Pet Lambs

Pet lambs become pets for various reasons here on the farm.

  1. They have a special need and are a long time in the sclu special care lamb unit so their mother has gone out without them or she has had another lamb adopted onto her. Special needs are either feeding related or movement related. They can’t suck or can’t stand.
  2. A small triplet will become a pet lamb because it can’t compete with its siblings.
  3. A lamb will become a pet if after days of topping the lamb up its mother never comes to enough milk.
  4. If a sheep dies her lambs become pets.
  5. If a lamb goes back (looks poor) once it is turned out or is found drinking water or alone it is taken off also.

During lambing time many many lambs become pets. Some are only pets for a day before they are adopted onto a ewe. Some stay a few weeks and then are adopted on.

But there comes a time when they are too big to get a mother especially if they have never ever sucked a sheep in the beginning.

So there are the transient pets and the permanent pets and the number fluctuates from none to different numbers throughout lambing.

I had 11 pets that I turned out as permanent pets this year. Plus one lamb with a mother who still comes for human contact, Dudley.

Donald, Karen, Suki & Keith Lemon were pets all along, Wilma & Wednesday, Bertie & Gertie and Bruce & Samson were all lambs who’s mothers died whilst still nursing them. Luckily all 6 sucked the bottle, because some don’t if they are used to only sucking a sheep. Lara was a triplet who came off her mother later on. Sadly Lara died shortly after going outside she had gone off milk before hand and her behaviour had changed sometimes there is no explanation and there is a saying ‘One of the things sheep like to do is die.’

Keith Lemon unfortunately began to go backwards before he was turned out. He was given an adoptive mother during lambing time but he wouldn’t suck her and had to come back to the pets where he was doing great. But once he started to deteriorate he never picked up and over the weeks of being outside he got thinner and eventually died.

Everyone deals with loss in different ways, some people will just move on, the animal is dead nothing they can do for it now. I cry, for the passing of their soul and the life and love I have lost. I used to think that was soft, but now I see it as very cleansing. Mourning the short or long life of an animal that has passed away or goes for slaughter is giving it the same respect in death as it had in life. That is paramount for me, as long as I work with animals, I need to know that they are loved and respected.

Every year, every day even, I am learning and recently I came to realise that whilst there is room for a caring attitude and a compassionate nature in farming, it is best not to be too sentimental about it because where there is life there is loss.

Donald was a pet from the very beginning, he was a special need lamb. He had an undershot jaw and couldn’t suck his mother. He managed well on the bottle. I didn’t know if he would eat ok, but he managed lamb creep. The big test was if he could crop grass with his jaw like that when he was turned out. I was very pleased to see he was thriving and he was my fondest pet he still loved to come for a stroke.

Unfortunately over a few weeks he appeared to have gone off eating, he was drinking water and still coming for a cuddle but he was losing weight. He had been wormed and given liquid thrive so there must have been something other wrong. I could see that he was not going to get better and he was beginning to weaken, his voice had also changed, it became quieter more of a cry than a bleat. I talked to him while I stroked him and told him it was ok for him to pass away if he needed to. Life would decide now if he lived or died. But I knew deep down he would die very soon. I found it very sad but everything that we could have done we had done. And as I was going to him twice a day I expected on one of those occasions he would have died.

Donald passed away the day after this photo was taken he looked so peaceful sitting in the sun

There was no miraculous recovery the next day on the Sunday morning he had passed away, he was sat under the shelter of the creep feeder as if he had fallen asleep. He was buried with Keith Lemon.

I loved Keith the lamb, he was such a little character I have no idea what went wrong.

Karen was a tiny triplet and had never had a sheep to go on but she is still going strong, independent now and rarely comes for human touch. Suki was a Swaledale twin but her mother rejected her she has become very friendly and loving over the weeks she always comes and places her head near my hand to be stroked. Every morning she sits down with me chewing her cud, as a lamb would with it’s mother. I am overjoyed to have a Swaledale gimmer lamb as a pet, they are usually wild, and I intend to keep her.

I still consider Dudley as a pet even though he has had a mother all along. Dudley’s mother was very ill after she gave birth to him and she couldn’t get up. I had to take her feed to her and water for well over a week. She had twins but we had to take one off. I fed Dudley everyday twice a day for a few weeks he remembers and always comes up for a cuddle. He has grown very handsome and is putting on weight. I am a sucker for mule lambs Dudley is a mule.

The other six, three pairs of twins are all doing ok so I hope that they will continue to grow.

Another Swaledale lamb joined the group outside a little while after the others were turned out. The lamb was the last in the shed because she was an adoption and her mother wouldn’t let her suck. Eventually we got the lamb onto creep and turned her head butting mother out without her she has done ok. I never named her.

It is a very strange concept rearing a pet lamb because most of them will end up as meat. Some will be kept as breeding sheep if they get big and fit enough. But really most of farming is like that the Paradoxical world of loving what I do, the life, the skill, the history but the heartbreaking reality that many of the animal’s lives need to be sacrificed to make food.

For most people they don’t have to relate a piece of meat to the animal it came from, it is anonymous meat, not even seen as an animal at all. To some they only see an animal as a cardboard cut out or a label on a box. But when you see a calf born, or milk a cow, rear their calves and the same with sheep and lambs there is no way to separate it. Farming is food.

Recently, for the first time on the farm we had two lambs slaughtered on the premises to consume ourselves. The two sheep were last years lambs. Both of them had one stiff leg which they were not walking on (one was a front leg one was a back leg) If a sheep is not walking correctly on four limbs they can not be sold through the auction or be transported to the slaughter house. Therefore we had the slaughter man come to us, with a vet present to witness the humane slaughter of the two lambs and examine that they were not ill and they were fit for purpose. They were stunned with a bolt gun, which rendered them brain dead and unconscious. They immediately fell down where they stood, they were then moved to a slope on the yard where they were bled out by opening their throats. The lambs were brain dead but their heart continues to pump for a few minutes longer, so by bleeding them soon after stunning they are drained of blood with the help of the heart.

We had fed the lambs for a couple of months inside because they were in the last batch of the store lambs we had in for finishing and they were to be sold. Although they were not pets I knew them and their physical features. They were not tame and they didn’t interact with me much, other than to come up to feed twice a day, but I spoke to them and treated them the same as the other animals.

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I coped very well during the procedure, it was quietly done without any stress of transportation and within minutes I was helping lift their bodies into the refrigerated van that the slaughterman/ butcher had arrived in. It was methodical not emotional at all and afterwards I power washed the blood from the yard which I felt was all part of the process really and I wanted to be fully involved. I believe if you eat meat it is important to be mindful that an animal has died so you can eat and not one part of the animal should be wasted. The lambs were hung at the butchers, cut up and I collected them as meat just over a week later.

The total dead weight of the lambs was 60kg, with lamb being the price it is in the shops we couldn’t have afforded to have eaten lamb this year, maybe a roast for a special occasion but not cutlets. I hadn’t had a lamb chop in years. This week we had a special dinner, new potatoes and oven roasted lamb chops. It was a memorable meal, delicious and honourable to the source from which it came.

In the afternoon, when the yard was quiet on the day of the slaughter I cried. It hit me hard that the lambs had been killed and I cried hard. I gave them my sympathy and thought of their last few weeks and hours but then I had to get my head on right. We breed, rear and produce lamb for the table and that is exactly the process it goes through and to be part of that process was unusual but also an insightful experience.

I love animals, as do millions of other human beings therefore I am very thankful and mindful of all the products we consume here in our home that have been produced from an animal be it an egg, a jug of milk or a joint of meat. It would be impossible for me not to think about it.

It would also be impossible for me to write about Pet Lambs without mentioning Bambi.

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Bambi was a very special pet lamb, starved of oxygen at birth and I gave her mouth to mouth resuscitation in the first few minutes of her life. Without being melodramatic, I saved her life. She couldn’t suck or stand and I tube fed her for over a week. One night she looked as if she was going to die, I didn’t feed her and went to bed thinking that in the morning she would have passed away. But the next morning she was stood up in the tub bleating. I offered her a bottle and she sucked 4oz from it, she was a little miracle. Over the next few weeks we supported her in learning to walk and discovered she was blind. She managed well and grew big and strong and she was a companion to Minxie my other pet also born in 2016.

Unfortunately in July, she began to lose weight (a little like Donald) but she picked up and I thought all was well until she stopped eating and then drinking and I had to let her go. She passed away peacefully at 4 months old on the 9th of August. Keith and I had had an argument two days previously but the passing of Bambi brought us close again. Keith was very sympathetic and he helped me bury her. The way in which he knew what to do with the turf and how deep to dig her grave gave me back my warm feelings towards him.

I was incredibly upset to lose her and I missed her everyday for a long time. Keith was very understanding as it isn’t in his nature as a farmer to mourn the loss of a lamb but he understood my love for her and how close our bond was, to me, it was like losing a friend.

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