Are You My Mama?

Photo by Rachel Claire on

A helpful skill for a sheep farmer to learn is the ability to graft or have a ewe accept and care for a lamb that is not her own. Many things can happen during laming. Lambs get separated from mom by wondering off while mom is delivering another lamb or being stolen by another expecting ewe really wanting a baby or there are triplets born. Sometimes the ewe’s udder is so full and swollen, it hurts for the lambs to nurse, so she will not let them, I use my grafting to help the ewe and she will raise her own lambs. Occasionally, a ewe will die during delivery or shortly there after.

Bottle feeding a lamb is time consuming and exhausting. A newborn lamb needs to be fed, by opinion after watching ewes with lambs, every two to three hours, I prefer two hours. Newborn lambs need to be kept out of the wind and warm. Placing them in an area alone with heat is necessary as the flock will push them to the outside of the group and it is cold there. The orphan lamb will not have warmth from the body of a mother so warmth needs to be provided by heat lamp or heat pad. I like the heating pads used for dogs with puppies to keep puppies warm. Most often my newborn bottle lambs are in my house, in a small bathroom for ease of cleaning.

PeeWee looking out the door window.

My method is a little “cowgirl” in nature, but it works. I catch the ewe with a lariat rope and tie her up close to the fence. Once she is secure I gather up a lamb, and place it along her side. I restrain the ewe by putting my leg and knee right behind the front leg leaning into her to keep her against the fence, while I hold the lamb next to her side and help it find a teat. I am a fair sheep/goat roper.

I have skinned the ewe’s dead lamb and put the hide on the lamb, but I still had to restrain the ewe until she accepted the lamb.

People have mentioned the scent gels you can buy to get ewes to accept lambs. I have never used these, so I can not say if they work or do not work.

The key to getting a ewe to accept the lamb, is for the lamb to nurse. After three or four days of the lamb nursing, the feces and urine carry the scent the ewe uses to recognize her lamb. In order for the lamb to digest enough milk from the ewe, the sheep farmer needs to be persistent and consistent. Meaning just like with a bottle baby, you have to restrain the ewe for the lamb to nurse every two to three hours.

Anytime I have a lamb I am not sure has nursed, I give it colostrum from a bottle. The importance of colostrum in the first few hours of a lambs life to build the immune system and get a good start can not be overstated.

I have had good success with my method of grafting, and the ewes have accepted the lambs in 3 to 4 days. Grafting takes some time, but not for the length if you are bottle feeding a lamb.

Once on one of my trips to the sale barn, I bought a lamb no body wanted to bid on because it was missing an ear. Apparently something chewed it off. A lamb is a lamb, no body bid, I did not pay much. A little later in the sale, a nanny goat came in that had just given birth told by the debris on her back side and hind legs. People are leery of a nanny that has just given birth with no kids. So I bid on the nanny and bought her. When I got them home, I gave the lamb a bottle to make sure it had some nutrients in its belly, then started my grafting process. I successfully grafted a sheep lamb with one ear onto a boer cross nanny goat. After five days, the lamb was hers and she mothered it perfectly.

Persistence and consistency of every two to three hours regardless of the method you use are the keys to grafting lambs or kids onto a different mother.

Good luck in your laming and sheep adventures!


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