With the first session of lambing now in full swing, it’s great to have a wonderful spell of warm sunny weather. It means that we can turn ewes with lambs out into the field when just a day or two old. They are happier and healthier outside and it’s a real joy to check them in the morning, to see the lambs laying in the sunshine and starting to play and race together in gangs.
However, there are always some lambs that need extra care, such as those with low birth weights, or born to ewes with inadequate milk. Triplet births are common place, but ewes will rarely rear 3 lambs successfully. In fact it’s these groups that take most of our time in the lambing barns, so finding a solution, without resorting to rearing lambs on a bottle, is vital.
For more than 25 years we’ve wet fostered lambs, it’s a bit of an art but I reckon after so many years we’re quite good at it. The trick is to persuade a ewe with a single lamb to rear a lamb which is short of milk, or born one of a triplet. Ewes are naturally very resistant to letting a lamb suckle which does not belong to them, and will aggressively butt an imposter lamb, even killing it in extreme circumstances. But by catching a single bearing ewe as it gives birth, collecting the birthing fluids in a bucket, and washing the foster lamb in the fluids, many ewes can be tricked into believing that a foster lamb is their own. We usually add some warm water to make sure that both lambs are washed to smell the same, before firstly giving the foster lamb back to the mother. Once this has been accepted and fed from the ewe, we then introduce the ewe’s own lamb.
But to increase the success rate of fostering we do have one secret ingredient…. Dettol! (antiseptic liquid) Many years ago I discovered that by adding a cap full of Dettol to the water, the scent of the foster lamb is disguised even further to the ewe. And although she can seem surprised to discover that her new borns smell quite so fresh, she will usually set about cleaning them up in the usual way.
So far this year we’ve fostered a dozen lambs in this way, its 12 lambs which would otherwise have to be hand fed, which is both time consuming and expensive. And I always take a bit of extra pride as I check around the fields, to see a ewe calling contentedly to a lamb, that she has no idea is not her own.