Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grafting a lamb

Grafting lambs is an iffy occupation. The need usually arises when a new mom dies or is too sick to nurse her baby. Then we try to persuade another mom to adopt that baby. The other reason to try a graft is when a mom loses her babies and has all that good milk going to waste, not to mention the anguish the mom feels for her lost baby. Sometimes, mom’s call for several days, trying to find dead lambs.

Dave went out to the barn to turn off a light on Tuesday night and found two moms and two new lambs! One of the moms was 56y. Neither of the lambs was hers; hers had both died a day ago. She was very interested, nose down, snuffling, calling to the new lamb.

Dave and I conferred about pros and cons. If we could get 56 to accept a new lamb, both lambs would have more milk to drink and would gain weight faster. If the graft didn’t work, if 56 didn’t accept the new lamb, his actual mom might not accept him back. That would leave us with one lamb getting a lot of milk from his mother and a bottle lamb, gaining weight not so well on lamb milk replacer.

Grafting usually doesn’t work. We have tied an older lamb’s legs together to fool a new mom into thinking it was her newborn. Didn’t fool her. We have put a ewe into a stanchion, trying to keep the ewe from sniffing a grafted lamb and therefore not realizing it wasn’t hers. Didn’t fool her. We have rubbed a newborn onto an older lamb hoping that the amniotic fluid would disguise the scent of the older lamb and the mom would accept the graft. She didn’t accept it. Our friend Glen has even skinned a dead lamb and tied its skin to an older lamb to make the new mom believe it was her lamb. That did work, but we weren’t in a position to skin anybody.

We followed our hearts and decided to graft one of the new lambs onto 56. Dave picked up the lamb and carried him slowly to a pen. He laid him in the glow of a heat lamp and stepped back. 56 came in, chuckling and baaing. She sniffed the lamb and immediately started licking him. Dave shut the pen door and watched. Soon the lamb was on his feet, searching for a nipple. When he found it, 56 stood quite still, allowing him to butt her udder and finally to nurse. Meanwhile ewe number 7g hadn’t realized that we’d stolen one of her babies. She chuckled contentedly and encouraged her remaining lamb to nurse.

It was a successful graft. The old mom really wanted a baby, and had milk. The newer ewe had had mastitis in the past and only produced milk on one side, so would have had a hard time feeding two babies. Two babies nursing on moms and no bottle babies. Perfect.


  1. What a lovely story. I hope they continue to do well.

  2. OK, that tugged our heart strings... Tony & Jan

  3. I found that drenching a lamb in a still-born lambs afterbirth worked quite well. Also, vests made to of skinned dead lambs worked but eventually start to dry and curl up at the edges. By then though the graft was a success and the vest could be cut off.