Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Raising lambs

On a farm trip at Christmas time I was scanning the paddock with binoculars when I noticed a small lamb, seemingly on its own. Further surveillance uncovered the mother lying down on a dam bank at some distance from the lamb. It was nearing sunset and the mother needed to be more vigilant if her lamb was to survive the night.

I drove down the paddock with my daughter and we found a forlorn sight. The lamb was huddled up near its mother's back and she was lying, breathing hard and unable to get up.

It was unclear what ailed the mother sheep. Was she was still in labour, trying to deliver a twin? Was she simply fatigued from the delivery? She needed to be upright to feed her lamb but she was unable to stand and I was unable to do more than get her into a sitting position.

The lamb appeared to be in good health but was bleating with hunger and was unsure where to feed. Lambs must have an instinct to search upwards for the mother's teat but this poor infant couldn't find anything up high that was producing milk! It tried suckling on the mother's ear! After that I massaged the mum's teats to try and produce a milky smell. I even got the lambs mouth onto the teat but, being so close to the ground and without any scent of milk, she was unsure what to do. We went into rescue mode and took the lamb up to the house for nourishment and safety from predators.

My daughter nursed the lamb while I drove! and the arrival caused much excitement up at the house. Everyone wanted to hold it and feed it. The lamb was ravenous and drank warm milk from a makeshift bottle. We used the finger of a rubber glove over a glass bottle.

After that, the lamb was placed in a box to sleep in the laundry. My son brought the pillow from his own bed for the lamb to sleep on but grandma intervened and suggested some old rags would do! I fed the lamb again at 11pm and he slept for the rest of the evening.

The next day, the lamb was healthy and happy. It fed. It dozed in the sun. It endured the attentions of its fans! Alas, we were all heading back to the city. Despite pleas from the children to take the lamb with us we arranged for my sister to raise the lamb at her farm down the road.

Alas, some days later, and despite every human care being taken, the lamb died from pneumonia.

Because the lamb had not received any milk from its mother, it was missing the vital colostrum that is crucial to building immunity in the early days of life. The mother ewe was elderly and, despite lambing, had not produced the necessary milk to raise her offspring.

On a brighter note, the mother survived! And her lamb provided much delight to our family in her few short days, which is a better outcome than succumbing to a fox or dying slowly of starvation in the paddock.