cold baby lambs

Sunday, February 9, 2014:

   We grew up in Texas.  It gets cold there in the winter.  Sometimes there’s a frost.  Hauling round bales a mile each way in the rain when it’s thirty-five degrees out and you don’t own a winter coat, you find out just how warm a brown paper feed sack can be when you cut holes in it and wear it.  We aren’t sissies.

   But five degrees is too cold for baby lambs, maybe.  They were born around milking time, and the ewe wasn’t having anything to do with one of them.  The little ram lamb was clean and dry and walking well; the ewe lamb, on the other hand, was hunched, damp, and uncertain on her legs.  We didn’t wait too long before we brought her up, but her body temperature was already dangerously low.  There wasn’t any fight in her.  Fortunately, the good folks at Silo Fence Farm in Minnesota, who are also our valued in-laws, are lamb experts, and on their advice we learned just how good a thing for hypothermia is a bucket of warm water.  Hotter than you would bathe a baby in, and dunk the lamb up to her ears.  Hold her in it for ten minutes or more, rubbing her to get her circulation going.  Then hoik her out, rub her dry (this will require multiple towels), sit down in front of the woodstove with her wrapped in a blanket and offer her a bottle. Raw fresh cow’s milk with a little sugar in it is what the Minnesotans recommended; we added an egg to the milk because of our experience raising baby bulls – the albumin acts as a binder to slow the passage of food just a little, or so the theory goes.  It works for us, anyhow.

   Pretty soon the little girl was exploring under the furniture in the playroom.

   Meanwhile her brother, mama’s good milk notwithstanding, is finding the barn a little too cold.  We who were cold in Texas when it was thirty-five degrees don’t have any idea how cold is too cold for a baby lamb.  Ewe and ram lamb are in a cozy stall with eight inches of hay under them, but at two o’clock the children bring up the ram lamb to all appearances in the last stages of expiring – limp, almost non-responsive.  A finger inserted in his mouth finds it very cold.  Into the bucket of warm water with this one; he seems to be having spasms.  His eyes are rolling, and breathing is hard to detect.  After ten minutes we take him out and dry him but his mouth is still cold, so a fresh bucket of water is prepared and he gets another ten minutes, after which he is still alive, but only just.  We’re not beaten until we’re beaten, though, so we dry him as well as we can, being now soaking wet ourselves, wrap him in blankets, and deposit him in the lap of whichever girl child is in front of the heater.  Infifteen minutes he is guzzling warm milk from a pink baby bottle.

   Love those Minnesota medicine men.

6 thoughts on “cold baby lambs

  1. Gosh, I hope mine don’t get born anytime soon we are -9 tonight. Though we have had them at 0. I usually dry them, put a coat on them and have a heatlamp in the corner of their stall. How sad that their mother will not feed them. I also give mine raw milk. In fact I freeze cows colostrum for just these times. I grew up in sheep country and never heard of the bucket of water, what an excellent idea.Lucky wee lambies. Now I had better go out and check my little mothers.. c

    1. Oh, the story ends happily for the little ram. We warmed and fed him and let him spend the night in the warm basement, and in the morning his mama licked him all over to get the bad human smells off him and he is right as rain. How long do you leave the jacket on them? sounds like a good idea —

    1. Hi, Dad; quite a winter we are having, aren’t we? Hope the joke doesn’t go on too long. We have Katahdins, which are hair sheep (they shed), which is counter-intuitive for a family with multiple shearers available, but we wanted a local source of grass-based, unmedicated, unwormed genetics, and this is what was going. So far, so good.

  2. We are happy the lambs are alive! Were you able to milk the mom out at all for the baby? It’s not easy lambing in a winter climate. It would be a good idea to freeze a bit of your cow colostrum…(like Cecilia says above)…..eventually you will have plenty with your cow herd. Freeze it in small amounts so it is easier to thaw quickly! The young children are a huge help during lambing season as they practice mothering skills and learn kindness. May your good luck continue:) Sandra xo

    1. We always freeze a lot of colostrum — unfortunately, this fall we had a lot of meat to go in the freezer so I thawed all the extra colostrum (about five gallons!) and the pigs got it. The babies are doing fine; the ram lamb was back with mama in a few hours, the ewe lamb is still in the basement, but as soon as the weather warms just a little we’ll put her out in the barn with the rest of the flock and just carry her a bottle four or five times a day.
      We didn’t know initially how much to feed them, and were grossly overfeeding the little ewe. I think she would take three times as much as is good for her if we would let her have it. She has had scours, but with egg in her milk and a little pectin when she is really runny we have kept it under control. Now she is getting two or three ounces, six times a day, which is what our online-source tells us is right.
      Your help and encouragement at the time was just what we needed — thank you! And the dinner party came out all right despite the chaos of the day; Sylvie and Elizabeth were over for the afternoon, and with their help the girls and I managed in the end.
      love to everyone —

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