I rushed into the barn this morning after spying (via the barn camera) a couple of new lambs in the drop pen. I knew without looking that they belonged to Osage, who had been exhibiting all of the signs of impending labor when I had gone to sleep last night. Our ewes are usually very good at delivering their own lambs and getting them cleaned up and fed. I try to be there in case they need help, but like this morning, it doesn’t always happen.
When I entered the drop pen, however, there was quite a bit of confusion. Natasha was happily showing off a solid black lamb as her own, while Osage stood guard over a smaller moorit lamb and didn’t allow any other ewes near. I knew that Natasha was technically due on Wednesday and Osage on Friday, so both were within their normal delivery range and could be the dam of either or both lambs. It isn’t common for two ewes to deliver at exactly the same time, so I always look upon this type of situation with suspicion. Particularly since I knew that both Natasha and Osage had ultrasounded with twins, it seemed odd that each had carried only a single — and dropped it at the same time as the other. I knew it was more likely that one of these two girls was a lamb thief!
Stealing another ewe’s lambs is not an unusual occurrence, given the right circumstances. It usually happens when the ewes in the drop pen are due to deliver lambs within the same 24- to 48-hour period. One ewe will deliver her first lamb, clean it off, and maybe get it fed. At some point, the ewe will lie down and begin to push the next lamb out. At that point, the first lamb is likely wandering around the drop pen, calling for its mother. (The reason we lock them into the drop pen in the barn is to keep the lamb from wandering off in the snow!) The scent of amniotic fluid on the still-damp newborn lamb is very enticing to ewes in the drop pen who at the very end of their gestation. It is easy for them to convince themselves that this lamb is theirs and to begin licking it and calling to it as their own. The lamb knows no better — it has had only a few minutes of interaction with its mother while still trying to figure out where it was and what had happened to the nice warm fluid-filled existence it so recently left. A sweet ewe nuzzling, licking, and nudging it towards a teat is just what the new lamb is looking for, so it settles right in to be mothered by the lamb thief.
I knew it had happened this morning; the challenge was to figure out which lamb belonged to which ewe. I had two lambs (one black, one brown) and two ewes claiming them (again, one black, one brown). Genetically, either ewe could have delivered the pair, or (less likely) they could have each delivered one and be waiting to deliver the twin. A quick check of back ends told me all I needed to know: Osage had delivered the pair, and Natasha had simply decided to steal the wandering firstborn.
The problem in this situation is trying to set things right. If I left the one lamb with Natasha, she would likely end up with two more before the end of today, and that would be too many lambs for her to keep fed. Triplets are fine if they come naturally, but under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t set up a ewe with triplets if she was only carrying twins. Osage is perfectly able to feed both of her boys (the black one is now called Rapaho, and the brown one Redwood), and I needed to get them back into her care. This was easier said than done, however. By the time I arrived in the barn, Natasha was fully convinced that this black lamb was her own — and she fought for him as would any mother being separated from her child. Eventually I was able to do my own stealing, and I whisked him away to the lambing jug that I had set up at the very back of the barn for Osage and her lambs — the farthest possible jug from the drop pen where Natasha cried out for “her” lamb. Rapaho began to bond to his real mother, Osage, who well remembered her lost firstborn. She quickly began to lick and nurture both of her boys.
As I left the barn to return to the house, I could still hear Natasha, calling and calling in the cold morning air for her lost lamb. Thankfully, Rapaho was no longer answering her. Instead he was softly responding to the murmurs of his mother and curling up in a nice warm spot with his brother. As terrible as she feels now, I know Natasha will get over this. It won’t be much longer before she, too, finds herself in a nice peaceful jug, bonding with her own lambs and forgetting the one that I stole away.
Our 2018 Winter Shearing fleeces will be posted to our notification list this Thursday afternoon. It is my goal to get it out between 4 and 5 p.m. CST, but this will be very dependent on what happens out in the lambing barn that day. If we have lambs delivered at that time, I will get the emails out as soon as possible after that time.