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.