This story is not about this guy… but he’s a sweety. Wags his tail when you pat him. D & C got four sheep a few months ago, for milk and grazing.

Cat likes to chew on lamb’s ear!

June 22, 2012

Yesterday in the very late drizzly afternoon I was setting off for a run when I thought, before it gets dark, I better check on the animals over at D & C’s place to make sure all is well.  They had left for Kona the day before, to visit and work, taking the dogs with them and leaving food for the cats. The sheep are generally just fine left by themselves in the pasture.  But one of the sheep a few weeks ago had been nearly killed by “fly strike” – hunters had left a wild pig carcass just by their sheep fence, and the flies it attracted attacked one of the sheep.  The sheep survived but our friends were a little nervous about leaving for a few days and asked if we would stop by if we had time.

So I crossed the “pedestrian” bridge to their place and went up to the pasture.  The sheep looked great, all recently shorn to keep them clean and less interesting to flies.  As soon as the large mama spotted me she started baa-ing, and the three youngsters came from around a melastoma clump towards me baa-ing, inquiring if I had a treat. The one recovering from the flies looked fine, her wounds were healing well.  Then I heard a little, high “baaa.”  Five separate baa’s from four sheep? And there by the mama I saw a skinny little lamb, lying on the ground and letting out intermittent little high-pitched “baa’s”.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, since as far as I knew no lamb was expected.  But the mom had been very large around the middle.  Wow, D & C were going to be shocked!

The baby was very small and boney, but didn’t look brand new.  I watched as she feebly tried to stand.  Mamma kept baa-ing at me, and nosing her baby.  I told her I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do, but good job, congratulations!  Since I didn’t have my phone with me, I ran back to the house to get it to call D & C and find out what if anything I should do, and see if they wanted to come back (Kona is only two hours away).  I saw Dan, who was meeting with neighbors Shama and Inoch, and excitedly told them about the lamb.  Inoch said there are usually two babies. Dan, who has experience with lots of farm animals, said he would come over when they were done talking.  I also ran past Simba, their son, on his motorbike and told him the news.

When I reached D by phone, he was pretty surprised but not shocked.  They had bought the sheep just a few months ago and it was possible the big mama was pregnant.  I told him the lamb looked very boney and weak, and that, not knowing how they are supposed to look, I still thought  it didn’t look brand new.    I asked what to do and he said all we really could do was to get the younger sheep into a different pasture, and get the baby out of the rain. C added to feed the mom some grain.  They  both were very upset at the poor timing of their trip.

The baby kept trying to organize her legs under her to stand up, and was getting pretty close.  I was ready to record the event with my camera phone and took some poor pictures.

Not what I expected to find when I went to check on the sheep!

D said if the baby was strong enough to live, it would be fine; if not, there was nothing we could do, since the baby had already missed out on the colostrum – the first, rich milk, which is a key to survival. D had heard they needed this colostrum in the first hour or two after birth.

Simba showed up.  He buried the placenta, and an undeveloped stillbirth (Inoch was right, there had been two in her womb), and lured the three other sheep to the upper pasture with their favorite treat –  a big branch of albezia leaves.  It was lightly raining.  I carried the baby under a canopy shelter by the fence.  She had stopped even weakly trying to stand and was starting to shiver and close her eyes.  It was clear she was too weak, already malnourished, and not able to nurse on her own.  I called D & C again. They suggested we try to get her to nurse by distracting the mama with the treat of grain. Simba left, having to go to the airport, and sadly assessing that the situation “didn’t look too good.”

Exhausted from trying to stand up.

I called Dan to get some help, blurting out “Are you coming over?  The baby sheep’s too weak and I need help trying to get her to nurse and I need someone to hold the mom.”  “Baby sheep, what baby sheep?”   Was he not even listening?  “I’m over at the sheep pasture… ” I started, getting exasperated, then realized it was Nick on the other end. “Where’s there a baby sheep?” He had picked up Dan’s phone, which Dan had left in the shop.

Not wanting to miss the latest event on the farm, Nick sped over on the quad to help me out. As he lured the hungry mama with grain, I held the little baby to her teats to try to get some milk.  She nuzzled with a little interest and even tried grabbing on a bit but the mom jerked around and pranced away at any touch. The mom had not yet held still for D & C to milk and, with Nick and my combined total experience of zero hours of sheep nursing, she wasn’t going to give us better results.    I stood under the shelter as the rain got stronger, still wearing my running shorts.  Nick headed home, and I called them again.

D agreed the situation was not promising enough for them to return, and I left for the evening, figuring we would find a dead baby in the morning and that was that.  I took a hot shower, put on some clean clothes, and poured some wine as I tried to summon interest in making  something for dinner.  By the time Dan got home, it was completely dark out.  I told him what had been going on.  He immediately got ready to head over.  Just then, D called and said he had read further, and that if the baby got colostrum within 24 hours it could be alright.  Both Dan and D concluded that she might have a chance if we could milk the mom and feed the baby with a bottle.  D said he was going to come home.

We trooped over with raingear and headlamps on.  Dan saw that the baby was very small and weak. Little gnats swarmed at our headlamps.  He could see how hopeless it was and  in a burst of frustration at this type of situation, built up from past experiences, almost gave up before even trying.  I had no skills for the situation but could calm him down and run around getting stuff.  So together we did that – I found a collar and rope, got the grain, got a little jar, while he tied the mama to the fence post and held her (with some difficulty) in a position where she couldn’t run off.  “Pick the baby up, keep her warm,” he advised, so I held her boniness against my thin raincoat and hoped some heat would transfer.  He somehow managed to milk the mama, and  I knelt down in the mud (yeah for rain pants!) (still holding the lamb) (still buzzed by gnats) and collected around an eighth of a cup into the jar.  Their house was locked and we couldn’t find a baby bottle in the outdoor kitchen, so we decided to take her back to our place to try to feed her and keep her warm.

We headed back over the I-beam bridge.  Let’s just review the circumstances: nighttime, raining hard, creek raging, bridge made of a steel I-beam with a handrail welded onto one side; me carrying a little lamb, guided by the light of my headlamp, and having gulped a glass of wine not too long ago.

Sometimes you just DO things, that other times seem beyond doing.  For me, this was one of those moments.  Like when I pulled out those warm chicken guts, or when I headed down a waterfall in a river raft.  Moments when I stick the judgment that pops forward back into the back of my head, and stuff a pillow over it, because I don’t have a choice and it’s not helpful to hear it’s opinion.

Safely inside, we found a medicine dropper to feed her. I could place the dropper in the side of her lips and give a little squeeze of milk to get her interested, and then refill and put it in the front of her mouth and she did that cute lamby sideways sucking motion.  Just like Lamp Chop, the little hand puppet on tv, one of the shows from my childhood.  She drank some good sips of the warmed mama’s milk. When she stopped we put her into a box with a towel and some hot water bottles, and she slept.  An hour later, “Baa!” She woke up and startled us, and cheered us too because it seemed like she was getting stronger and wanted more milk.  During her second feeding, we heard D’s muffler-less truck arrive.  He saw how scrawny she was and said she looked premature.  But nevertheless he was encouraged that Dan had gotten milk.  He said if she lived, he would name her after me.  My name in Hebrew does mean ewe, I told him. We handed her over.

Dan went over first thing in the morning to see how D and the lamb were doing.  D had barely slept; he had milked and fed the baby several times but was getting very little milk.  He was worn out, had no food or bedding, and decided to go back to Kona so C could take care of the lamb with formula while he continued to work.  Shama had also gone over and fed the lamb, and discussed organizing milkings so we could keep that together while he left.  So he headed off.

C texted me several times that morning with updates. The lamb wasn’t doing so well.  She did feed it the formula D had bought, but it died within a few hours.

So, sorry for the sad ending.  I did forecast it there with the heading.  The good part is that we kept milking the mama sheep – several of us took turns until D & C came back, and now they are getting a steady 1/4 cup twice a day.  Dan and Nick built a great milking stand.  She doesn’t produce much, but it’s a start, and to us, a huge leap towards self-sufficiency.  Together with caring for new chicks, and the rabbits that just got brought over here, and much rain, it was a challenging week and I sure appreciate their return!  And someday maybe there will be several sheep to milk, and if there’s enough to share, we’ll make feta!

Milking stand, still in the shop

Here’s how the neck-holder looks on the milking stand – you slide it closed and slide nail into slot when she’s in place, head down eating grain out of the tray