I tube feed initially instead of bottle feeding so the lamb gets a “meal” without interfering with its desire to find the udder and latch on. It seems like the energy the lamb gets from the tube feeding helps them continue their search for the teat. Obviously some need the boost, but some do. I often wonder if the February lambs that were slow to nurse were born in May, would they get up and move quicker and easier? I venture to say….probably. So if a lamb is "slow-on-the-get-go", is it the breed or the environment that we’re imposing on them? I also get a sense that a bottle too soon may confuse them and reduce their search for mom’s teat. I mean, with a bottle their sucking instinct has been satisfied (for the moment) and their belly is full, so why bother…nap time. But by tubing, they still have the sucking instinct that hasn’t been satisfied so the search continues. I know, I may be way off base here, but that’s what I’ve concluded from my observations and from the few bottle lambs I have.
As for the lamb that we found in the dark corner of the barn…it was obvious that being the first born (twins) he was up and searching for the udder and wanted to nurse, mom was busy delivering another lamb and the spaces on the gate for that stall were too big. In his udder search he basically went right through one of the spaces in the gate and kept on searching. To me that shows he was up and wanted to nurse and was pretty intent on accomplishing this. He was still quite active after his nearly two-hour ordeal. Once we got him back to mom and he latched on the bond was nearly instant. Lesson: new gate.
I learned another good lesson this year, albeit the hard way, which will make me check the lamb’s temp before I tube feed. I was setting up to tube feed a triplet and noticed its sibling was acting a little cold but standing near me like she was hungry. I was tubing one so figured I’ll just tube her as well, that way I could hopefully get a decent night’s sleep and function half way normal at work the next day. As soon as I tube fed her, she laid under the heat lamp within a minute or so. Before I packed up to go back to the house, I went back to the stall and nudged her just to make sure she was o.k. She didn’t get up; when I lifted her to stand she flopped back down on the straw. Oh boy, I had myself a problem.
I spent the rest of the night (except the two hours that I did sleep on the couch) bringing her back. Apparently she was cold and I didn’t realize how cold. I tube fed her, probably too much, when she really didn’t have the energy to take it. So she decided to check out. I took her up to the house and made a make-shift warming box (after a few other feeble attempts with a hair drier then the warm water/plastic bag trick) where she stayed curled up for a good couple of hours. Every time I checked her temp was going up even though she was still unresponsive. A determined bleat woke me up about 4:30 a.m. and she was back out with mom and sibs within the hour. Needless to say I made it through the day at work on a wing and prayer. Lesson: check temp and learn to do an intra peritoneal injection.
As for the ewes and their mothering ability…out of nine BFL ewes we have one that is noticeably not as attentive as the other eight (who are exceptional…very attentive, lots of ewe/lamb dialog going on, and lots of milk). One is a new mom and before I started my usual observations, the lambs were nursing and a strong bond had formed. At this point all ewes and lambs are together with access to the barn and of course lambs have their creep area (see pic).
Creep area. Access from both sides plus the front gate.
I think the only thing we may consider for next year is spacing out the breeding groups so they don’t all lamb in the same week. Whew….that’s a circus.
As for our new Lincoln Longwool lambs…they were up and nursing in a flash. I did put coats on them just because it was January 31st when they hit the ground.
Our next upcoming activity is kidding for our two Angora goats; any time after April 4th.