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And Then There Were Two

February 20, 2010

When my brother and I were raising pigs back in high school in Stillwater, we answered the question, ‘what is the gestation period of a pig?’ with the quip, “Three months, three weeks, three days, and 3 o’clock in the morning.” Here it is, almost 3 in the morning, and I am not raising pigs, but instead dealing with a group of ewes who seem to prefer lambing in the dark. Night before last, Fargo delivered around 9 o’clock, and when I went down to check on her before midnight, she had presented another lamb. However, this one had one leg back instead of the normal ‘nose and toes’ position, making its shoulders too wide for mama to push out. All that was visible was a white lamb head, eyes closed. When you see this the first few times, you wonder if the lamb is alive, because it is so still. However, I knew how long it had been since the first lamb, and all I needed to do was catch mama and help with the delivery.

Fargo cleans the latest arrival, Manitou

I milked out an ounce of colostrum from Fargo, and fed it to the little ewe lamb from a syringe while mama started licking and cleaning it. She had a nice suck reflex and promptly drank the ounce right down. I milked out one more ounce, fed it, and headed to the house to get a few hours of sleep.

This 2 oz feeding is a trick I learned by happy accident during lambing a few years ago. Exhausted after several sleep-deprived days of ewes dropping lambs one right after the other, and unable to get a weak newborn to stand and nurse, I yanked a syringe from my pocket, pulled some milk into the syringe, and managed to coax it to drink a couple of ounces while laying down. Frustrated and feeling helpless, I stood up and said to the lamb, ‘Well, kiddo, I’m going to go get some sleep. I’ll see you in a few hours.’ A few hours later, I returned to the barn to find that ‘weak’ lamb bouncing around and nursing all on its own, and it hit me that all most lambs really need is that first long drink to get a good start. So, I began feeding any non-chilled newborn that I had not seen nurse 2 oz of its mother’s colostrum, and then I didn’t worry about it. The next lambing season, Mom and Dad came to stay for a few days to help out during the busiest time. We lambed out a set of twins around midnight, and I squatted down to milk the ewe into a syringe. Dad asked what I was doing, and when I explained my new ‘rule,’ he said, “Man, I wish I’d known that trick a few years ago. Would have saved me lots of struggling with a lamb who couldn’t figure out how to nurse!”

When I left at midnight, there were two ewes hanging in the hoophouse right next to the barn:

Lusk (left) and Sioux contemplating adoption instead of natural childbirth

Every time a lamb would cry, Lusk would bawl back at it, so I knew her hormones were pretty active, and that she would probably deliver in a few hours. I came back around 4 am, and sure enough, Lusk presented me with a *huge* beautiful white ewe lamb, already cleaned and nursed. (The only pic I have didn’t turn out well, I’ll try to take another one for you.) I turned them into the nursery, and knelt down to give Fargo’s newborns a quick refresher tutorial on how to find the milk faucet, then went back for more sleep.

Here it is, the next night later, and I’m up checking for nighttime arrivals. It’s curious to me as to why this is happening, since I’ve been feeding midday the last four or five years to have some influence towards daytime lambing, mostly with success. Oh well, it is what it is. Off to the barn. Casey, Providence, Reno, and Klondike are all on deck…

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