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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Leapin' lambs all over the place

It always amazes me to see how truly fat a sheep can get just from eating grass and hay. Rambo is the fattest of them all, because he doesn’t have to go through childbirth and lactating. That can take a lot out of a sheep. So as soon as the green grass starts to pop up, we try to get the sheep out of the barn.

First the Farmer likes to shear them. May is perfect because although the blackflies can be a little nasty, the mosquitoes aren’t too thick yet and there isn’t as much chance of sunburn. Their new fleece will come in and protect them from the bugs and sun in just a few short weeks.

So he took a week off, tackled a few sheep each day and gave them their salon treatments. Shearing, hoof trim, 18-point check stem to stern. Then out they went to the open barnyard and beyond that, the fresh green of the pasture. The lambs were released as their mothers were. Once out on the loose, many of the ewes became preoccupied and distracted and lost track of their young.

That first week, the sun beat down and the lambs became weak and tired from trying to keep up with their mothers. One lay down and might have had a touch of heat stroke. It didn’t try to get up when the Farmer approached. He picked it up and fed it a bottle of water.

The next morning, just before dawn, I went out to the barn where the sheep were sleeping and locked them back in. We decided to give them a few more days inside to remind them that they were mothers and they had little ones to feed. It also reminded the little ones where to find water to drink if they couldn’t find their mothers in a hurry. When it cooled off again outside, we let them back out.

This year I have one lamb on the bottle. He was disowned at birth for whatever reason. Maybe he never clued in that the milk is under the mama. In any case, the only reason he is alive is the bottle of milk replacer I bring him every morning and night. He has a fat belly but it is obvious he isn’t well nourished because he has a bony back. There is nothing like mother’s milk to fatten up a lamb. This little one, who I call Chicken (I call all the lambs Chicken) needs to be on the green grass more than any of them.

I found Chicken alone in the barn, nibbling on the end of his baby bottle which was strapped to its wire holder on the wall. All the other sheep had been let outside. No sheep likes to be alone. Normally very calm and cuddly, he nervously ran around the pen as I tried to catch him. He knickered and whined and when I finally caught him his little body shook with fear in my arms.

I brought him outside and he blinked in the bright daylight. I reassured him, talking calmly and soothingly. When I put him on the ground I held him for a moment, then let him go. He ran a few feet, then back into my arms. I went back into the barn to feed the cats and I could feel him following, and hear him knickering to himself, just a few feet behind me.

The rest of the herd came back to the barn just then for their midday nap. This comforted him, and as I left the barn he was tucked in the corner, curled up beside his cousins.

Later in the day I went out to see how Chicken was doing. He was out in the barnyard, curled up beside the cow gate and a big boulder. He kept licking the boulder. Must have been salty. He came over and nibbled on the bottle but wouldn’t drink any. This is the first time he hasn’t been voraciously hungry and enthusiastic about the bottle. I’m a little worried, but maybe the new grass and soil and rocks he is tasting has curbed his appetite for now. I will go back out when they are all in the barn and see if I can get him to drink again.

When I left him he was quietly moving from tiny family to tiny family, introducing himself. Hopefully he will learn to steal milk as the others do, and discover the taste of fresh green grass.

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