After only a day or so after lambing began I had a full time bottle baby. He was the largest of a set of triplets and was stolen at birth by the ewe next door who had lambed on the first day. She loved him, cleaned him, parked him next to her lamb and called him back if he left the pen. She was the perfect mother with one exception - she wouldn't let him feed. Each time he moved towards her udder she realised her mistake and hopped around the pen as if she were on hot coals. The poor little fellow persisted but without luck. Of course his mum wouldn't have him back. He smelled wrong to her, she’d never really had a chance to meet him after her was born and she had two lambs to take her attention anyway.
We had the pens set up to theoretically prevent the lambs moving from pen to pen, but this little boy had great athletic skills. If hurdles were an Olympic event for sheep he’d be a real contender. After each unsuccessful attempt to feed from the lamb-napper he’d remove himself from the pen and sit out in the little alley way and sulk. The lamb-napper and her lamb were duly put out after two nights in the shed and the little now motherless fellow spent his days stealing milk from the ewes around him. Despite my dutifully bringing him a bottle four times a day, he always told me he preferred sheep milk. When no-one was in the shed to stop him he hopped from pen to pen stealing as much milk as he could before he was kicked out by the outraged ewe.
Over the years I've hardened my heart to dead lambs and while I feel desperately sorry for those who struggle to survive. I've try to be as pragmatic as possible but sometimes I fail. I soon learnt I couldn't break my heart over every little lamb who didn't make it. Each year brings its share of these lambs. Some are born dead; others just seem to fade away despite anything we can do for them. One day during lambing I just sat and cried over the latest little one - a little ewe lamb I'd been trying to feed since she was born.
She was a twin and her mum seemed to have only enough milk for one. She fussed over both lambs and looked after them well, but they were not thriving after just one day. The little boy was a fighter and manages to be fed while the little girl gave up right from the beginning. I took her on as my second full time bottle baby and supplementary fed her twin until we were sure his mum could raise him in the paddock. The little ewe lamb had been drinking less and less each day until I couldn't get any milk into her at all the one night. I told Graeme she wasn't going to survive and came to terms with that as I tend to do on these occasions. One morning I went over to feed the lambs to find her lying quietly in the alley way where we had kept her with the other motherless bottle baby. I sat in there and fed the ram lamb, deciding to leave her alone as she was near the end. I talked to the little boy as I fed him and she heard my voice. She crawled over because she couldn't stand any longer so I picked her up thinking she wanted some milk. She didn't, she just wanted to be held. I sat and stroked her, talking to her the best I could through my tears and settled her into sleep again. It took a while and I think Graeme thought I should just put her down and get on with feeding all the triplet babies we are going to steal when their mums were put out, but I couldn't abandon this little girl. Graeme came over; saw me in tears and left again to do the watering - a wise move on his part I wished there was an easy way to hasten her demise but with lambs there's nothing much humane we can do. I make them as comfortable as possible and usually leave them alone once they are past helping. Graeme came back from the shed at lunchtime to tell me she was dead. It looked like she didn't move from where I placed her once she was sleeping again so hopefully she just passed away easily and quietly.
Sorry for the sad story but I really felt for the little girl and mourned her loss.
On a much happier note the gang of 12 are all growing well, mug us unashamedly every time we go over to the lambing shed where they are kept in a huge pen at the front so they can sunbathe on warmer days and sit in the shade a bit further back in the shed should the sun get too warm. They each have a strong personality of their own, but I’m not allowed to name them apart from the number spray painted on their back so we can tell who has been fed and who hasn’t. Lambs are not above looking starved to death and scoffing down a second bottle before we realise he or she was in the first round of those fed.
We now have a system for feeding such a large number of lambs. We tried lamb feeders but found that some lambs won’t persist long enough for the milk to come through and walk away, while those more stubborn lambs drink way too much now the herd has been thinned. So hand feeding it is. Graeme set up a small pen within the large lamb raising area of the shed. He lifts the six smallest lambs into to the pen then we feed the larger lambs on the outside. We used to feed the smaller lambs first but once we were out with the now starving to death and determined to get their milk no matter how rough they had to be with us lambs, we were nearly battered to death in their efforts to get at the bottles. The larger lambs proved much calmer about the whole feeding process if they were allowed to go first. The smaller lambs are eager to get their milk when we move into the small pen, but in the cramped space they can’t get quite as rough as their larger siblings.
Graeme and I have developed a great method to feed three at a time. It’s not very elegant but the lambs don’t mind. We sit down on an upturned bucket each, hold a bottle in each hand, holding on tight to the base of the teat so the lamb doesn’t pull it off and have the third bottle tightly held between our knees with a lamb tucking in. We have to choose the lamb for the between the knee bottle carefully. Most lambs are easily distracted and if the lamb comes off the bottle we can’t move it closer to the lamb’s mouth. A lamb who has come off the teat doesn’t automatically reattach to that teat. The lamb’s first thought is that the bottle being consumed by the lamb next to it is a much better, tastier bottle than the one where the teat is being waved in front of his/her mouth.