So now I had three lambs, but two required care and feeding.
Lamb 02 continued to be slow and uncoordinated. Though she had finally begun to suck at the bottle when I slipped the nipple in her mouth, she was half-hearted. She wobbled on unsteady legs. I had never seen her try to nurse her mother, Blossom. Blossom did not know what to do. She licked her lamb and made encouraging noises in her throat, but 02 did not answer. Ewes and their lambs bond in an instinctive call-and-response exchange; 02’s lack of response left Blossom bewildered. The moment any other lamb bleated, Blossom was ready to abandon this strange, silent lamb and go to the one crying. Only the confines of the jug kept her focused on the job.
I decided I simply had to keep feeding 02, praying that her brain eventually would switch on.
The issue in the other jug was not with the lamb. Lamb 03 was huge, cheerful, and strong. He roared for food every half hour. The problem was with his mother, Mango, who would not stand still to let him nurse. After just two feedings 03 recognized that I came bearing warm bottles and would scramble to me the moment I appeared. He sucked so enthusiastically he gobbled six ounces in less than a minute. I was sure that if I could just get him latched onto a teat, he would be home free.
His dam, Mango, had been a good mother to twins last year. Now that I thought about it, though, I’d had the same problem with her then. I’d needed to bottle her lambs for two days until they got strong enough to persist and pursue her. At the time I had believed it was due to her inexperience with motherhood. But perhaps it was edema at freshening, causing udder soreness.
Whatever it was, last year’s struggle had left me wishing for a sheep stanchion to safely hold a ewe immobilized. Now I decided to throw a quick one together out of scraps. I gathered a few pieces of 2×4 and a couple of bolts. For the sake of speed and simplicity, I would build my stanchion into my hay feeder.
A stanchion works by having one stationary bar and a second bar that opens and closes around the animal’s neck, pivoting on a bolt at the base and locking with another bolt at the top.
My friend Natalie stopped by just as I was starting the project and took these pictures. It was only slightly above zero, and the bit smoked in the cold as I drilled holes for the top and bottom bolts.
Enticing Mango to stick her head into the open stanchion with a pan of sweet feed, I closed the bar against her neck and pushed the locking bolt home. She was not pleased. There was a pause while she kicked and threw her hind legs around, bleating furiously.
Once she was calm again I began sawing off wads and wads of fleece with a pair of scissors. The task was complicated by 03, who was determined to climb into my arms for the bottle he could smell in my breast pocket under my jacket.
Finally the udder was clear of wool. However now I had to convince 03 to cooperate. He did not want to duck his head under that dark damp fleece; he wanted me to pull his bottle of my pocket! His response to having his mother’s nipple stuffed in his mouth was outrage. His legs collapsed in protest.
I could not see under Mango and was feeling for her nipple and guiding 03’s mouth with my hands.
“C’mon, sweetie — this is The Source of all Goodness!”
He spat it out.
I tried milking a tiny stream to give him the idea. His head was soon dripping with milk but he remained uninterested and indignant. This went on for twenty minutes. With my face in Mango’s wool and my arms full of lamb, I was sweating profusely.
“You are so patient,” Natalie observed. I laughed. I have no patience, but I do have a lot of tolerance for confused babies.
Of course Freddie arrived to supervise and lend his support.
I sweated on, shucking hat and jacket. Then, suddenly, finally — success! Lamb 03 started to suck!
It was the breakthrough. As I suspected, once 03 understood the location of the permanent milk bar, he was off and running without a backward glance.
The next morning I cut and added a few more scraps to make the stanchion sturdier. It’s not a thing of beauty, but a steel one from a farm store costs $130 and this cost me nothing.
I’ve already realized several ways I might improve it — but chances are I’ll never get around to making those upgrades. One thing I always remember when looking around a farm is that most of the projects and repairs have been done by someone who was busy with something else at the time.