Here at the Big Garden, not all our stories arrive safely at a happy ending.
One of No 11‘s twins, who were born just a couple of days ago, died yesterday afternoon.
It was Wet, the boy-lamb. He was probably an hour or two older than his sister Windy, and perhaps just a little larger and livelier. Both got off to a good start, with bottle-fed colostrum, moving on to the milk formula the following morning Though, oddly enough, in the morning, he seemed to be slightly smaller than his sister, and just a little bit less lively : but perhaps J had got that the wrong way round in the first place. Nevertheless, all seemed well at their 5pm feed.
But when J came back from the croft – just half an hour later, he immediately saw something wrong by the way Wet was lying down next to his sister.
It’s not normal for a sheep to lie on its side, flat to the ground – and its certainly not normal sleeping posture : it’s to do with conserving body heat. A young lamb might stretch out like that, dozing in warm sunshine – but only on a still dry day, on dry ground : that’s to do with relaxation – but could be about cooling down the body (that would be in the shade, though – and very unlikely in our climate!).
So a day-old lamb layed out flat on a cold concrete slab on a cloudy cold windy day?
I took it all in in a moment – and without stopping to question I scooped him up and rushed into the kitchen, opened up my outer clothes to get some of my body warmth into him, and did everything I could to provoke him back into consciousness. I could see he’d got ‘scour’ – acute diarrhoea, and so I got Denise making up some warm ‘electrolyte’ (a solution of glucose, bicarbonate of soda and salt – the universal emergency stablizing treatment), and I started administering it to the lamb with a syringe, little by very little.
The lamb responded : there was some attempts at bleating, and the little bursts of kicking that indicate the primitive fight to survive …
But then it was all over.
Just half an hour, from ‘well enough to not give cause for concern’, to dead. The cause would almost certainly be a clostridium bacteria : that’s the most common cause of death in lambs (and calves, kids and so on) in the first day or two of life, particularly in bottle-fed lambs that don’t receive protection through their mum’s milk.
I just sat with him for good while, wondering what mistake we might have made, what we could have done better. And just sad at the loss. And letting go.
Jonathan and Denise >
Let’s finish this reminding ourselves those that are living – that are thriving.
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Polly is very independent-minded. She likes to have her lambs somewhere well away from the others – somewhere quiet and sheltered with good grazing, where she can nurse them for a day or two before bring them to show me.
But I was worried about her – I hadn’t seen her for a nearly two days, and guessed she’d have lambed. I found her in the garden ground of a derelict house. I needn’t have worried: two fine ewe lambs, ready for ear-tagging.
Polly followed me, her lambs either side of her, back to the croft store (about half a mile), where I found the black feed bucket and put in it some sheep nuts specially for her. We then continued to a nice little spot by the sea where she could graze contentedly, with her lambs sheltered by rushes from the damp westerly wind.
Yesterday was sunny and dry, but today it’s Windy and Wet. They’re girl and boy twins. Their mum, No 11, can be relied on to give birth on a day like this. She does it for the sympathy – certainly not for the sake of the lambs! No 11 can be relied on, also, to produce twins – and both good-sized healthy lambs, too.
The reason she produces good twins every year is because at tupping time she’s in really good condition – long black glossy locks, an optimum of body fat … irresistable to the ram, and perfect for conception and gestation. The reason she’s in such good condition is because, during the summer, she wasn’t feeding any lambs – all that summer grass was just for her. Just what a girl needs after a five month pregnancy on winter rations, culminating in the trauma of lamb-birth. And the reason she wasn’t feeding lambs all summer? Well, that’s because she worked out the year before that she could rely on us to do that for her!
And so we go on from year to year: No 11 produces two lambs ; we feed the lambs ; she spends the summer restoring her figure and good looks ; and in spring we start over again!
This all started the year No 11 developed mastitis on one side. She’s been lopsided ever since ; and as lambing approaches she’s been so lopsided she finds it difficult to walk. To be fair, she must be very uncomfortable. Whether even non-mastisis side actually produces milk is arguable. When J has tried to get her started it’s produced a little colustrum – with difficulty, but that’s not the critical issue (if you’ll pardon the pun). She just won’t stand still long enough for even one lamb to suckle, let alone two to take turns. We do give her a chance ; but on a day like today (and it’s always on a day like today – wet, windy, and deathly to newborn lambs) the lambs can’t afford to ‘wait and see’. A clever strategy by No 11 ?
I feel really bad carrying those lambs away with their mum bleating out for them – oh I do so! (She does care about them – just not for them.) And this year, I found the lambs before they started to develop hypothermia, so they’ve been strong enough to bleat at full power for their mum, poor things! Help! Mummy! Help! But, you know what, it’s surprising how quickly mum and lambs come to terms with their situation. Her udder dries up, and they learn to love the bottle.
Right now, Windy and Wet are dozing under a gentle heat lamp in our garden store, their tummies filled up with colostrum out of a packet.
Here’s Isla and Tiny. Tiny is suckling from her mum Isla entirely unprompted, unaided. Success!
Isla has been so incrediby gentle, patient and understanding. Wonderful. She’s patiently let J milk her. She’s shown an interest in what is in the milking bowl afterwards. She’s waited patiently at the back porch, lookin in through the glass door whilst J or I have fed her wee lamb with her own milk.
Certainly, Tiny was born, well, tiny. She was weak, too : her still-born twin brother had consumed more than his share of nourishment in the womb. But even once we’d filled her tummy with colostrum and milk from her mother, and appeared to be in good health and growing, Tiny didn’t seem to lack the instinct to suck, or to go find the place on her mum to suck milk from! She seemed, rather, to be intent on copying her mum’s grazing!
But we persisted : ensuring Tiny had sufficient in her tummy to keep her warm and in good health ; milking Isla well enough to keep milk flowing on both sides ; leaving long gaps during the middle of the day (and overnight) so that Tiny would feel hunger, and Isla be full enough with milk to feel the necessity of feeding her lamb. Before resorting to tube feeding (the bottle feeding scarcely worked – the milk was simply oozing into Tiny‘s mouth, and every now and then she’d have to swallow), J tried to encourage Tiny to suckle, guiding and even attaching lamb to mother! But Tiny just didn’t seem to get the hang of it at all.
Then, after lunch today, as we were washing up the dishes, this is what we saw from our kitchen window : Tiny nuzzling up to here mum in a promising sort of way, and then (as we crept into the back porch to watch and listen) a persistent sucking noise came from under Isla’s woolly body. After a wee pause, the sucking resumed, and kept up for several minutes. Wonderful to hear! Wonderful to see!
J wanted to be sure, so he checked out Isla’s teats: the side Tiny had been sucking was instantly delivering milk ; the other side needed to be ‘primed’. Tiny was definitely feeding from her Mum.
The two of them will spend the night together in our back garden (no garden produce there!) – it’ll be mild and dry so no need to put them back in the trailer tonight. And then, tomorrow morning, we’ll tag Tiny’s ears, and then return the two of them to their flock, on the croft in Eriskay.