I put my ewe Lily in the jug Saturday night. She seemed ready to pop. However she always carries enormously and she has fooled me before, huge and lumbering and happy to eat extra grain in the jug for a week. I checked her regularly. No lambs.
At chores yesterday morning Lily was looking pensive. I leaned on the jug and wondered.
As a test, I put her breakfast sweet feed on top of her hay. She ignored it. A hen jumped into the jug to gobble the free treat.
That clinched it. Now I knew she was in labor. Lily is an insatiable chow-hound and for her to allow a chicken to steal her grain meant something momentous was underway.
My teaching schedule has been flipped for the week so I was able to return to the barn two hours later, just in time to greet the soaking newborns, shivering in the -7 ° cold. A strong and healthy ram and ewe pair, 12.3 and 11.1 lbs, respectively.
Lily was nickering softly to them and licking their wet and steaming coats devotedly, but they would have frozen before they dried. Lily is quite tame after her bout with mastitis three years ago. She watched calmly as I scooped up each lamb, rubbed it dry with a towel, dipped its navel in iodine, pulled a fleece jacket over its head, and fed it an ounce of warm milk as a jump-start.
Most shepherds I know do not bottle-supplement their lambs. I am aware that my interference may be unnecessary. However I’m also aware that studies show most newborn lambs that die succumb to simple starvation. Hypothermia, a major threat in these mountains, is the second leading cause of death. I can avert both with the warm bottle of milk I carry inside my coveralls. It’s tedious to be constantly heating and washing bottles (and washing my jacket when they leak) but it’s easy insurance ready in my pocket. The day I skip the bottle is inevitably the day I find cold, limp newborns and need one.
In Lily’s case I’m even more vigilant. Lily is my oldest ewe. She was the first purebred Clun Forest lamb born at Fairhope Farm, the daughter of my foundation ewe Blackberry and my first purebred ram, Ioan. In 2012 Lily survived a terrible bout with mastitis but was left with only one functioning teat. I was urged by professionals to cull her. Life was hard and sad, and I couldn’t do it.
In 2013 Lily had a single lamb, so there was no problem. Last year she happened to lamb with twins at the very moment Mulberry lambed with a single. Both ewes were confused by the plethora of wet babies; I played God and gave Lily’s twin to Mulberry to raise.
Now Lily has twins again and there is no foster mother in the wings. My vet, David, assured me back in 2012 that a ewe could nurse twins with one teat. I’m praying he is correct.
In the meantime, until the lambs are alert enough to avoid the blind left teat and make their way to the milky right side, I’ll be ready with a warm bottle.
Here they are at the usual late night check. (Every night I drive down to the farm before bedtime with my coveralls over my pajamas.) I topped the lambs up with a few swigs from the bottle, just in case, but they were already warm and fed. Lily is another good mother.
It was -21° F at 4 this morning. Looking at the forecast, the frigid cold appears to be settling in for another week. I will be keeping jumper cables, dry towels, and milk bottles ready.