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Pregnant ewes from a few years ago.

One of the reasons we raise American Blackbelly (ABB) sheep is because they are so easy during lambing season. They tend to give birth during the day, and rarely need assistance. We’ve lost one ewe to a very large baby she was too small to birth, and helped pull one lamb last year, that didn’t need much help other than a tug (we only intervened because the baby had been partially out for about 30 minutes). And that’s in all the births we’ve had starting in 2013. Probably several hundred lambs in going on 9 years.

We do, occasionally, end up with a bottle baby. It’s often to lambs born early in the season, when its still cold. I always think mama looks around and thinks, “There’s no grass. I can’t feed two of these.” I don’t think we’ve ever had a ewe outright reject a lamb when they only had a single baby in 9 years. And we do always wonder if mama doesn’t know something we don’t, in terms of the long term health of the lamb, when she rejects one of them.

One of this year’s bottle babies.

When this first happened, I scrambled to learn how to feed these little guys. Stories abounded of people keeping lambs in the house in dog crates and feeding ever 3 hours in the middle of the night. The lamb is completely imprinted on humans and the human is exhausted with the feeding schedule. But these were standard Suffolk or Dorper lambs. The ones people often say are just “trying” to die for the first few weeks. Blackbellys are stronger than that. They have been bred to survive, not “saved by human intervention” for hundreds of generations.

So I came up with my own system specific to bottle feed to this breed. And I’ve just realized I’ve never really written about it. It’s time to remedy that.

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Jennifer Kleffner

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