Mary Had Some Little Lambs

No matter your imperfections, you are worthy of love and care. We all are.

—Juliet (on the left) and our yet-to-be-named ram lamb.

Here’s What’s Happening at Good Spirits Farm

This has, by far, been my hardest week on the farm. The two ewes that were sold to me as “open,” meaning not pregnant, both dropped surprise babies. While that sounds wonderful in theory, it actually hasn’t been great. For one thing, I was completely unprepared. For another: This means the ewes were bred very close to their last pregnancy, which is so hard on their bodies.

The first ewe delivered triplets on Friday evening as I was just about to leave for grocery pickup. We scooped the babies up and got them into the barn, but it was clear right away that the third baby was in trouble. The runt of the litter, she could not stand and her mom was refusing to clean her off or pay attention to her. I told myself I’d get bottle feeding supplies at the store and try and save her if she was still alive when I got back—but I prepared myself for the reality that she really might not make it the two hours it would take to get what I needed.

Amazingly, she did hold on, and although she was very weak, I was able to get her to suckle enough from a bottle to get some milk in her. Baby lambs need the colostrum or “first milk” their moms produce in the first 12 hours of life. It delivers a huge quantity of antibodies that are vital for their immune systems. However, no matter what I did, I could not get this little gal to drink from her mom’s teat. Even if I restrained the mom, the lamb was too weak to hold her head up. I couldn’t milk mom either—I tried but mom was not having it and wouldn’t “let down” her milk. My only option was to use powdered colostrum replacement. I do not know if it’s as good as the real stuff, but sometimes you just have to hope what you’re doing is good enough.

On Monday, my other ewe had twins. Relieved not to have another set of triplets (which almost always results in the human bottle feeding one of the lambs), I thought we were just about done with surprises. Boy was I wrong.

A few hours after birth, I went to check the babies and realized one had an open wound on his back. I took a pic and sent it off to the vet. When putting him back down, I realized his back legs were more or less useless. I figured he was just weak, and held him up to his mama so he could get a dose of colostrum. This guy was MUCH stronger than the other little lamb, and sucked vigorously, which was a relief. But the vet thought the wound might need stitches and suggested I bring him in.

At the vet, things went from not great to pretty terrible. The wound is actually a bit of his spinal cord, and he most likely has spina bifida. Interesting fact: Because lambs get spina bifida, they’ve actually been used quite a lot in advancing research for humans with the condition. The vet, an old, crusty farm vet, told me he may or may not make it and just to do the best I could. I came home and sobbed. It was just so much all at once. In a week, I’d bought five sheep and ended up with ten, two of which now needed intense care.

The good news is that our orphan bottle lamb, named Juliet, is doing just wonderfully. She’s been living in my parents’ house, (my mom is named Mary, and she’s been taking such good care of this little lamb, just like the song!), wearing diapers, getting bottle-fed, and enjoying the spoiled grandchild life.

The ram lamb, who we haven’t named yet because it seems too early for that, has a harder road ahead. I’m in touch with the livestock surgeon at the University of Tennessee’s vet school. Spina bifida exists in at least one dog breed, and there’s an extremely successful surgery to treat it. The neurologist at the vet school is advising the livestock surgeon on how, exactly, he might replicate the surgery on a lamb. But, of course, the livestock surgeon has never done it, because at most, a lamb is worth maybe $150. Most farmers would just put this guy down. I have realized this week that I am not most farmers.

The thing is: this guy really and truly wants to live. He pulls himself around on his front elbows and is trying so hard to get his back legs underneath him. If the vets don’t think he is a candidate for surgery, maybe we’ll try getting him a lambie wheelchair. Or maybe we’ll have to put him down. They have warned me that spina bifida can result in other, unseen issues, like malformations of the skull and infections in the spinal fluid. But until I know exactly what I’m dealing with, I’m going to give him the best chance I can.

A few days ago, I gave up on keeping Lil’ Guy with his mom, who was barely tolerating me holding him up to nurse. (I had to restrain her every two hours and it was traumatic for all of us.) I worried about her stepping on him, and the soiled bedding in the stall infecting his open wound. So my parents got a second baby delivered to them.

It’s been so much work for them and I am so grateful for their help. Having the two lambs together, though, has been wonderful. Juliet seems to understand that her buddy can’t move and she needs to be gentle. They snuggle and seem pretty content. My parent’s poodle, Missy, is tolerating all this nonsense, which I am grateful for, too.

Please send your best healing thoughts and vibes and prayers to this little guy. He’s gonna need them.

Here’s What I Loved This Week

Grandparents! Is there anything better than your parents swooping in to rescue you in an extreme moment of need? I am so thankful they were here to help. I would have been totally lost without them!