Friday, December 27, 2013

Little Lambs Lost

It seems like every year around Christmas we end up bottle feeding something. Last year, it was our little doelings, and this year, it's our spring lambs. The thing about lambs though, is they are very fragile when you don't have total control over their birthing (and even sometimes when you do). Last year, we raised two big beefy lambs with much success, and this winter- we're raising a few for the spring and then will start building our own flock. 

Of the few we're raising, we've got one who we call Curly (for his curly wool) in a box in our living room. Poor guy was down yesterday, couldn't stand and after a quick temperature check was registering at a terrifying 97 degrees (lambs should be between 102-104). I brought him into the house for intensive care. There are no large animal vets really left around here, so we end up diagnosing and treating many ailments ourselves. Early in the fall, we had acquired a free piglet with a broken shoulder and spent weeks splinting/dressing it. He's recovered swimmingly. 

Two days before I found Curly downed, we had another lamb- who we called Spotty, that Kim had spent the day on Christmas Eve, treating for bloat. He didn't pull through, as is sometimes the case with little bottle fed lambs. So I am cautious about being optimistic for little Curly. We're treating him with the best we have, a mix of colostrum, electrolytes, formula, mineral drench, a shot of penicillin and a good hot wood stove. We pride ourselves on being sustainable farmers. But that doesn't mean we don't ever pull out the big gun antibiotics, when they are called for. What it does mean is we don't just dose everyone with antibiotics as a preventative. Or, go to antibiotics as a cure all, no matter the ailment. In Curly's case, he has a bit of a rattle in his lungs, and watery eyes- probably a case of pneumonia, and antibiotics are the best option along with the rest of the treatments I mentioned. We are not ever going to let an animal suffer and die rather than give a reasonable treatment of antibiotics at a point when there is absolutely no reason to believe they would still be in his system months from now on butchering day (antibiotics work their way out of the system in a matter of days, think about how your doctor chides you for missing a pill or not finishing your treatment). There's a big difference between dosing him through a childhood illness, and feeding him a lifetime of medicated grain. We feel as though it's much more respectful to care for his life using the best available, then to allow an untimely and uncomfortable death.

Mostly though, Curly's care is about getting his system to a point that it's strong enough to fend off bugs. He's eating voraciously, a good sign, and chatting with us in a tiny voice every time you look in his general direction. We're not out of the woods, but we're better than we were yesterday, with a temp over 100 degrees and a good appetite. It's worth it to us to sleep on a futon next to a crabby little ram lamb to make sure he pulls through, or has a better chance to. 

This is sometimes what livestock farming looks like. Lambs are cute, but they are also fragile, and sometimes require a kind of smelly card board box in your living room, a table full of supplies, and an anal thermometer. 

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