Wednesday, April 13, 2016

You Lose Some, You Win Some

The lambs have been coming in fits and spurts. It's been a good year, but not without some losses. Where there is life, there is also death. 

About three days ago we had a burst of babies, and one lamb was not accepted by his mother. The Farmer has tried several different scenarios, including grafting this lamb onto another ewe. Sheep aren't very open to the concept of adoption. If it's not their lamb, they don't want anything to do with it.

So this little one has been a bottle lamb. The Farmer made sure it got the colostrum--the first milk--that all lambs need to live. Since then, it's been drinking lamb formula out of a garage sale baby bottle with the hole in the nipple cut a bit larger. 

This morning a yearling, a first-time mom, needed help with delivering her single stillborn lamb. The Farmer assisted with the birth, and realized that this was the perfect opportunity to graft the bottle lamb onto this young ewe. But remember, sheep aren't really open to the concept of adoption.  

He quickly took the stillborn lamb which was full of afterbirth and rubbed it all over the bottle lamb. Now the bottle lamb smelled like her newborn. But at three days old, he is spunky and full of energy--not at all like a newborn which struggles to stand at birth. So The Farmer gently tied the front legs of the bottle lamb together--not to hurt, but just to hobble. The lamb was unable to stand, and lay quietly while the ewe licked him off. The Farmer stood back, observing. 

After a while, he took the still-hobbled lamb and put it by the ewe's udder, sort of on its knees, so it could drink. It figured out the system quite quickly and had a second breakfast. The ewe allowed it. 

The next step was to untie the lamb's front legs and leave the two alone for a while. On a trip back through the barn, this is what The Farmer found:

See the wiggly tail? That is the signal for "I'm getting milk, and I'm so excited!" The red hue is the remainder of the afterbirth.

Grafting is a tricky business. You have to fool the ewe, and the timing has to be just right. We think that we had success today, and that makes the loss of the stillborn lamb a little easier to take.


  1. That was a brilliant idea to hobble the lamb so it behaved more like a newborn! I hope this is a successful graft. And I'm glad for the ewe, that she has a lamb to love.

    1. Rhonda, we can't take credit for the brilliance. Michigan's sheep producers are very generous with their tips and tricks, and Mike heard this at a gathering of shepherds.

  2. That's fascinating! Thank you for writing about it!

  3. Thank you for sharing the highs and lows of sheep farming. I didn't know grafting was possible in sheep. What a great story!


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