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Why a Lamb Becomes a Bummer (and What Happens Then)

Mo keeping track of our newest bummer lamb

If you raise sheep, at some point, you'll have a lamb whose mother won't - or can't - take care of it.  Sometimes we discover a lamb in our pasture that hasn't bonded with its mother.  Sometimes we have  a ewe that doesn't produce enough milk.  Sometimes we'll have a ewe with triplets who can only take care of two lambs.  On rare occassions, we'll have a ewe that dies during or after delivering a lamb.  We call these lambs bummers, and they eventually wind up in our kitchen!

Last night as I checked the flock, I found a ewe who had given birth to twins the previous evening whose udder was over-full and whose teats were overly large.  I call these "bottle teats" - they are too big for a newborn lamb to nurse on.  I observed the lambs (they seemed okay) and decided I'd wait until this morning to take any action.  This morning, the ewe's udder was still distended.  I caught her and put a halter on her (the first time she'd ever been haltered!).  After tying her to the fence, I stripped out her udder (in other words, I milked her by hand), capturing the colostrum to save for her lambs.  Sometimes stripping out an udder will relieve the pressure and help return teat size to normal.  In this case, it worked on the right side of her udder, but the left side was still a bit over-sized.  I released her and got her lambs up.  The larger, more vigorous lamb started trying to nurse immediately (and appeared to be successful).  Unfortunately, the smaller lamb seemed too weak to stand.  After completing the rest of my chores, I checked back in.  The bigger lamb was still active, while the smaller lamb was sleeping.  I checked the lamb's body temperature by putting my finger in his mouth.  He was cold, so I decided to leave the active lamb with the ewe and take the him home.
Dr. Macon and here newest charge!

Getting a bummer lamb warmed up is the first step!

This ewe's udder was distended, and her teats were too big
for her lambs.

It was slightly improved after
I hand-milked her.  Even with the
improvement, I opted to take the smallest lamb home.

My wife Samia is amazing with bummer lambs.  She's learned that before she tries to feed them (from a bottle), she must bring their body temperature up - a cold lamb can't digest milk.  Her first step is to wrap the lamb in warm towels, put it on a heating pad, and place it in front of our wood stove.  Once the lamb is warm, it will almost always take a bottle (on rare occassions, she'll feed it with a stomach tube).  We try to have some colostrum on hand for very young lambs.  For lambs that are up and going, Sami feeds a combination of sheep's milk (from a friend with dairy sheep), whole cow's milk, plain yogurt (for probiotics) and a raw egg (for protein and probiotics).  This recipe works well and is cheaper than commercial milk replacer.

As soon as possible, these lambs are moved outside with our home sheep - we want them to see other sheep being sheep (and more importantly, grazing like sheep) as soon as possible.  We'll typically wean these lambs at 8-10 weeks of age.  We'll also give them some supplemental grain - for some reason, bummer lambs just don't do as well on forage as naturally-raised lambs.


Wether lambs (castrated males) are marketed with our other lambs.  Ewe lambs, if they were triplets or if they were bummers through no fault of their mother's, may stay in our flock. And bummer lambs are great public spokes-sheep - they often visit schools, farm days, and other events.  Last year, one of our bummer lambs even starred in a photo shoot for Vogue magazine!

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