Just as with people, sheep mothers come in various flavors. Some, like Myth, are very regimented, insisting that even their newborn lambs nurse according to a schedule. Others, like our previous flock matriarch Zoe, are willing to feed any lambs — often finding a lost lamb and nudging it towards her own teats. Most fall somewhere between: ignoring the lambs of other ewes and reserving their mothering and milk only for their own.
Then there’s Odelia. We knew right from the start that there were going to be issues. There were signs even as I settled her and her two lambs into the lambing jug. As her babies stumbled around, trying to get their legs underneath them, she spent an unreasonable amount of time staring at Poison’s boy, Rush, next door. The jugs are divided by open panels, and within a very short time, Odelia decided that Rush was a threat to her lambs. Every time he came near, she would ram the panel — sometimes running over her own lambs in the process.
As the firstborn live lamb of this year, Rush was enchanted by the presence of new lambs right next door. But whenever he stuck his head through the open panel to get a closer look, Odelia was right there, running full speed at the poor little guy! Within a very short time, we decided it was unsafe to keep the panel so open, and we covered it with a bed sheet so that she couldn’t see him.
I knew that Odelia and her twins would eventually meet with Poison and Rush in the mixing pen, and they needed to get along. Once Odelia had been given enough time to bond with her lambs, I decided to pull back the sheet just enough so that she’d get an occasional peek at Rush, but not so much that it threatened him or her own lambs. The plan didn’t work well. I peeled back only about one foot of the sheet on the end near the water bucket, and once I did so, Rush spent his entire day in that one foot of open space, staring at Rhodes and Rhoda next door — and getting slammed by Odelia almost constantly! In fact, she bloodied her head and bent the panel. It was not good.
I left them in the jugs for a long time, much longer than we normally do. I peeled back the curtain a little more each day, but Odelia would have none of it. I finally decided that we needed the jug space, which meant that all of the ewes with lambs old enough to mix were going into the mixing pen. Hopefully we would settle this mess in there. We moved Poison with Rush, Odelia with Rhodes and Rhoda, and Koko with RC into the mixing pen. Odelia immediately claimed one corner for her lambs and stood guard; any lamb looking in their direction suffered a direct hit, and any ewe coming too close was punished for her transgression. Odelia was seriously crabby!
Rush and RC quickly learned to steer clear of Odelia and her lambs, and I felt bad for Rhodes and Rhoda, who obviously wanted to play with the others. Myth was added with her triplets, and they, too, learned to stay away from the trio in the corner. They figured out that if Odelia moved out of her corner, she was out for blood and so they’d better hide in the creep area (which allows entry only to lambs) until the threat was over. Things eventually settled down, and the band of five little lambs began to run and play in earnest, hopping onto hay bales and generally tearing around the pen, having fun and expressing their joy. All this time, poor Rhodes and Rhoda were kept secluded in their corner by the overprotective Odelia.
This morning we emptied the last two jugs into the mixing pen, moving Natasha (with Rodion and Roksana) and Osage (with Rapaho and Redwood). Anytime we add more sheep, the whole pen becomes a mass of confusion as ewes are afraid that someone has stolen their lambs and the lambs try to figure out where their mothers are. It usually takes a half hour or so for the little families to find each other and settle down, and such was the case this morning — except for one thing. Osage was having none of this crabby Odelia stuff. You might say that Osage was on the warpath!
It took Odelia coming after one of Osage’s lambs only once to make Osage decide to teach Odelia a lesson — head-butting her over and over again. Odelia was determined, obviously feeling like she was fighting for the well-being of her lambs, but Osage was determined too. I had been surprised that no previous ewe had called Odelia on her aggression — they had simply moved out of her way. But Osage was unwilling to allow Odelia’s belligerence. Around and around the feeder they went, pushing, shoving, head-butting, and generally causing a commotion. The lambs were so unsure of the situation that they gathered in the creep pen, where they could observe while outside the line of fire.
It took a couple of hours before the battle ended. Odelia’s outlook is a bit softer now. She is allowing her lambs to play with the others, although not for very long. Change takes time, and we’ve had a good first step. She no longer pounds on any lamb that walks by. Sometimes, she’ll pull back, ready to thump them, but then she looks up at Osage and turns away. The mixing pen is once again a peaceful place — just the way we like it, with gamboling lambs and calm ewes. Thankfully, crabby Aunt Odelia seems to have lost her crabby ways.