I think I have four orphan-rear lambs this year. I say I think, because I never can be sure which lambs are nursing off the bucket.

Triplet Orphan

A set of triplets was born while I was still at work. One of the lambs appeared to have followed another ewe that had given birth to twins at the same time. When I got home, I weighed and tagged both groups, but noticed one little lamb seemed confused every time I pushed him towards his mother. She didn’t seem to mind him, but also didn’t welcome him. A few hours later, I  noticed she was butting him. About that time, I remembered that Kirk had texted me a photo earlier that day, that said “#2011 had triplets.” I went back and looked at the photo, and realized that confused lamb belonged with the other group. No wonder he was confused.

I tried to give him back to his mama, but he’d been away too many hours, she didn’t recognize his smell. He was also too weak to nurse, he probably hadn’t eaten most of the day. I tube-fed him, got him under a heat lamp, and brought the whole family into the barn. I stanchioned the ewe for a day or so; then tried using the “Mother-Up” spray to fool her into accepting that third lamb. In the meantime, I bottle fed him to make sure he was getting enough, he was still a little weak from that day of setback.

The mother never did really take to him, though he knows who his family is and hangs out with them. I could have tried harder, but figured I’d wind up with more orphan rears anyway, and they do grow faster than as triplets raised by the dam. Kirk and my parents helped bottle feed him midday while I was at work for a few days; then it was the weekend and the start of my vacation. I was busy with everything else, so didn’t get the teat bucket set up for him for about a week. Sometimes this can make it hard to teach them to transition. Once lambs figure out one method of nursing, they can be rigid about learning a new method. But not with this guy. I showed him the bucket once at night. When I went out to the barn in the morning, his belly was full! He didn’t need any reminders after that, he had the bucket down-pat. Clever devil.

Twin Semi-Reject

Next, I had two problem ewes in one day. In my morning check, I found a ewe that had given birth to twins, and had them all cleaned up and fed. But she was trying to butt one away. Puzzled, I looked around to see if it belonged to another ewe. There was a ewe across the field that had triplets in the same timeframe. But when I showed this lamb to that ewe, she also pushed it away; and it was way bigger than her triplets. So, I felt certain it belonged to the ewe trying to reject it. Odd that she cleaned and fed it, then later decided it wasn’t hers. Maybe there was a long space of time between births and she forgot she had two. I  brought this group into the barn and put the ewe into a stanchion. This ewe also had a very small udder. So I supplemented the reject with a bottle, just in case. The ewe ended up learning to tolerate the lamb, tho she looks away whenever the lamb is nursing; just facing and focusing on the other, favorite lamb, as if she prefers to be in denial. Whatever. This lamb had also been shown the teat bucket, and had caught on in one showing; and was nursing it for a while. But I  think she’s stopped now, so the mother must have come into enough milk, and they’ve worked out their relationship well enough.

Triplet Rejects

Later the same day those lambs were born, there was another ewe wandering around the field. She was in a strange, confused stage, very nervous and agitated; and complaining! I finally caught her and checked- she had a lamb in the birth canal, oriented perfectly, totally ready to come out. He was just right there. She was fully dilated. All that was needed was for her to just push it out. But, she continued to just meander around and complain. I finally pulled it. I gave her some time, and the same thing- another lamb lined up perfectly, right on the edge of emerging, but she just wouldn’t lay down and give some good pushes. So, I pulled that one, and the next. I don’t like to wait too long with the lambs sitting in the birth canal, for fear the umbilical cord will break and they will die. So if there is no progress after an hour or so, I just get in there and pull them. She seemed happy enough with her lambs, she cleaned them all and got them up and nursed.

But then her agitation overcame her again, and she started getting on the move. Ewes feeling paranoid for their lambs keep their heads very low, as if they want to see the world from the lamb’s level, and ensure nothing is sneaking in to get them. She just kept walking, and complaining, looking every which way for threats, and constantly checking her lambs. Newborn lambs can follow their mother, and can even run if the herd flees from a threat. But newborns can’t stay on the move for hours. They need a lot of time to sleep in between colostrum feedings, to recover from the trauma of birth and gain strength. And they also need a lot of time to figure out how to nurse, they aren’t very skilled at it for the first day or so. So, this ewe’s reconnaissance mission was not working out, she kept losing her lambs, and they were getting tired. Then she started butting two of them. Annoyed 

Into the barn and the stanchion! The stanchion always upsets ewes, but it sent this one through the roof!  Her paranoia inflamed into anger and frustration, and she fought and flopped and yelled and finally lay down in exhaustion. This made it hard for any of the lambs to nurse. I battled with her for a couple of days, but realized this war may not best be won via stockade. In the meantime, I noticed how aggressive her lambs were at nursing; so instead I leveraged that. I kept them in a jug so she couldn’t get far away from them. This gave them time to practice. Rejected lambs that are smart will realize that when the favored lamb is nursing, that’s the time to get in there. The ewe was annoyed by this, and would kick and spin, but the two rejects would hang on like little broncs and get their milk! Hah! I did teach them how to nurse on the teat bucket, just in case; and they, too, learned it with one demonstration. The bigger of the two rejects stopped needing it after a while. The smaller guy still uses it, but I can tell he’s also nursing off the dam, or other ewes in the barn. His head is dirty and peed-on, which means he has figured out that nursing from the back is the way to sneak milk without getting caught.

Grandma’s Lambs

Lastly, I have #33’s lambs using the bucket. So, I think it’s about four lambs, but maybe six if the other two are still taking some. I allow lambs to get up to 1/2 gallon of milk each per day. Two gallons are getting consumed already, so I think those four are getting a lot of milk. They are lard butts!

It is really nice when the lambs learn to use the bucket so quickly. Sometimes I have dumber lambs that have trouble transitioning from a bottle onto the bucket. They either don’t prefer the cool milk, they don’t like the different teat, or they just don’t get it; that I don’t need to be standing there for them to drink. So I’m feeling pleased that this year, they were all so clever and easy to teach.

Making Milk

I am still making my own milk out of whole cow’s milk, egg and cream; like I wrote about in this post. That post has been viewed over 35,000 times! It has tons of comments from people all over the world who have found it useful; and it’s a very Google-able post. I wonder if lamb milk replacer manufacturers know about it and hate it? Winking smile The recipe sure does work well for me; my lambs don’t scour, and they grow really well on it. It is quite a bit cheaper than powdered lamb milk replacer. Often in the spring, feed stores run out of powdered milk replacer, which can send a person into a panic. Not me, I can get these ingredients 24/7 from any grocery store! I mix the milk in six half-gallon pitchers at a time, mostly because this fits well in the barn fridge. This makes it easy to measure how much I’m doling out.

It’s a little less work to have the bucket lambs in the barn, so I can refill it easily from the fridge. At some point, I can move them out into the pasture, and hang the bucket on the fence. It’s just more hassle to haul milk pitchers out there, and to bring the bucket in for cleaning. I’ll probably tackle moving them in the next week or two. This group, incidentally, has to be put into their own “contemporary groups” for NSIP data. The lambs nursing on their dam need to be differentiated because their dams are eating differently than the sheep in the field. And the orphan rears go into their own class. We can only compare apples to apples when bell-curving the performance of any given group. So for their sixty day weights, these lambs will only be compared against their small peer groups, not the whole lamb drop.