When I got up in the morning, I found a ewe with single on the ground. It was up, dried and fed, and there was an expelled placenta near her, so it appeared she was done. I weighed and tagged the lamb, processed another set of twins elsewhere in the pasture, and moved on to other chores. When I checked several hours later, this ewe had a second lamb that was still pretty wet and fresh. She was isolated at the end of the pasture with no other sheep nearby, and no other ewes were lambing at that time. She was very attentive to both lambs, so they were definitely hers. It’s unusual for me to have a ewe have such a spread-out birth, usually they crank them out every thirty minutes or so. These weren’t big and didn’t show any signs of a distressed labor, so I don’t know why they were so split. Anyway, fine, all good, I weighed and tagged that one too, and left them all to hang out and bond.
In the evening, I had to move all the sheep from the far pasture up to the hillside. Big moves with new lambs are a big pain in the butt. I try to plan it so that all moves will be incremental, just moving to the square next door. Even that can be a circus. But, usually there is at least one major migration that has to happen during lambing, to get set up on the right rotation direction. I try to do it early, before there are very many small, confused lambs and amped-up, protective mothers.
That ewe, and one other with morning newborns, did not want to move. Good ewes like to stay in the location of their birth event for the first day or so, and they instinctively know they should not try to move with young lambs, especially multiple lambs. The trick to getting them to move is to hang the lambs in slings and walk, so it looks like the lambs are trotting along. Then, the ewe will follow them. All the while chastising them in distressed tones, as she thinks it’s a bad idea, and is trying to convince them to hunker down and stay at the birth site. She may run back and forth to the birth site, trying to lure them back; but in the end, she’s usually forced to give in and follow her lambs. It works best when moving towards the flock, it’s more of a battle when moving away from the flock.
It’s a long walk carrying twenty pounds of lambs, but I successfully convinced both ewes to migrate, and all were settled in at the new graze. I always double check before I go to bed to make sure that the newest sets of lambs are bedded down with their mothers, and they were. Still, there is some risk in breaking the maternal bond when moving ewes and newborns, so I try to do it as carefully and infrequently as I can.
The next morning, there was a ewe cleaning off newborn twins. Standing a few feet away was the above-mentioned mama with her spread-out twins. I saw her sniff the second-born one and butt it away. She did it again a few minutes later. Grrr. A rejection. Usually, this means I’m going to have to go get the ATV trailer and the dog, catch her and load her, and haul her and her lambs up to the barn to stanchion her and require her to accept both her babies. It’s work to do this, but less work than accepting the consequences of her rejecting a lamb.
I fed the sheep some hay, and then checked on that lamb to see if his stomach was empty. It was not. It was stuffed full. He was dopey sleepy with full-belly docility, and stretched and yawned when I roused him. Hmm. If she’s been butting him, how did he get fed? I put him down, and the ewe that had just delivered twins nickered in invitation. He toddled over to her, she sniffed him, and ushered him in towards her udder. Wha? No wonder he was a snoozy ragdoll, he was drunk with fresh colostrum.
While I did more chores, I monitored. Sure enough, that ewe thought the little guy was hers; and she was pleased with her set of triplets. This almost never happens, ewes are very particular about the smell of their own lambs, and they’re rarely fooled by an older lamb wandering onto the birth scene. They’ll butt that strange lamb from here to Sunday to get him away from their newborns and milk. Even when you intentionally try to graft on a lamb, smothering him with placental fluids and playing the shell game with her other lambs, it is really hard to get her to fall for the trick.
The lamb was reciprocal, and stayed close to her all morning, nursing often. This is also unusual: not only do ewes know the smell of their own lambs and reject others, newborn lambs usually remember the smell of their own dam after the first few hours, and are reluctant to try nursing on a different mother (at least until they get older and learn to devilishly steal). They also tend to keep trying to find and follow their own mother, even if she’s rejected them, because that’s what their programming tells them they ought to do. So it was really odd to see this guy just settle down and move in with this other lady, completely forgetting his biological mother in a span of hours, after spending his first 24 hours with her.
The set is kind of mismatched: the twins are bigger than the adopted guy and red spotted like their mother. The orphan is the only white one, so he stands out in the set. But he seems to be managing to get fed plenty, so they are making it work.
I didn’t ponder long whether I should mess with this situation. The real mother is a two year old, and thin. She could probably benefit from only raising a single. It would be a fight to get her to take this guy back, now that he’s covered in placental fluid scent from the other mother. This mamacita had made up her mind, that’s not her lamb! The adoptive mother is three years old, in the prime production age bracket, carrying good condition, she has a very strong milk EBV score, and her udder is quite big. She seems committed, she doesn’t appear to be having second thoughts or any confusion about which lambs are hers. Leaving them together is zero work for me.
The answer is clear! Let sleeping dogs lie, as they say. I will update my records. The NSIP scores of the rejecting dam will dock her for birthing two, raising one. The adoptive dam won’t get extra credit for birthing two, raising three; but their growth scores will be adjusted to account for being raised as triplets, so none will be penalized for slower growth.