Monday, March 15, 2010

The thing about bottle babies

This year, we have no bottle lambs – yet. That’s a good thing. It means that all 23 moms are nursing their 56 babies well. Bottle lambs can be obnoxious when you’re trying to get a skitsy mom to follow a set of of new twins into the barn. The bottle lambs get between the new mom and her babies, confusing her. They get under my feet, tripping me. And they are always hungry – no matter how much you feed them. Bottle lambs don’t gain weight as fast as other lambs, so we can’t sell them as soon either.So it’s a good thing not to have bottle lambs.

But it’s also a sad thing. Bottle lambs can be the purest form of joy known to man. When a little girl or a grown man holds a lamb in their arms and the lamb is sucking enthusiastically on a bottle, that person can’t help but grin. Bottle lambs are even nice ten years down the road.

Last night, two ewes lambed one after the other. Both lambed out on the hill behind the barn.

Dave brought in the first set of twins. He picked up the lambs and walked backwards, holding the squirmy, crying lambs out to their mother, just inches off the ground. Valentine, the new mother, followed him about 12 inches before she got distracted and circled back to where the lambs were born. Dave put down the lambs and backed away, After a while, the mom would find her babies and lick them, chuckling over them. Then Dave stepped in again, picked up the babies and began backing. Valentine skittered off. Dave would stop, lay down the lambs and back away until she had made contact again. Step by slow step, Dave backed toward the barn. When I went out to find him an hour after he had left the house, he was holding the lambs inside the barn, but he still had another fifteen feet to go before he could to lay the lambs into a jug under a heat lamp. And even then, he wasn’t done. Valentine had no interest in the jug. We closed the barn door so she wouldn’t leave and gradually herded her down to the open jug. Finally, she saw her babies and stood in the entry tot he jug, watching. I was closest to her. I stood very still, trying to emulate one of the support posts in the barn. She stared at me. I tried to move infinitesimally closer, a little tiny step at a time. Closer, closer, ten feet, nine and a half feet, nine feet. At eight feet, she darted around me and away from her babies.

Dave and I left her to find her babies. They were under the heat lamp and would not get chilled. While she calmed down, we fed and watered the other sheep in jugs and the group pen. Finally, Valentine stood in the opening to the jug. Dave walked oh so quietly up behind her and slammed the door shut. She looked over her shoulder at us in surprise, ready to dart away, but her escape route was gone.

Christmas lambed shortly after Valentine. Christmas is an old sheep, probably ten or eleven, but she is a young mom. This was only her third lambing. But when I scooped up her babies, she was not at all intimidated. Christmas had been a bottle lamb. Dave and I help no terror for her. She would follow us anywhere. As I walked down to the barn, facing forward and standing upright, Christmas circled me, talking to her babies the entire way. She stepped into the barn before I did, and searched until she found an open jug with a heat light shining. She watched me as I laid her babies on the golden straw and then moved into the pen with them. By the time I had tied the pen shut, her babies were nursing. They certainly wouldn’t become bottle lambs.

If Valentine didn’t relax enough to let her babies nurse, they just might be bottle lambs. But I guess if that happened, they’d have an easier time of lambing next year when they were new moms because they would know Dave and I. That’s the thing about bottle babies.

1 comment:

  1. Are we old enough yet to successfully emulate a barn post?