The title of this post is in honor of all the football playoffs happening today. As in “Da Bears”. This is Bean. As in Little Bean. As in Beanie Weenie. As in the cutest little sheep baby you’ve ever seen. On January 8th, Wallula gave birth to twins, one girl and one boy. The boy was the smaller of the two. At first, everything seemed fine. But after a day or so, we started to see her push him out of the way when he tried to nurse. We put her and the babies in a stall for a couple of days, and secured her head so the little boy could eat 3 or 4 times a day. But she still wasn’t interested in him.
My husband and I both have degrees in biology. We’re big believers in natural selection. I feel like we humans have done more damage than good in our efforts as domestic livestock caretakers to save every animal, no matter the cost. Animals that give birth while the baby is facing the wrong way in the birth canal and need to be pulled out with force. Animals that reject their young and are not good mamas. Animals that need a LOT of human intervention just to survive. That is not what this farm is about. Every animal we have has been chosen for its ability to make our lives easier, and its offspring stronger, on its own. So when Wallula rejected her boy, and then we noticed that he had scours (better known in human lingo as diarrhea) we thought that maybe she knew something about him that we didn’t. Maybe he’s sick or otherwise unfit? We were ready to let nature take its course, or assist in the end if necessary.
I, of course, got online and read about bummer lambs (the name for the lamb that a mama rejects or can’t feed adequately). And one of the things I read was that if they get too much milk at once, they get scours. And I started to think about the baby getting a good long drink from mama while she was tied up. Mamas normally don’t let their babies nurse for more than 15 or 20 seconds at a time. So maybe the scours was our fault, from letting him have too much milk at once.
And what if she was rejecting him, not because there was anything wrong with him, but because she was looking at the available forage in early January, not understanding that humans were going to give her food every day, and decided she just didn’t have enough food available to feed two babies? What if the rejection was our fault, for allowing the animals to breed so that they would be giving birth in January? I lay in bed Saturday night (Sunday morning, really) and thought, “I just can’t do it. I have to give him a chance and see what happens”.
Well, I’ve never fed an animal from a bottle. But we had bought nipples and milk replacer last year, just in case, so I had what I needed. These are pretty wild sheep. They do not think of humans as their friends. So it was quite the rodeo the first couple of days, to catch the little boy (who I had started to call Bean), set him in my lap, and get him to take a bottle 4 or 5 times a day. (Oh, and those people who keep the lamb in their living room for days or weeks and wake up at 3:00 am for a feeding…well, I wanted to save him. I didn’t want to save him THAT badly. He gets his last feeding around 9:00 pm and his first morning feeding at about 7:30 am.)
But after a few days, he started to get it, and now, after a week, he REALLY gets it. He knows my voice. He comes to me when I call his name and shake his bottle. And he sucks down his bottle with gusto. No more scours. And then he goes back to his mama (who still looks after him, even though she still won’t feed him), and the rest of the sheep, so that he remembers who he is.
We moved the flock to the back yard last week. We had a lot of grass left out there (the advantage of not getting around to mowing late in the season) and there is pretty much nothing left in the front pasture. They might as well eat the lawn (though we realize that nutritionally, it’s not all that great). Everyone has been enjoying it. The sheep because they have food to eat and something to do all day, and me, because I love looking out the window while I’m doing dishes and watching the flock. Ghost had her baby today in the back yard, which is pretty cool. Yesterday, I watched Bean and his sister Butter, and one of the other two older babies, chase each other around the oak tree trunk in the back yard. Hard to beat that.
Here’s a video of feeding time. Cocoa, the female being a pest, is our one friendly sheep. We suspect she might have been a bottle baby herself. She’s all about the treats, and that’s what she was looking for.
Note, we’ll be having some grown male lambs butchered this Tuesday the 21st. Contact me if you’d like to buy some wonderful pastured lamb meat! And so the cycle continues.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2014, where my husband is a die-hard Broncos fan and I live in Washington, home of the Seahawks. So this superbowl should be interesting!