Springing ’em from the Jug

04 and 05 under the jug heat lamp

According to shepherding books, the rule of thumb when jugging lambs is that you jug a single lamb and mother for one day; twins, two days; and triplets, three days.  I am a worrier and can rarely hold to this. Losing a lamb would be too traumatic for me. Even watching them being bullied by the other ewes in the flock makes me chew my knuckles in anxiety.

Also, I like to space any invasive procedures. I eartag, dock, and castrate my lambs while they are in the jug. Ear tags go in the first day. An ear tag, like a girl’s ear piercing, is a quick owie and then it’s over. I dock tails and castrate with special strong rubber rings, about the size of a Cheerio, that work by cutting off the blood supply. For an hour or so, until the area goes numb, this is definitely uncomfortable. So I do this on two different days, to be sure the lambs are still nursing strongly and generally bouncy.

Bean’s twins, two boys, had been in the jug with their mother for three days. They were tagged, docked, and castrated. They were eating at will. There was no reason to keep them jugged any longer.

But they seem so tiny. Yesterday I compromised and put Bean and the twins in the teen area for the day. Compared to these little boys, last week’s lambs — which are only six days older — looked like Vikings, bursting with health and rude vigor.

It always amuses me to watch my allegiance instantly switch to the underdog. Not many days ago I was holding helpless lamb 02 in my lap, stroking her throat gently to get her to swallow. Now, as she cavorted around the stall, caroming off walls and ewes and kicking up her heels, sneaking under the teen fence to nudge the littlest babies impatiently, she had changed in my mind to “bully girl.”

The twins were tentative and tottering, wobbling and stumbling after their mother. How would I be able to turn them in with all the older ewes at night? Especially at -20° F? As a first step, I put jackets on them to give them a boost of warmth, away from the heat lamp.

I am a softy. I always find it tempting to keep the lambs jugged and safe until they are older… four days, five days, even a week. But I’ve learned through experience that unless there is a compelling reason, it is ultimately not helpful. Kept isolated too long from the flock, the lambs can grow “jug stupid.”

Because their mother is always hovering, they don’t learn to call for her. They don’t learn to differentiate her voice and smell from the voice and smell of other ewes. They don’t learn what it means when a ewe lowers her head as they approach (it means watch out! and get out of the way!). They don’t learn to flee to the safety of the lamb creep, where irritated ewes can’t follow. They don’t learn.

Even I can see the parenting metaphor here.

It’s a bit easier for me with lambs than with children. But not much.

Last night I made myself put Bean and her lambs, little 04 and 05, in the group stall. I watched, wincing, as 04 stumbled in front of Blossom, who immediately mashed him into a wall. 05 was caught in a stampede of legs as the ewes crowded for their supper grain. Oh dear. However by the 10 PM check, both twins were lying peacefully tucked next to their mother, surrounded by large woolly ewes chewing cud.

They might be very small, but they are part of the flock now.


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