I am an animal lover. Anyone who has met me can attest to that fact, and having had some previous farming experience, it was not surprising that I wanted to go down to the farm and help the farm crew yesterday (and everyday since I’ve been here!) I expected to be watering and feeding the pigs, cows, chickens, goats, and bunnies, but since all of the mama sheep were recently relocated to the pasture, the baby lambs needed to be bottle fed and my extra hands were definitely needed.
Fifteen ram lambs needed love, care, and food. It can be intimidating to step into a stall with so many animals but it’s also joyful and fulfilling to nourish such cute, energetic, and bouncing lambs. Here are five things that I learned:
1. Do not be afraid
The lambs ran circles around me when I hesitated or was a little timid about catching them. If they have not been bottle fed before (like this crew hadn’t), you might need to hold them tight under your arm or across your leg and put pressure on the jaw so the mouth will open. Once I had a good handle on them and they started eating though, I was able to relax and just enjoy letting them do their thing.
2. Practice the art of patience
I should have guessed that rams might be a little stubborn. Maybe not as stubborn as goats, but still a little bit hard to manage. Even while I was feeding one lamb, others came over and started chewing on my fingers and knuckles thinking (hoping?!?) it was an udder. I breathed deeply, smiled and gently shooed them away and focused on the one that I was feeding.
3. Treat them how you’d want to be treated (the Golden Rule)
I’ve noticed that if I’m calm while holding and trying to coax a lamb to eat, the lamb will calm down. If I’m feeling anxious or distracted, it seems that the lambs pick up on that energy and act the same way. Saying soft things to them, even positive reinforcement like -“oh my goodness! Look at you, you’re doing such a good job! See, that wasn’t so hard!” – and so forth make the process easier and more fun for everybody. We all like a little encouragement now and again, right?
4. Make sure you’re wearing farm clothes
My first time bottle feeding I wore jeans, muck boots and a white shirt. I got two thirds of the outfit right. White shirts have no place in the barn, especially when you’re at the bottom of a pile of baby lambs! Now I know to wear clothing that I don’t mind getting very dirty. I don’t need to worry about this so much but I also realized that if you have long hair, it’s best to pull it back, otherwise the little ones might chew on it.
5. Stay focused
Keeping track of who is fed, who isn’t, who is gaining weight and who refuses to eat is a really important task. After all, our job on the farm is to take care of these animals and ensure that they are well fed and growing up strong and healthy. Sterling has a few chalkboards in the barn that are used during chores and we used the numbers on the tags of each lamb to track our progress. Our work wasn’t done until we made sure we tended to every lamb listed.
There is a science to appropriate care of livestock and farm animals, and what I learned is only the very tip of the very tip of the iceberg. Sterling offers a four-year degree in Sustainable Agriculture, and I was only in the barn for a day, so take what I shared here with a grain of salt. Warming up the milk replacer, knowing what kind of milk replacer to use, knowing when to wean lambs off milk and how to care for the supplies we use to feed them are some other things I brushed up against down in the barn. I think Animal Science is high on the list of classes that I would take if I do decide to study here 🙂
Most important, however, is to create a rhythm and relationship with each lamb, and they will love you unconditionally.