Monthly Archives: May 2011
The snapping turtle below was the climax moment of the Derby Girls visit. Never seen one here, before or since. We herded all people WELL away. A fascinating visitor.
When a foster lamb is first introduced to the warmed reconstituted ‘milk’ (called lamb-o), it doesn’t taste right; smell right; feel right. Usually the first reaction is either passive resistance, or ptoooey.
The foster lambs instinct is to go under a warm ewe’s belly, to find a full but flexible nipple, to bunt hard if necessary to encourage the milk flow, and to sip often.
What they are offered is a powdered ewe’s milk substitute reconstituted with warmed water, a black rubber nipple, a beer bottle and people. (The beer bottle is used because we have a collection of old ‘stubbies’ which fit nicely in the microwave. Thanks to one Islander we have a lifetime supply.)
Here are our techniques to feed a reluctant lamb.
Hold the lamb under an arm, snuggled closely to the body. (It is easier on the lamb to not have struggle options.) Use the same arm to support the chin, using the thumb to open the mouth gently, and support the chin in line with the neck. Insert nipple. Wait patiently. Sometimes, Kyle baaaas gently, trying to find the note that mama might use. When the first trickle slides down the lamb’s throat, it may be all that is required for the lamb to start sucking eagerly. However, it often takes a lot of patience during the first feeding, occasionally squeezing the nipple to release a little more milk, just to get enough into the lamb to warm and encourage it. We are as gentle and comforting as we can, but it is obviously a foreign and scary experience. However, hunger is a great teacher, and most foster lambs are eager for the bottle (though still unskilled at finding it) by the next feeding. Ideally within a day or two, the lambs throng out of their nighttime cage, thumping eagerly at the knees of the person holding the bottle, and stand on their own feet to suck a bottle dry in no time.
What a difference a week makes.
We were all delighted to move the foster lambs operation out to the screened front verandah and wash the living room floor for the last time. We have two big dog cages on the porch; one for special needs. We change the newspaper bedding several times a day, and feed them four times a day – roughly every 5 – 6 hours. (Sally is up early; Kyle stays up late.) We also have a large outdoor pen for a ewe and twins, and a smaller fenced area for the fosters lambs to romp on the grass.
Although we lost a few foster lambs to illness, five fosters have now gone to one good home, and five more left yesterday. Some have been adopted back into the flock to a needy ewe, if Christopher can find one. Only one is at home at the moment, eagerly following the heels of anyone carrying a bottle, puppy-like.
Rain plus wind plus cold equal hypothermic conditions for newborn lambs. Just as the flock was at its peak of lambing for the first heat cycle, the awful weather conditions hit.
A newborn lamb needs to be licked thoroughly and nudged towards the udder to get a bellyful of warm colostrum in the first half hour, for best survival. If the ewe is birthing twins or triplets, or the ewe is inexperienced, sometimes one or more lambs have to cope with less than ideal mothering. The species has survived through the eons with good instincts.
Unfortunately, one of those instincts is for the mom to save the first born, to put energy into keeping one alive, under cold driving rain conditions.
Its our job to rescue the hypothermic abandoned baby.
Christopher and Jacob and sometimes Ian have been checking each group of the flock, about 5 times a day (which translates into almost constantly, with breaks to deal with problems discovered and for much-needed food for the shepherd.) When they find a lamb that is just too cold, with an empty tummy, they get involved. One technique is to milk the ewe right into a big syringe; stomach tube the lamb; get two or three syringefuls of warm colostrum right into its tummy, then bring it back to the Frame House.
Kyle and Sally are caring for the foster lambs, but others get involved. For the first few days, the big dog cage was in the living room, with a heater and a couple of Rubbermaid containers and a shopping box pressed into service for the coldest lambs as snuggly cribs.
We ran out of old towels, flannelette sheets and old blankets when we were inundated the second evening with a ‘lambalanche’ of cold wet foster lambs. I called a neighbour in desperation. She came rushing over with 10 absorbent towels, sat on the floor in her bare feet and old clothes, and helped rub and cuddle a cold shivery lamb.
She’s an ordained Anglican minister, and as she sat in the midst of our muddle, with Kyle rubbing three sleepy ones to stimulate circulation, and Sally trying to feed a needy one, she said “This is my idea of heaven.”
Some photos post shearing:
Don, unrolling hay for “ewe lambs” – they were lambs last year; now hopefully pregnant
Newly shorn lambs, crossing in front of our yard in evening light, on their way to shelter