D brought his granddaughter out last weekend to feed lambs on a bottle. Here Emma is feeding Madeleine’s small ram lamb, Yellow 22, not yet tagged.
Bottle-feeding can save lambs and calves and I do it as often as I need to. Everybody loves bottle babies. The creatures that normally run from you, run to you. Great for the ego.
The problem is that bottle-fed babies grow up and become problematic when they are big, strong, and working out their identity crises on you. As a teenager I raised a raccoon on a bottle and though she was the cutest kit in the world, riding on my shoulder, as a moody 20-pound adult raccoon who knew how to manipulate latches, open house doors, and clear the tables, she was less adorable. Similarly, bottle rams and bulls are by far the most dangerous creatures in the barnyard.
So I do my best to avoid extended bottle-feeding when I can, and I try even harder to avoid taking the babies away from their own kind. If I have to bring a lamb into the house, I get it back to the flock just as soon as I think it can survive there. Almost always, the barn is safest and best. I once sold a bottle lamb to an enthusiastic woman who let it tip-tap all over her house as a pet. Within a fortnight it ate a poisonous houseplant and died.
I love to read farming memoirs and one of my favorites shows the author almost buried in a pile of bummer lambs. It’s a beautifully written book and a dear photograph but now I scrutinize both more critically.
Now I think, what is wrong with her husbandry if in a small flock she has so many bottle lambs year after year?
This year I’m supplementing five newborn lambs, the most ever. I will soon stop feeding Blossom’s lambs; they’re gradually losing their “under-inflated” appearance. With luck, a few days after that I can stop supplementing Madeleine’s lambs. And finally, if I’m successful treating Lily’s mastitis, her lamb, too, should eventually be able to manage without me.
I don’t really mind the extra work. I simply am uncomfortably aware that a better farmer would not have kept and bred the first two ewes, creating the situation in the first place, and that the babies will be happier in the long run if they are confident they are sheep.
However, in the meantime I think I will call my friend Leon so his kids can come out and feed the lambs. They’re pretty cute.