Everybody Loves A Bottle Baby

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.Β  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.

5 Responses to Everybody Loves A Bottle Baby

  1. June says:

    That is my all time favorite book and inspiration for where I am now πŸ™‚ Maybe she posed for the picture and they’re not all bummers? I don’t recall in reading her story that she was overwhelmed with bottle babies in any particular year…. and she did at one point have quite a decent sized flock in the hundreds.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      June, it is one of my favorite books, too, but I haven’t reread it yet this year. πŸ™‚ I always do, and in fact it was because I was looking at the cover that I suddenly had that uncharitable thought. I didn’t remember that she had hundreds of sheep, either. So perhaps my question was quite uncharitable. Sorry!

      But every once in a while I do have this sort of cranky thought. I had one reading a book about Tasha Tudor in which I read that Tasha gave up keeping sheep, (I paraphrase) “because they were so stupid they kept going out and lying down in the road.” I thought crankily to myself: dear Tasha, who is more foolish, the shepherd who lets her flock wander in the road, or the sheep who lie down there?

  2. June says:

    Cranky thoughts are totally normal and absolutely allowed :). I do think she worked her way up to a good size flock, it may not have been while she was publishing her columns.

  3. Tammy says:

    Great post! Last year when I had a cow reject her calf initially, I had people telling me it would be much easier just to bottle feed the calf. Instead, I worked with her for a week or more until she finally let her calf begin nursing without intervention. Not only was it easier on me in the long run, but when she calved this morning, she immediately accepted the baby and let it nurse. Sometimes we do jump in way too soon with the bottle and those bottle babies are precious but I am with you. They do not grow up socialized in the way that is acceptable for animals and have issues resulting from being bottle fed too familiar with humans.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Thanks, Tammy. If I had a serious situation where multiple lambs were not being fed, that appeared to me to be settling in for a long haul, I would get a lamb bucket feeder, so the lambs could be supplemented but would not have the over-familiarity with me.

      Still, despite knowing the downsides, something in you DOES respond when a lamb is crawling all over you, trying to suck on your clothes, nose, ear, fingers, etc! πŸ˜‰

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