Today brought another lesson that you can’t get answers to questions you don’t ask. All was quiet during my first sheep check a bit before 6 this morning. Around 7 I went out again and heard the cry of a newborn lamb. On my way out to bring Bravo his breakfast I came up with several explanations for the cry that didn’t involve a newborn lamb (since no lambs were due until the first week of May); then I saw the newborn lamb.
The good news is that Bravo seems to have graduated from eating entire lambs to just snacking on ears. The bad news is that I had a distressed newborn lamb with a missing ear, a hungry guardian dog, and no mother in sight. I put down Bravo’s food to keep him occupied, hustled the lamb into the barnyard, and (of course) called Bill. With his calming influence I was able to do some calendar math and narrow down the candidates for the new mother — one of the Romney lambs I got from Jenny Hughes last fall.
Once I got lamb and mother settled into a jug together in the barn, I talked with Jenny and pieced together what had happened. It seems that Jenny had a fence failure a few days before she brought me the three ewes, and a ram spent a couple of hours with the group of ladies. She didn’t think much of it since the adult ewes had already been bred, and the lambs were barely 6 months old, not likely fertile yet. One of the seven lambs in with the ram that day was in fact fertile, and this morning was 147 days later.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of today’s surprise is that I had most of the flock in the handling system yesterday to vaccinate the ewes I expected to lamb in May. I checked all the sheep for body condition, including the one who gave birth this morning. I noticed that she was nice and big, but I was a little surprised at how thin she was. Bill and I actually spent a few minutes debating whether her thinness might be attributable to lambs getting squeezed out from the hay bale by the bigger, older ewes. Neither of us considered the other obvious explanation — that she was thin because she was too young to be carrying a lamb — since she couldn’t be pregnant. If I’d reached under her, I would have felt the fully-developed udder, but I never thought to ask the question. I’m not sure if I’ve learned this lesson yet.
The other good news is that the lamb seems to be doing well. Once I had lamb and mother in the barn, I milked her a bit and tube-fed the lamb, giving him a bit of energy to start figuring out how to nurse. His ear looked horrible, but it didn’t seem to be bothering him that much.
By evening, the ewe was starting to act like she was acknowledging her lamb, and I had gotten him to nurse a couple of times. With any luck, they will have their collective act together by morning. Bigger questions, like whether the ewe will be permanently stunted by giving birth so young, and why I consistently miss the obvious signs in front of me, can wait for the moment.