Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birth and death and orphaned lambs

Shortly after I got home from Iowa yesterday afternoon, Mike came into the house to tell me that White Feather was dead. She was ten years old and one of my first two ewes. Last fall, I had separated her and two other ewes from the flock before breeding season started because I didn't think she needed to be giving birth at age ten. Apparently Storm the ram disagreed, and in April he busted through the wall of the shelter that separated him from the ewes. Although we didn't see him mate anyone, I was pretty sure that the reason he busted through the shelter was because someone was in heat. I had hoped it was his yearling daughter, but apparently it was White Feather.

Four weeks ago on Saturday, we came home from the Homesteading Conference to find two healthy lambs bouncing around the pasture and nursing. White Feather seemed to be in decent shape for her age, although she was anemic. I gave her a dewormer, and put her and the lambs in their own pasture adjacent to the other sheep, so that we could keep an eye on her and give her special feed. We started giving her alfalfa, which I don't normally give sheep, but I figured she needed the higher protein and calcium. But obviously that wasn't enough.

These are our first orphaned lambs, although we did have a bottle ewe five years ago because she got fly strike and was almost dead when we found her. By the time she was strong enough to rejoin the flock, she no longer recognized her mother, so she wound up as a bottle lamb forever. I'm lucky to have Nigerian dwarf goats, which have butterfat around six percent most of the year and even higher butterfat heading into fall. Sheep milk tends to be very rich. I've never seen a percentage on Shetland milk specifically, but I know it is quite high because it was as thick as custard when I made yogurt with it.

It is also a very good thing that I didn't dry up some of the goats, which I was thinking about doing because of my travel schedule this fall promoting Ecothrifty and my commitment to write a book about goats. Mike has been willing to take over the majority of the milking chores. The lambs will need half a gallon of milk a day, and although we do have some extra every day, we don't have that much extra. So, we have started milking one of the does that had been simply nursing her 7-month-old daughter.

I am truly amazed at how quickly lambs take to the bottle. The little ram didn't exactly suck on the bottle when I put it in his mouth the first time, but he was quietly swallowing all of the milk. The little ewe, on the other hand, was violently opposed to being held and to having the nipple put in her mouth. She threw her head back, splattering milk on both of us. But when I put the nipple back in her mouth, she suddenly started sucking a mile a minute! They each took eight ounces last night with no problem.

This morning went even better. The little ewe came up to me and sniffed the nipple but wouldn't start sucking until I put it in her mouth. She sucked so fast that she started choking, but every time she let go of the nipple to catch her breath, she'd grab it again on her own. The little ram started sucking the second I put the nipple in his mouth and didn't stop until he had drained the whole twelve ounces from the bottle. And this afternoon was even easier. They both opened their mouth and grabbed the nipple on their own, although the little ewe wouldn't do it until I was holding her. I can live with that. We all need a little more lamb cuddling time in our days!

I wish baby goats were this easy to switch to a bottle! The majority of them act like you're trying to poison them the first few times you try to give them a bottle. I can't really imagine switching a one-month-old kid to a bottle so easily.

I am glad that White Feather had twins. They are sad enough without her and cry out often in the barn. It is heartbreaking, but it would be much worse if there were only one lamb. At least they have each other.


Tree Hugger - Suzan said...

Poor babies!!
But sounds like they'll be fine!!
You've got your work cut out for you!!

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Very tough to lose one of your "firsts" When our first cow Kiki age 14 had to put down we all bawled. We became a farm family because of her. May white feathers babies give others lot sof pleasure

Tiggeriffic said...

Poor White Feather..very sad.. I think I would probably cry and cry.. Good thing the twins have each other and you and Mike to love them through their mother being gone..
Have a great day..ta ta for now from Iowa:)

Carolyn Renee said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of White Feather. Take heart though, she may have passed without giving you two new lambs. She lives on :)

MamaTea said...

Sorry to hear about White Feather. Always hard to lose one of the firsts. But thank goodness the babies have each other...and are taking the bottle so well! Who knew it would work so quickly? Goats surely aren't like that!


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