Another lamb born this morning. I saw it at 6:30, brought to my notice when I heard it bleating at the edge of the field. I’d estimate it was about 20 minutes old. Worryingly, the mother (a first timer) was nowhere near it.
This is a concern because normally a ewe that has just given birth will instinctively start licking the new arrival clean. This is the beginning of the all-important bonding that takes place between the ewe and the lamb (or lambs) which can affect their survival. They get to know each other’s smell and sounds and it is important for establishing mutual recognition. The licking and grooming also stimulates the lamb and encourages it to seek out the udder to suckle and access its initial food source, and the vital colostrum, in those first few hours after birth.
Lambs are most vulnerable in the first three days after birth. Whilst potential obstetric issues tend to be the uppermost concern, the initial mothering process is just as important for the survival of a new lamb. Part of my routine, like many other sheep keepers, is to pen ewe and lambs up in a small bonding enclosure. I check that the ewe has milk by milking both teats. This also removes a fatty plug if the lamb hasn’t already suckled. Then it’s a matter of watching to see if the lamb suckles. It might initially need pointing in the right direction but you can otherwise leave the lamb and the ewe to get on with it. Once the lamb is suckling then both quickly get into the routine and all is usually fine. A watchful eye is still needed, however.
In this case I located the relevant ewe (easy enough since she had umbilicus trailing from her rear end) and moved her into a bonding pen where I had placed the lamb. The teats looked okay and both produced milk. However, the ewe was not interested in licking the lamb clean and would not allow the lamb, who was searching for the teats, to suckle. I left them to it for an hour and went back to have a look. The lamb was sitting in the corner on its own with the ewe showing no interest - not a good sign. I got it on its feet and placed it at the teat end of the ewe. She used her head to shove the lamb away. A worse sign. Hand rearing a lamb, though sometimes the only option, is far less preferable than its mother doing the job, for all sorts of reasons.
After several unsuccessful attempts over the next hour or so, with the ewe butting her lamb away, a more assertive approach was called for. I pinned her against the barn wall and at the same time coaxed the lamb to the teats. Eventually he (its a ram lamb) latched on and suckled while I kept the ewe still. A couple of hours later, more head butting the lamb away. I repeated the operation. Back again early afternoon. This time I gave the ewe some feed. This kept her still without having to pin her against the wall freeing me up to coax the lamb to find the teats. Back again late afternoon and while the ewe ate, the lamb found its own way to the teats to suckle. During the evening I went to see how things were going and the ewe was standing for the lamb to suckle. This was a relief to see, enough to exclaim, Professor Higgins style, ‘by George she’s got it!’
We are not entirely out of the woods, after all the lamb is just half a day old. At the moment the ewe seems to be tolerating the lamb rather than demonstrating effusive motherliness. But hopefully its a case of a young ewe still learning what it means to be a mother. A close eye needs to be kept to monitor progress. An eventful Mother’s Day all round.
|By George, she's got it!