Before I had sheep, I guess I didn’t give how they mother much thought. If I had, I think I would have assumed that Mother Nature had blessed them with mothering intuition that was pretty much standard – they knew what they needed to know and that was that!
A our flock grew and we ended up with two similar but also very different breeds, I got to know our ewes not only as a group, but also as individuals. They each have their own personalities and, as such, their own way of being in and interacting with the world around them. This time of year, the biggest differences I see is in how they mother. Very much like human mothers, sheep mothers each have their own style – and their lambs, too, have their own personalities and so react to their mothers in their own ways.
Take for example, Poison and her daughter Qorro. Poison is basically the sheep equivalent of a teenage mom. She had her daughter a week after her first birthday, and has been a very good mother – perhaps too good! Poison is a very attentive mother – almost what we would call a “helicopter mom” in the human world. From the very beginning when she entered the mixing pen, she would calk and call for Qorro to join her. It seemed that Qorro couldn’t move more than a couple of feet away before Poison was calling her back. The other lambs would run and play together, but if any came near to Qorro, Poison was quick to push them away. I really felt sorry for Qorro – all alone with her hovering mama. Yet, it wasn’t long before Qorro figured out her own solution: ignore mom! She would spend all of her time in the creep area where her mother could not enter, and if her mother called, she would continue to play there with friends or lie there happily cudding. She saw no reason to disturb her routine simply because her mother wanted her back – her mother always wanted her back! What is even more interesting to me is that Poison did the exact same thing to her mother Jypsi when Poison was a lamb, and Jypsi did the same to her mother Honey years before!
There are other mothering types, too. O’Chloe has twins Qelton and Qloe, two lambs that are easy to pick out from among the Romneys because they are the smallest of the group. When O’Chloe wants her lambs to stop playing with friends to check in, she will begin to call out to them to come to her. She doesn’t go looking for them – she simply throws back her head and starts calling and calling, becoming more frustrated by the minute. And this head-back-and-calling thing also runs in the family, since as soon as O’Chloe calls, her babies will stop right in their tracks, throw back their heads and begin to call back. As I hear their ever more frantic calls, I always look to see who is lost, but in this case, neither is looking for the other – they all just stand in place and call out to each other, becoming more panicked with each calling. Eventually, if I am there, I will pick up the little ones and take them over to their mother – who is thrilled to see them, obviously having worried herself sick over the fact that they couldn’t get to her. And the twins, too, are so happy to see their mother – seemingly clueless that they could have walked right over! Yet, neither will move towards the sound of the other voice – not unless I move them!
Maisie is one of those moms who won’t rest until she knows her babies are safe and with her. Anytime I see Maisie’s twins Quinn and Quarrie resting, Maisie is there with them, letting them use her as a pillow or mattress. The twins are very active most of the day, playing with friends and exploring the mixing pen, but when it is time for a short nap, Maisie is always there with them, watching over them as they rest.
Romeldale Molly has twin ram lambs who are very different in their personalities – and that has created some issues! Quillan is quite aggressive as he nurses, banging on her bag and pulling at her teats. His brother Qallan is quite the gentleman, gently finding a teat and suckling. In the beginning, I was worried because Quillan was so aggressive that he was pushing his brother out of the way and getting most of the milk for himself. Now weeks later, my worries have reversed: Molly is happy to let Qallan nurse, but often kicks Quillan away, much preferring his calmer brother. Quillan, however, has become quite the savvy milk-thief, sneaking in from behind when other lambs approach their mothers to nurse, and grabbing the teat before the other lamb can. The poor baby will try to push him off while he suckles away, draining the dam’s milk – and the dam is oblivious, looking back and seeing her own baby with its head near the teat and not realizing that she is feeding our milk-thief, Quillan!
There are likely as many different mothering styles in our barn as there are mothers, with each ewe caring for her lambs in her own way. Some are overly cautious, and others more relaxed, but each is doing the best she can to bring the future of our flock!