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Friday, May 18, 2012

Thank goodness for small miracles

The Farmer came into the house after doing the barn chores and met me where I sat at the computer, blogging. "How are the lambs?" I asked.
"Well, that ewe lamb out there is down, she won't get up," he said. I remembered the yearling ewe who didn't know what to do with her firstborn. We had to put her in a head gate to hold her still so her tiny lamb could nurse. And now that they were out of the barn, there was something wrong with her. The lamb was still able to burrow under his mother to steal milk, but if she died, he would have a whole new set of challenges.

The next morning she died. "You'd better get a bottle for that lamb," the Farmer said.
I mixed the lamb formula in the blender and poured it through a funnel into the baby bottle. I went to the barn, plucked the orphan lamb out of the pen and stuck the bottle in his mouth. He just chewed on the nipple, as if he wasn't hungry. I put him down on the ground and looked at him. His hips were showing. He hadn't eaten in a while, except to nibble grass, but his stomach wasn't mature enough for that yet. He hadn't developed his rumen.
I filled a 25-mL plastic syringe and began the process of filling his belly. I filled the syringe from the bottle, held the lamb between my knees, cocked his head back and emptied the syringe into his mouth. Eight times. Then I put him back in the pen, with some hay, water and sweet feed. Alone. Sheep hate being alone. He jumped out of the pen and cried in the aisle. I put him in the pen with the fluffy sheep awaiting their shearing. They kept each other company until mid-afternoon, when the last one went for her shearing, leaving the lamb alone again. I was weeding the garden but the bawling coming from the lonely lamb in the barn was so mournful, I couldn't work anymore. Even the horse and donkey were standing outside the lambing room window, snorting in concern.

"What are we going to do about that lamb?" I asked. The Farmer said I would have to find a ewe and lamb willing to keep him company, while I trained him on the bottle. I was pretty sure he was too old to accept the bottle, but I didn't want him alone and scared so I marched into the barnyard, looking for a couple of good candidates. Lambs were all over the place, climbing onto boulders, farm equipment and their sleeping mothers. Every time I approached a lamb, it would stare at me for a moment and then dart off squealing. Then I found one little bundle of white curled up in the sun, asleep. I put my hand on her and she just lifted her head and looked at me, half asleep. I gathered her in my arms and suddenly had her mother's full attention. I hoped she wasn't the mother who had chased me into the barn a few weeks ago, head butting me all the way. Then I realized the lamb was soiled all over her legs. She needed medicine, in a hurry. It was lucky I found her.

Once in the pen (which was a bit of a rodeo but I did it), the ewe was very interested in the medicine I was giving her lamb. She was not at all interested in feeding the orphaned lamb, who was busily rooting around underneath her. She kept turning and head-butting him right into the wall. I turned to grab the shepherd's crook so I could put the ewe in the head gate and just then, the orphan lamb found what he was looking for. Once latched on, he was pretty hard to kick off. Finally the ewe gave up the fight, and let him fill his belly. I checked on the little family later and she was standing for the two lambs to nurse. She just looked at me as if to say, "I understand. I have two babies now."

The little white lamb was up on her feet the next morning, fully recovered (I hope) from her illness. And the orphan lamb had a fat, full belly.

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