Rather than using human baby bottles for our lambs, we use bottles specifically designed for sheep and goats. They hold more milk replacer than those designed for humans, and the top opening is wide enough to be able to scrub inside. There is an adapter that brings down the size of the opening so that we can use a special nipple called a Pritchard teat, specifically designed for newborn lambs and kids (goats) and that fits pretty much any pop/soda bottle. These teats, shown below, are not so stiff that a newborn has trouble sucking the milk from the bottle, and we have found that because of the nipple’s distinctive colors, the lambs have an easier time recognizing the source of their milk. This works even if we switch them over to a bucket with teats; when they see the bright red and yellow, they know the milk is there.
This year’s bottle lamb, Quaker, has been getting her milk from a bottle since her birth on March 12. Now nearing two months of age, she is down to just a couple of bottles a day — one in the morning and the other in the evening. It won’t be long before she is weaned and her bottles are a thing of the past — but we aren’t there quite yet.
Although all of our Pritchard teats may seem to be the same, Quaker has convinced me that they are not. As you can see from the unused teat on the left in the photo, we must snip off the tip to allow milk to flow. We have some teats that we have cut fairly close to the tip to provide the opening needed for milk replacer (as in the photo) and others that we have trimmed closer to the base of the tip to increase the size of the opening for the much thicker colostrum that the lambs get for the first couple of days. Even though all of the current teats have been cut at the same point and seem to have the same sized hole at the tip, Quaker can definitely tell the difference between them — and she certainly has a favorite.
This all started weeks ago. Eighteen ounces just wasn’t enough, so I would bring two bottles out to Quaker at every feeding. Each bottle would have its own teat, and sometimes she would quickly drink the entire first bottle — and at other times not. If she didn’t want the first bottle that was offered, she would disgustedly flip the teat out of her mouth and begin poking her nose all over my leg, trying to find an alternative teat. When I would offer the other bottle, she would hungrily latch on and suck down the entire thing!
If she did take the first bottle and finish it, I would offer the second bottle, and she usually flipped it out of her mouth and again begin to root around, looking for an alternative. One day after she had taken the entire first bottle, I thought to take the nipple off of that bottle and screw it onto the second — and she drank nearly the entire second bottle too. I realized at that point that she had one favorite teat and if I offered the wrong one, she was unwilling to compromise — she wanted her favorite! That was when I started bringing out only her favorite teat and switching it over to the second bottle when she finished the first.
That got me wondering: what was she feeling in her mouth that she did or didn’t like? The teats all look identical to me, and they feel identical. It isn’t like one is more or less stiff. I got an up-close look at them, and they seem to be the same size and shape, and even seem to have the same size hole. If I squeeze some milk out through each teat, I get the same sized stream coming from the bottle. Yet there is obviously some difference — a big difference, if you are Quaker!
Over the weeks, I’ve tried several times to fool her, giving her one of the many other Pritchard teats, but she will only happily drink her milk from one of them. I have marked a heart in permanent marker, and I mark it again every time I wash it so I’ll know which is the favorite. It’s a crazy thing, but if this means so much to her – well, it means a lot to me. I just wish we could have a heart-to-heart conversation and she could fill me in on what makes this one teat so very special!