Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Nipple confusion

When I was a La Leche League leader, we talked about nipple confusion. We worried that exposing a baby to easy nursing bottle nipples would confuse him and he would refuse to nurse on his mother, an exercise that was better for him, but took much more work. I was always a little dismissive of the idea. I figured a hungry baby would eat.

Now, I watch a field full of happy, healthy lambs, none of whom are bottle fed, and I am rethinking my philosophy.

On March 1, when lamb number three didn’t seem strong enough to nurse, we milked out his mom and filled a plastic water bottle with colostrum, screwed on the little red nipples we used for bottle lambs, and attempted to feed him. The milk streamed out around the connection between the bottle cap and the bottle.

Damn, we’d had that problem in the past and I’d forgotten. We don’t drink pop, so had no pop bottles (for which the lamb nipples were designed) in the house. We were going to have to gavage this baby to get any milk into him. Dave slid the thin plastic tube down his throat and pushed the milk through a syringe to force it into the lamb’s stomach.

I never did buy a pop bottle for feeding; I didn’t have time to go to town. We used the gavage tube for several lambs that needed just a little help in the first few hours or days. And every single one learned to nurse on its own mother with no problems what-so-ever.

No bottle lambs! 74 new babies and no bottle lambs. Our lambing this year was like no other in the last twenty-five years. When the last ewe lambed we stopped going out to the barn every three hours because we had no bottle lambs to feed. We slept all night; we were away from home for more than six hours; we fed the sheep in twenty minutes instead of forty minutes. Last year we had 8 bottle lambs. This year, we had none. Although I miss having a lamb run up to me every time I go out to the pasture, and our guests really miss having bottle lambs to feed, I’m glad we have no bottle lambs.

Lambs nursing on moms gain weight faster, they think they’re sheep, and I have a lot easier time selling them when they reach market weight. I’m not sure I believe in nipple confusion, but I will certainly gavage hungry lambs next year instead of bottle feeding them.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Joanie!
    I just read a Dog Blog that comes from Nova Scotia. These folks have two Irish Wolfhounds, Guinness and Saige. This is a blog you should visit today. 'Nanny Guinness'


    You might want one of these as a sheep caretaker.

    Jo in DL