Monday, March 1, 2010

We have a lamb!

“Joanie,” Dave’s voice called to me, “we have a lamb!”
I pulled on my coveralls and boots and we both walked back to the barn yard, our hearts light. Lambing had begun.

21 orange, a yearling ewe stood in the sun on the hill, her little white lamb nestled in the hay at her feet.

Dave went into the barn to turn on a heat lamp and to open a jug. I walked slowly toward the baby. “Good job. What a nice baby. We just need to get you inside.” The mom backed up, baaing with concern. I picked up her baby and held it, hoping 21 orange would come up to me to sniff and lick. If she did, I would be able to easily walk both animals into the barn.

The ewe stood there, baaing. I walked backwards a few steps and then set the baby down and moved away. 21 orange returned to the spot where she had lambed, sniffed the ground a few times and then walked to where her baby now lay, shivering.

Shivering. That wasn’t good. A newborn lamb on a warm sunny day, even in the winter, should not be shivering. I picked up the lamb again and walked into the barn where I lay it in a spot of sunlight. The ewe followed. Dave rushed forward and closed the barn door. I picked up the lamb for the last time and lay it under the golden glow of the heat lamp in the jug, a 4 foot by 4 foot pen.

The lamb felt cold. We hung a second heat lamp and I rubbed her with a towel. When 21 orange moved into the jug to sniff her baby, Dave closed the panel on us. I cut the baby’s umbilical cord and dipped it in iodine. Even the lamb’s mouth felt cold. Dave took her temperature. 97˚. Way too cold. A lamb’s temperature should be between 102˚ and 104˚. I ran to the house for a bottle.

Dave held 21 orange with both arms around her neck. She stood patiently while I milked out two ounces of colostrum to feed her baby. But the baby wouldn’t suck. That meant this was a very cold lamb. Dave ran to the house for a bucket of hot water and the 60 cc. syringe and plastic tubing that we use for gavage feeding.

I filled the syringe with colostrum and slid the tube into the lamb’s mouth and down it’s throat. She didn’t cough and her breathing sounded good, so I slowly injected an ounce and a half of colostrum, that absolutely essential first milk that new mothers produce, into her stomach.

Dave set a bucket of hot water into the pen and then submerged the lamb up to her neck in the steaming water. She didn’t struggle. 21 orange kept licking the parts of her baby that she could reach, head and front hooves. She was going to be a really good mother if we could just keep her baby alive.

I had been problem solving in my head since I realized that the lamb was cold. This had happened frequently last year, babies unable to regulate their temperature. Last year we thought it had been due to a calcium and phosphate imbalance, so we had changed the feed mill where we bought our feed and salt, and added selenium, an element that was needed for healthy muscle contraction, to the sheep’s salt. If we had another epidemic of weak and dieing babies this year, I wasn’t going to be able to keep raising sheep.

What else could it be? This lamb was the first of our lambs that was of 75% Rambouillet breeding. Could Rambouillet lambs be less strong than other lambs? Some sheep, like the Finns we used to used to have that easily raised triplets, were known for mothering ability. Range sheep that lambed in the open out west, were known for lambs that stood and nursed immediately after birth, able to follow their mothers as soon as they could stand. In my attempt to get finer, softer wool, had I also gotten weak lambs?

A search of the internet and my sheep books gave no indication that Rambouillet sheep had weak lambs. Not at all reassured, I slid the bottle of colostrum into my coveralls pocket and trudged out to the barn.

The new baby was up and nursing noisily on her mother. The worries about breeding and feeding faded to the back of my mind. This lamb nursing was the best news of the day, even better than Dave’s call “We have a lamb!”


  1. What a good story, Joanie! I hope all of your lambing goes well this year.

    Jo in MN