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From 12 to 21 –The Flock Grows, Chapter 1

Charles Dickens Domestic sheep reproduction Farm Lambing Maggie Oliver sheep Shetland Shetland Sheep

Last Friday morning was the beginning of the lambing – I was only off by about 5 weeks in my calculations

It was ironic that the weather in March had indeed come in like a lion and then went out like a lamb, so it was nice that it accommodated our Shetland Sheep as such.

 We awoke March 30th to find that Nikki had just given birth to twins in the stall with all of her flock family for support.  The problem was that in the minutes it took for us to discover this and her having finished delivery, Maggie-the-Matriarch moved in to claim one of the twins.  It’s unclear why Maggie adopted Oliver (“Please, sir, I want some…more?”) – did his mom not know what to do with him as she’d never lambed before?  Did Maggie make the move and dominate and so Nikki surrendered the little guy to her?  We can’t be sure.  But we did know that life was tricky for the next couple of days because of it.

Nikki with preferred twin, "Dickens"
Maggie-the-Matriarch, a.k.a. "The Kidnapper", with "Oliver"

 Charlotte was due to take a French exam that morning at 8:30, but at 8:00 we knew there was no way of getting her there without deserting the situation.  The situation being that Oliver needed to be getting some feedings in asap,  ideally grafting him onto his birthmom.  We found out there was a French makeup exam at 10:30 and decided to shoot for that, as well as I would then unload palms and decorate at our church in the meantime.  As an aside, Char’s French teacher said it was the first time in 25 years of teaching that she’d ever heard the excuse for missing an exam being because of lambing!

 I jumped online to my trusty Vermont Sheep and Goat Association forum to inquire what some of these seasoned farmers have done in a situation like this.  The recommendations were numerous and timely.  The responses ran the gamut from “go inside and make yourself a cup of hot tea” to “put the mama in a stanchion so that her lambs can nurse” or “no matter how hard it is, don’t give in to the kidnapper mama!”  My main concern was that Oliver would get his colostrum and milk requirements in his first day of life/days of life and so I was a bit frantic in the head.  Thankfully Charlotte was collected.  She calmed me down and suggested we take turns with reading and have ourselves a cuppa, just sort of oversee the events to make sure they didn’t get worse.

Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers by David C. Henderson, propped just so, for ready reference on stanchions

 By the time we needed to leave to take Charlotte to her exam, we felt like we were in a holding pattern.  Maggie was fiercely protective and nurturing, though dry, giving Oliver the best start in every way except for nutrition.  Nikki was rather stressed trying to complete her labor with the afterbirth and getting the hang of nursing Dickens(what we named the firstborn.)  We thought that if we stepped away for about 2 hours that things might be better, but they shouldn’t be worse.

 By that afternoon, friend Kerry came by to share her shepherdess wisdom from when she’d cared for a similar lamb about 15 years ago.  Kerry and her husband were renting/farmsitting for a couple that went out of the country and left behind a pregnant ewe, unknowingly.  When that ewe lambed, it was the first that Kerry & Nat knew of the pregnancy and suddenly, when complications ensued, they found themselves gathering grass clippings from lawn mowings to feed a lactating mama that wouldn’t nurse her lamb.  Their situation was compounded by the surprise, lack of supplies available, and a demanding music profession to juggle.  Kerry, tenacious one that she is, engineered a way to milk that ewe under those circumstances so I felt she was overqualified for our little drama.

Nikki did not want to be milked.  Kerry and I did our best as a team to hold her and coax the colostrum out of her, thinking if we could get enough every few hours then we could have something to put into Oliver.  The largest problem was not that we didn’t have a stanchion to put her in, or that we couldn’t handle her even if it was rather back-breaking work, but that her milk supply just would not let down.  So try as we may, the most we were able to squeeze out after 5 hours was about 20 milligrams.  Nikki seemed stressed and I worried about her bag and teats being irritated or possible mastitis.  I was worn out, though I think Kerry would’ve kept trying. 

In our first attempt, we tried bribing Nikki with grain while Oliver had a go at nursing
Kerry, a beautiful singer, croons sweet Scottish lullabies to Nikki while trying to coax her to share with Oliver
Shepherdesses giddy with liquid gold!
Char gives Oliver a syringe of sweet colostrum while Maggie, dry-but-doting, looks on.

Oliver seemed jolly and energetic –not at all neglected and malnourished.

 Dickens was lethargic and less responsive. 

 Neither situation made sense though by the end of that day, my ability to be logical had nearly deteriorated.   Fatigue had set in.

When husband Jim got home, we drove to my friend Jennifer’s at Polymeadows Farm to get an old goat milking stanchion that they weren’t using.  We also got some goat’s milk from her for feeding to Oliver since the milking of Nikki was still up in the air.  Jennifer gave me some powdered colostrum to add to the milk.  I was flying high when we left, thinking we were armed and prepared to take on this little lamb with all of our tools in tact.

Jim modified the stanchion.  Jim likes to modify things.  The stanchion was placed in the lamb jug and we had to heft Nikki up and onto it.  Nikki did not want to be up there and when we clamped the wooden bar across the top, trapping her head in place, she was entertained by the grain in front of her for just so long before wrestling and twisting her way out. 

a freebie from up the road!

 We kidnapped BACK Oliver from Maggie to try to place him on Nikki’s teat for colostrum and milk before she exploded off of the stanchion.  It was hardly successful.  There really wasn’t room for the lamb to stand on the stanchion – it was designed for a person to milk from while sitting on the side.  It is a good design, but just not suited to what we were trying to do.  I thought I would attempt to milk her since holding the lamb for nursing wasn’t working.  But I still couldn’t squeeze much of that liquid gold from her and we went to bed that night with me waking up episodically to bottle feed Oliver with goats milk and powdered colostrum.

When all else fails, we try the bottle.

 Oliver took 2.5 ounces that night at about 3:30 in the morning and I was elated.  At 5:30 in the morning, he wanted nothing to do with the bottle.  He continued to nurse off of Maggie but as far as we could tell, Maggie didn’t have anything to offer.  When we checked her teats, no colostrum or milk came to the surface.  So at the worst she was a pacifier, at best she may have had some colostrum.

 We didn’t know what would happen in the next 24 hours.  We did know that Maggie was due and hopefully would lamb soon so that she would have a supply for Oliver. 

In case you are wondering, for this part of the story on this particular day, our Shetland Sheep count had gone from a flock of 12 to a flock of 14…


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