Mulberry Keeps It Going


My ewe Mulberry lambed at 5 PM yesterday, approximately fifteen minutes before I got to the barn. She had not passed the afterbirth yet. Again, I was lucky to find the lambs so soon, as these twins (another pair of twins!) were soaking wet, cold, and small. It was too hectic to take the time to weigh them — I’ll do it today — but I believe they are about 7 lbs each. They looked tiny compared to Lily’s 12-pound whoppers in the jug next door.

I often used to get small lambs but my feeding regimen has improved so much they are the anomaly now. Mulberry has given me three sets of twins in three years. (Yes, I know I wrote differently yesterday, but as I always teach my students, written history is generally simplified. I’ll explain soon.) Despite the careful feeding, small lambs are the norm for Mulberry. I’ll have to figure out what keeps her lambs from gaining in utero. But not today. Today’s job is to keep these alive.

I had a warm bottle under my coveralls and within twenty minutes I was able to get the babies mostly dry, iodined, jacketed, and fed. Unfortunately the lambs did not respond by searching for their mother’s teat, as lambs usually do, or by relaxing into sleep. They continued to stand stiffly like small, cold toys.

Mulberry knew they had not nursed and so she pawed them repeatedly. This pawing looks (and is) rough — the uninitiated may even think it’s an attack — but it is driven by the powerful maternal instinct that tells a mother babies must eat. Mulberry’s pawing was flipping the twins onto their backs and scraping bare wet spots in the deep bedding, but still they did not try to nurse.

As I hurried through the rest of my barn chores the lambs continued to look small, stunned, and withdrawn.

After dealing with the cattle I climbed into the jug and stripped Mulberry’s teats. She has a fine milk supply and was reasonably tolerant of my attentions. I could not get the lambs to suckle.

I drove back to the barn at 7:30, 9:15, 11:00, and again at 3:30 AM. The dilemma was whether to bottle feed the lambs to keep them alive at -15° F, or insist they nurse and have them freeze to death if they weren’t successful. I decided to bottle-feed them.

At 3:30 AM the lambs were still living but still off. Mulberry is worried, and so am I.

This morning I will take two bottles to the barn. The first will be the usual warm bottle of milk replacer. The second will be empty. I will try to milk a few ounces of colostrum from Mulberry and get it into those lambs.

I have a crazy schedule and teach until 9:15 tonight. It will be a long day.


2 Responses to Mulberry Keeps It Going

  1. Michelle Canfield says:

    NSIP has a metric for maternal birth weight (MBWT). It is heritable. A lot of it is related to gestation length- the longer in the cooker, the bigger the lamb. But there are other factors, too, so it is considered a “womb environment” measure. I wonder if her gestation length is short, contributing to her lambs’ small size, and also their lack of vigor? Maybe they are on the edge, only 142 days old or so, and just don’t have the strength that a lamb that’s in there for 5-7 more days might enjoy?

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      That’s very interesting! I did not know it and it makes perfect sense. I will have to try to track Mulberry’s gestation time next year. She is a full sister (two years younger) to Lily, whose lambs are much bigger — but we all know sisters can be very different! 😉

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