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.
Vote for your favourite of these photos by clicking on a heart.
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.
Denise: Jonathan was down on the beach again, and yes in his boiler suit and wellies, as usual. Tilly went too – she stood in the water with a stick of kelp for Jonathan to throw. Rhubarb didn’t stand in the water, but stood back, afraid to get his hooves wet. When Tilly came back with the kelp stem and wanted Rhubarb to play with it, Rhubarb tucked his head under Tilly’s tummy in search of milk. Tilly ran off along the water’s edge, and Rhubarb ran after her, alternately skipping so hard as almost to sumersault, and turning back to Jonathan and bleating. I called them back to the house for lunch. Home-made bread and soup for us, then fruit – and tidbits for Tilly. For Rhubarb? There’s a bottle of milk warming.