nurture foster lambs
Sheep are smart – don’t let anyone pull the wool over your eyes. Their survival drive ensures they can learn almost anything that matters to them.
People say disparagingly that someone “follows like sheep”. At times that is appropriate. Usually a wise old ewe takes the lead when we move the flock. She follows those who have earned her trust – the shepherd and often the guardian dog too. An individual sheep has no defense against predators except being one of a group, lacking speed, teeth or claws. “Safety in numbers” is wise for the flock.
But they make choices. Ewes will separate to lamb on pasture here at Topsy Farms, finding a sheltered spot, to birth their babes and to bond.
“Black Sheep” is a term used to refer to a problem or difficult person. Why does our society feel unable to accommodate and celebrate differences? We don’t presently have black sheep in our flock, as the shorn fleece must be kept carefully separate when processing. At the moment, there is a high demand for black (or brown or coloured) fleeces in North America – they are too scarce. We could use more Black Sheep in all senses of the phrase.
Recent studies in Britain make interesting reading: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/8335465/Sheep-are-far-smarter-than-previously-thought.html
The bible parables of the 99 and 1 have true meaning. A good shepherd knows individuals within his flock. Our shepherd Christopher, kept an eye on each of the nearly 1400 lambs born this spring, and ‘rescued’ those needing extra help.
At the farm, we work with those lambs that need to be bottle fed because of birth trauma, or being the smallest of multiple births of 3 or 4. Their needs and abilities are very individual.
Each lamb must go through a significant learning curve in order to survive. Luckily, sheep are smart.
Their instinct says go under a warm body seeking a fleshy nipple. Instead they must learn to accept and seek a hard black rubber nipple. Their senses of touch and hearing are acute at birth but their eyes are not yet strong. They have to learn to accept and welcome people, to stand and learn to suck and to eat our reconstituted formula that doesn’t taste like mama’s milk. They need to cuddle other lambs for body warmth, lacking mama. All this must happen within about 24 hours from birth. Sheep are smart, and the lambs almost all survive.
Their personalities and quirks develop early as their individualities develop. All sheep are NOT alike, including in their capacity to learn more than the necessary basics.
They communicate very clearly to those who learn to listen. They have a variety of oral sounds. We enjoy hearing the nickering soft mama nurturing murmurs to new lambs. As with people, the subtleties of the sounds vary with individuals, expressing feelings of constipation, boredom, eagerness, curiosity, or uneasiness.
Body language is clear too. New lambs, hungry and cold are desperately droopy, often past shivering or sucking or sometimes even swallowing. A few drops of warm ewe’s milk massaged down a throat will elicit a swallow and soft sound. A hungry lamb, just brought from a mama who can’t cope, will chew on a rubber nipple or sit with it in his mouth, passively resisting – wrong feel, wrong taste. But squeezing a few drops of warmth will often ‘prime the pump’ and hunger takes over and we hear the “I’m going to survive” drive of eager sucking. They even have to learn to coordinate their tongue action. Sheep are smart – it seldom takes long.
Older fosters readily learn to wear a harness and will walk on a leash with a visitor. It is an adaptation of the skill of following mama in the fields.
Book a time to visit us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 613 389-3444/888 287-3157. When you come to visit the Wool Shed, that carries all our wool and sheepskin products and more, this should make the trip even more interesting.
Our sheep are well loved – not just for their brains.
VISIT FOSTER LAMBS FROM MID-MAY UNTIL EARLY JUNE
May 14 to June 5, 2016
Bring cameras, big and little kids and casual clothes
Cuddle or bottle-feed a lamb
See hundreds of lambs in nearby pastures
PHONE/EMAIL IN ADVANCE FOR AN APPOINTMENT
613 389-3444, 888 287-3157 email@example.com
These foster lambs have been rescued as their moms can’t raise them. One may be smallest of triplets; another a twin of a young mom with insufficient milk. Please come to help us nurture them.
Adopt a Foster Lamb to help a baby lamb survive and thrive.
Our flock of 1000 ewes birthed over 1400 lambs last year. About 30 – 35 lambs can’t stay with mama, and must be cared for. Otherwise, they’ll die.
Will you help save a baby lamb?
Do you want to be a (virtual) foster parent?
The cost is $45 before March 1st, 2017. After that, it will be $50.
For that donation you will:
• Name the lamb – we’ll use your chosen name from then on
• Receive a photo of the lamb so you could find yours in a group
• Learn all we know of its birthing history and reasons for needing to be fostered
• Be encouraged to come to the farm to help cuddle and bottle-feed during the time that it is here
• Learn about health care and needs of small lambs
After a week or so, most lambs ‘graduate’ to small farms where they join small free-range flocks.
• You’ll get a report of your lamb’s progress as it learns to become a sheep.
By registering and paying, you will be on a ‘first come first served’ priority list to adopt. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You do NOT take your lamb home.
People who don’t want to adopt can reserve a time to visit. If you wish, use our site to subscribe to the mailing list for Family Visits.
The males will live on pasture in their new homes for the summer then will go to market; the females will stay with the flock, bearing babies of their own for years to come.
If you adopt a foster lamb, you will help a caring, busy sheep farm nurture the most vulnerable to enable them to survive.
Two foster lambs entertain visitors to the Wool Shed at Topsy Farms each year.
This year, from spring until Thanksgiving (when they retire to a smaller free-range farm) Wee Lassie and Littlefoot have helped make a visit to our farm and to Amherst Island more interesting. Here’s how.
In spring, when about 1300 lambs are born at Topsy Farms, there are always a few problems. The ewe forgets she had two, or she may have 3 or even 4 babies, and just can’t raise them all successfully. That’s where the Rescue Program for foster lambs fills the gap. Cold, hungry lambs are brought to the barn ‘playpen’. The lambs are cuddled and warmed and fed a powdered ewe’s milk substitute. As the lambs thrive, they move on to small free-range farms whose owners are building a flock (but can’t afford adult sheep).
This year, Wee Lassie came to us, May 14th. She was about 10 hours old when she first warmed up under my sweater, ate well, then fell asleep in my lap. She came just in time for the Victoria Day flood of visitors, winning hearts and teaching young people about the realities of baby animals on a farm. She was joined over the next while by about 30 fosters, all of whom found new homes except Littlefoot, chosen as her companion.
The public is invited to come and participate during the spring nurturing season.
The lambs grew fast and learned new skills. They enjoyed playing king of the castle on a big rock with grandsons and visitors, and nimbly climbed straw bales, stacked for bedding.
They adapted easily to wearing dog harnesses and walking on a leash – we just reinforced nature’s instinct of sticking close to mama’s heels. They even managed to walk in the Canada Day parade.
They can quickly distinguish peaceful people, enjoying massages and armpit rubs especially. Wee Lassie even put this visitor to sleep!
They adapted early and easily to visiting dogs deemed safe. Some interactions were a great pleasure to watch.
Even wee children can ‘take a lamb for a walk.’ It’s a pleasurable experience for all, as ‘the girls’ get to graze and explore a new area.
We’re saying goodbye to them after the Thanksgiving weekend however. They’ll retire to one of the great free-range farms we know. They will be the most chubby and affectionate lambs in the flock.
Watch a 6 second lamb and child interaction at a daycare picnic at https://youtu.be/kb7cH7slmDM
It was a day to remember! I will be telling all my friends about Topsy Farms as a fabulous grandchild destination!”
“Meredith, Megan, Jack and I want to thank you so much for your wonderful sharing of time and knowledge this morning. The girls were so thrilled with the experience and will remember this day forever I am sure. Megan…the younger one could not stop talking about it and Meredith a typical ‘cool’ teenager thought it was the best thing ever! We were thoroughly charmed by your beautiful spot on Amherst island and particularly your welcoming way…
We lunched on the rocks at the bird sanctuary and then befriended the bulls in the nearby field.
It was a day to remember! I will be telling all my friends about Topsy Farm as a fabulous grandchild destination!”
– Veronica, Picton, June, 2015