to make the picture look the same as with the bottle: you standing in the same position, your hands near the nipple. Tap, tap, tap the bucket near the nipple. Sometimes I get impatient and wrestle the lamb onto the nipple. But honestly this doesn’t work as well as having her “discover” it all on her own.

Step 4: once the lamb has latched onto the nipple on the bucket, back away silently, to try to remove yourself from the “picture.” This will usually cause the lamb to un-latch; because part of her brain assumes that you are a required component of the milk wagon. You must dispel this myth by disappearing as the lamb learns to self-serve. This is what teaches them that they can eat all day, no human required.

lopsided udderThe faster you can move through these steps, the better. The longer you stay at one step, the more locked-in the lamb gets that this is the way it works, and the more stubborn she is about embracing change. Lambs are born with a very pliable notion of how to nurse, but it rapidly becomes very rigid once they discover something that works.

This lamb was born on a Friday morning. I supplemented her with a bottle Friday evening to ensure she got colostrum. By Saturday evening, she was finding the presented bottle on her own. As I was hanging the bucket Sunday morning, she ran up to it and started nursing (!). This is a bit fast, clever lamb!

I usually give the lambs latex nipples on the bucket to start, as these are most similar to the Pritchard Teat that I use on the bottle, which is most similar to a natural ewe teat. But the latex nipples are not robust, so it’s necessary to switch to rubber in a week or two, so the lambs don’t destroy the nipples. Usually they hate the rubber, due to the taste, stiffness, and lower flow. I had only rigged this bucket with two latex nipples, and the rest rubber, because the latter are easier to install. Oddly, this lamb tested them all, and immediately chose the rubber as her preferred faucet. Go figure. They never read the literature. Smile

By Sunday night, she could latch right onto the bucket in my presence. Monday morning, I reminded her with bucket-tapping, but I could see she hadn’t drank any during the night, and she was complain-ey hungry. Monday night, I came home from work to find her very hungry and whining a piercing bleat at me. I reminded her again, and she filled her belly full. Tuesday morning, I found a nearly-drained bucket, and a lamb playing rowdily with the other lambs, ignoring me. So, by four days old, she had it down. Yessss…. Usually, when I see a lamb doing sideways circus leaps to impress her peers, I know, she is going to be fine.

This is not too bad. I’d much rather be not “making” milk at all. But just supplementing is tolerable. The big difference, I’ve found, between supplemented lambs versus orphaned (rejected) lambs, is how fast  they learn to eat hay and grass. Supplemented lambs mimic their dams, and start eating hay within days. This develops their rumens earlier. Orphan lambs take ages to figure out how to eat roughage, which delays their rumen development, and thus, weaning age. (All of this, of course, is different for people who creep-feed with a high protein concentrate- but I don’t. Creep-fed lambs can be weaned very early, sometimes as early as two weeks.) Supplemented lambs, I find, self-wean from the cold milk bucket at six weeks or so. Orphan lambs complain at weaning at even eight weeks, and never grow as well. Not to mention, supplemented lambs learn how to be sheep. Versus orphan lambs don’t flock well; and always behave oddly and are more difficult to manage in a herd.

So, there we have it, the first bucket lamb of the year. It would be nice if she were the last, but I suspect I won’t be so lucky. Just about the time she’s ready to wean, I’ll probably have a new round of bucket babies to tend!

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