When a ewe (female sheep) has a lamb in spring and raises the lamb, all is normal as nature intended. But birthing doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes the mother rejects her offspring, and sometimes the mother doesn’t survive the first week. This is nature in action.
Most springs there is a hiccup in the system and we end up with bottle baby lambs. Somewhere in the process something has gone wrong, and we step in take care of the lamb, to give the lamb a fighting chance. Sometimes this process is successful and sometimes it isn’t successful. If we don’t step in the outcome will be obvious, so we give every lamb a fighting chance.
For those of you that visit the farm store on a regular basis; you know about last year’s bottle lambs. They are Shirley and Moe, Larry didn’t make it. To be honest they are a pain in the butt, because they bond with Ginny and I and not the sheep flock. They really believe that they are human.
Bottle lambs become special in their own way, but they are difficult manage. Generally it is much harder to make a culling or processing decision; that is easy to make with the rest of the flock. Additionally these guys never quite come up to size because they aren’t raised on mother’s milk. Generally bottle lambs become recognizable yard ornaments which are always under foot. Hence they are painful to manage.
Generally, bottle babies are a nuisance when you add up the pros and cons. In commercial flocks, rarely is a bottle lamb retained in the flock by the shepherd. These lambs are sent to town (livestock market) as quickly as possible. In fact when you factor in the cost of powdered lamb milk these lambs are an economic train wreck. Not to mention five trips to the barn each day to nurse the lamb. And generally you make an emotional rather than a proper farm management decision.
Occasionally a young female bottle lamb grows large enough that she gains the attention of the young men in the flock, and nature happens. This is what happened to Shirley, now she has to undergo a crash course in becoming a mother. This is a difficult time for us, because we don’t know if Shirley is capable of properly mothering her young lamb. Therefore, Shirley is in isolation, for a minimum of a week until we are sure she knows what is going on in her world. This is the delight I was referring to in the title. This little one will always be extra super special on the farm, but if Shirley is successful together they will become part of the flock. The lamb teaches the mother how to be a member of the flock, we then realize we did the right thing in raising another bottle baby to join the flock with the birth of their first lamb.
It is not cruel to isolate Shirley for this week, because Shirley hasn’t fully integrated herself into the flock, and she needs this time to bond with her baby and lean the ropes of being a mother. If you would like to visit with Shirley this weekend, just drop by the farm store, I’m sure Shirley would love to show you her lamb.
This is not our first time going through this process. The first time was years ago when we accepted some bottle lambs from Gunston Hall (home of George Mason, Virginia Patriot) one of the little lady’s was named Maeve. Maeve had a single ewe lamb that also had a lamb. Little Maeve later participated in a research project at SVF.