Too Much, Too Soon

I’m trying to process lambs right on pasture rather than waiting until part way through lambing and then penning the flock to do it. Supply kit at hand and with about 40 lambs already on the ground, I was eager to try this out.

I came across the first lamb shortly after arriving on pasture in the morning. Slowing to a stop, I killed the engine and reached for the leg crook while seamlessly sliding off the Ranger. A quick reach and I had a lamb. Too simple.

I was nervously anticipating my new processing approach and mentally busy keeping track of what needed to be done depending on male or female lamb. Females get tails banded and an orange ear tag in the left ear. Male lambs destined for market, get tails banded, castrated and spray marked with a number. Male lambs I wish to keep as replacement rams get tails banded and a white ear tag.

The ewe was in a tizzy nearby, bleating for her young one. I hurried to be done with the lamb as quickly as possible. It was a little female and soon her tail was bearing a ring and she was sporting tag number 01. I released her toward the ewe. My excitement at the first job being reasonably well done plummeted as I watched the ewe nuzzle the lamb in confusion and then give her a hard nose shove.

In anticipation of doing the job, I had overlooked that what I caught was a lamb that was too young to be handling. My scent lingering on the newbie caused the ewe to reject her lamb.

I was stunned and just sat on my heels in the grass and watched, quite unsure how to fix this. Bless that little lamb, she knew who her mom was. She persisted at the ewe, squealing her desire for comfort and milk. The ewe knocked her away repeatedly. The lamb persisted. She followed the ewe when the ewe walked away.

I tried to approach the ewe in the slightest chance I might be able to catch her. But with no lamb to lure her closer with, she took off, her lamb trying to keep up to her. I left them alone and considered giving up my whole idea of processing lambs this way. I went about my pasture tour, my mind berating me for my stupidity.

Before I left the pasture I returned to the pair. The lamb was still with the ewe. The ewe was bleating loudly, looking for her believed to be lost lamb. She seemed interested in the lamb but was still not willing to allow it to suck.  I walked the pair toward the corner of the paddock. Once there I blocked the ewe from leaving the corner, just holding her there because it made me feel like I was trying something to salvage this.

Bless that lamb once again, she took advantage of the ewe’s predicament, headed for the udder and latched onto a teat. The ewe turned her head to inspect the rear of the lamb and stepped away, then noticed me and held still again. The lamb went for the teat again this time able to get a longer suck. The ewe investigated the lamb fully and finally seemed to recognize some familiarity about it. When the lamb pulled off of the teat the ewe nuzzled her head and perhaps due to the scent of her own udder upon the lamb, finally seemed convinced of the lambs parentage.

When lambing in a building there are practices we can force on animals at the time of our choosing because the animals are in a pen and can not go anywhere.  When the animals are on pasture, there may be a much greater and natural affect as a result of our actions.  During lambing with a large flock there are numerous frustrations, tragedies and deaths. It is these simple choices, done in good intention, that result in such unexpected outcomes, that eat at me the most.  Then there aren’t enough swear words or tears to express myself with.


  1. Oh yes I don't like those moments!
    I have interfered with good intention and tragic outcomes too. The one time I had a goat kid out on pasture in miserable weather. I know goats dislike getting wet, and I was concerned for the babies. So I moved them with their protective mom to a sheltered spot up against the corral fence and left them. Well, I should have either left them in the pasture where they were, OR dragged them all the way up to the shed to a pen, because the one baby wandered off, into the horse pen where it got trampled. :(

    I have been thinking about writing a post on altruism and how our need for 'helping' gets us into trouble. We are sympathetic beings, wanting whats best for our animals. Sometimes though, we look at it from our perspective, failing to see the animals perspective.
    I would love to improve myself in the way of understanding things the way animals see it. (of course, to be Dr Dolittle and be able to converse with them would be the pinnacle! )

  2. Yes, you should write that post. There are a lot of times where I have not done anything and those times (whether good or poor outcome) are some of the toughest to write or explain about to others.
    It is very hard to walk away and not interfere. One of the beautiful things about a life with animals is that it is ripe with those lessons provided we're open to the perspectives of the other species.


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