Yesterday I found my first two lambs at morning chores. I had already fed the horse and cattle before I noticed them. The twin lambs were up and dry, tottering silently in a corner of the big sheep stall.
It was 10° F.
I could see one of the ewes nuzzling the newborns, but in the noisy chaos of jostling sheep as I poured the breakfast grain into the feeder I could only tell that it was one of the ewes I bought from Kimberly last year. I scooped up the lambs and carried them to a jug in the lambing stall. Then I went back to the ewes and tried to figure out who was the mother. None of the ewes had the usual tell-tale bloody bottom. Was the new mom Geranium, or was it Magnolia?
To make separating easier, I dumped some sweet feed in a pan in the jug. Hearing the familiar rattle of grain, all the ewes rushed the gate and tried to stampede into the lambing stall. I had to swoop quickly to rescue the lambs from trampling. Holding them in my arms I shoved out all the girls except Geranium and Magnolia. Geranium was nickering to the lambs between frenzied gobbles so I knew it was she. I pushed Magnolia out and closed the door.
After dipping their navels in iodine I weighed both lambs. 7 lbs, 1 oz and 7 lbs, 8 oz, a nice set of twins. However both were listless. They did not struggle or cry. They had the lightweight feeling of empty-bellied lambs.
Geranium is two years old and this is her first lambing. She had great instincts, nickering encouragingly and pawing at the lambs to rouse them, but once on their feet the lambs just stood with their backs hunched. They seemed too wan to search for a teat.
I put jackets on both lambs and reached under Geranium to palpate her udder. Everything felt round, warm, and normal. However when I tried to express some milk, I could only bring a drop to the end of each teat. Geranium appeared to have almost zero milk. Five minutes of effort on two separate tries gave me a scant tablespoon of thick yellow colostrum.
I raced outside, grabbed Moxie’s halter, and brought her, protesting, back into the barn. While she ate a snack I milked twelve ounces of warm foamy milk into a bottle, mixing it with the colostrum. I fed this to the lambs, aiming to get an ounce into each boy.
The larger lamb, in the red jacket, immediately perked up after feeding. He began to stagger and cry. The smaller lamb, in blue, had a limited sucking reflex and I had to stroke his throat to get him to swallow.
While they collapsed for a nap under the heat lamp, I went home for breakfast.
I topped the lambs up with an ounce of cow’s milk apiece every four hours through the day. By early afternoon, little Red Jacket had found the udder and was butting his mother for colostrum.
By early evening, little Blue Jacket had also figured it out.
Geranium has excellent mothering instincts. She paws the lambs to their feet every forty minutes or so for nursing. However I checked her teats at the end of the day and while she is now giving more than a drop at a time, it could still be measured in half teaspoons.
I am not sure what is causing her low milk supply. Clun Forest sheep are normally very milky. Geranium is well-nourished and has plenty of water. Because my mind always leaps to catastrophe, I immediately thought of Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP), a “silent” disease in sheep that among other symptoms causes little or no milk at lambing. Please, no. I resolved that on his next farm call I would have my vet draw blood samples from Geranium and two other random ewes to test for OPP, just in case.
However for now I am hoping the problem is simply “new mother shock” and will resolve itself with rest, good food, and lots of udder stimulation (nursing from the lambs).
I gave Geranium a treat of beautifully leafy green second-cut hay and added a bit of molasses to her drinking water. She is perfectly alert, eating well, and devoted to her lambs.
By the end of the day the new family was cozy in the barn corner.
One ewe down, six to go — I pray in the next two weeks.