Lambs Needing Help at Topsy Farms

Our shepherd, Christopher, says that the gestation period for lambs is 4 months, 3 weeks and 4 days. We calculate when to put the rams in, based on when we want the birthing to begin. (Ideally, once the weather has warmed and there is sufficent pasture to keep the flock groupings well fed – the second week of May.) However, that turned out to be on the weekend that was very cold – there was snow in Ottawa and Kingston – and the ewes appear to be able to ‘cross their legs’ – holding off the birthing for a day or so. Its a wonderful survival skill in the wild.

So, the first year lambers, called ‘replacements’, started lambing first, and a few days later the mature ewes followed their example. Ideally, we hope a first year mama willl raise a good sized single lamb, and the mature ewes will raise an average of two each. (Some are able to raise triplets successfully; others only have a big single.)

Sometimes a ewe will choose to nurture one or two, and will ignore one, for no apparent reason. Very occasionally, a lamb is stillborn. Chris does his best to arrange an adoption. If a lamb is hungry and there are no prospective adoptive mothers, or if an adoption fails, the lambs will come to me to foster.

The first lamb was a big, hungry beauty. His large frame splayed off both sides of my lap, no matter how we tried to cuddle. He didn’t recognize either the black rubber nipple, the stubby beer bottle, the sounds of comfort I was trying to make, nor the initial taste of the formula on his lips. But once the nipple was inserted and he got the first glug, he certainly recognized food when he tasted it! The enthusiastic sucking made me tighten my grip on the bottle. He came up once for air, then didn’t know how to find the source again. With help, he was able to find what he wanted and downed the entire bottle. His tummy was no longer concave. He slept for the night in a big dog cage on our front porch, then after another enthusiastic feeding, spent the day outside in a small wire pen, enclosed within the larger pen for the ewe and twins due to arrive.

He thrived on the four feedings a day, filling out visibly. He was calm enough to take a feeding from my 5 year old grandson Nathan, with “help” from his brother Michael. Once solidly established, our shepherd put an elastic ring around his tail and testicles. It is the most humane way to dock and castrate, as the circulation is gradually cut off, and the part atrophies and falls off, unnoticed. He also received the required ear tag.

After a day of quiet recovery and lots more food, he was picked up by his doting new owner who will raise him in company with a few other sheep and a llama.

Unexpectedly there was a few lambless days interval, which was welcome as I was preparing lots of pots of plants for the Island long weekend market.

With perfect timing, the second male lamb was brought to me on Sat. of the long weekend. He was rejected by his first mom, then had a failed adoption, so he’s a little weaker; a much less assertive eater. He is very quiet to hold, but doesn’t yet seek the nipple. Fortunately we now have company for him, as a big ewe and her twins are in the big front yard penned area. She sounds the quiet protective nicker each morning when I bring him outside, ensuring he’s alright – but knows he isn’t hers. He’ll eat half a bottle at a time. I’m trying to give him small amounts, more often, until he feels stronger.

Why the beer bottle you might ask? The old ‘stubbies’ fit nicely into the microwave if the formula, a powdered lamb milk replacer, needs to be warmed. Whatever works, on a farm.