Some years ago we had a flock of about 35 mixed breed ewes, white face and black face. We had a tall Suffolk buck and a not-so-tall but bulkier Rambouillet out of Texas. Later, we discovered that a newer breed called “Finnsheep” (from Finland originally) would produce not only twins, but triplets, quads and even five lambs at a time. We added a Finnsheep ram, four Finn ewes, and were convinced that our new breeding program was our ticket to big money.
Not only did the Finn ewes produce multiples, all the ewes bred by the Finn ram produced “litters.” That year we had nine sets of triplets and four sets of quads, with the rest twins and a few singles. We also had 11 bummers – after all, ewes only have two teats, and though the mothers were usually willing, they just didn’t have the capacity to feed three, much less four.
My husband built a “milk bar” – using a large ice chest he installed six lamb-sized black rubber nipples on each side. Our days began with making enough milk to fill the insulated box. As the lambs grew, we had to make milk more frequently. Lamb milk replacer (think powdered “baby formula”) doesn’t come cheap, and we learned an expensive lesson. You don’t make much profit from bummer lambs, and they take an inordinate amount of time and effort. I’m the “softy” in the family and yes, young lambs are cute for a few weeks, but “cute” doesn’t cut it when every few hours you’ve got to make milk and run up to the barn and there’s no payoff when the lambs are finally market size.
Several years later, after the bottom fell out of the wool market and lamb prices dropped to a new low, we got out of the sheep business. Later when we decided to give it one more try, we went for Barbados Blackbellies, a hair sheep breed (no shearing) known for ease in lambing, good mothering, and being disease resistant. We had given up our fantasies of big money; all we were really looking for was manure for our produce garden and some help with grass control. The lambs the flock produced would help defray the cost of the supplemental feed when there was no grass.
Mostly our flock has fulfilled our priorities, that is, they did until last week. A young ewe, lambing for the first time, appeared one morning with a nice sized lamb following close at her side. They walked from the barn and stopped under the largest olive tree where the lamb curled up to sleep. Mama began to paw the ground and nose the grass and the lamb. I pointed her out to my husband and said, “She’s looking for another lamb."
He went back to the barn and I walked down the hill to the house. After 20 minutes or so, I got a phone call. “We’ve got a problem,” said Zack. “I found a lamb caught between the wall and the squeeze chute … and that’s not all. I found another one that had crawled under the bottom rail and was behind the hay bales.”
It took us a good part of the morning to sort things out and we weren’t totally successful. The ewe took one look at the first lost lamb and flipped her head knocking him away. In the meantime, another first-time ewe appeared and claimed the other lost lamb, but neither were interested in the first one. We tried numerous times to “reunite” them, but finally looked at each other and rolled our eyes and said at the same time “bummer.”
Over the next few days, I quickly remembered what a “bummer” an orphan could be, although he was indeed a cute little thing. On the fifth day, my mother-in-law came down to tell me a couple at her church wanted the lamb. She was a bit taken aback when I shouted, “Yes!” and pumped my fist in the air. What a good ending to the "tale" of the lost lamb. These folks care for foster children (six at the present time). The kids were excited as could be and the lamb would get lots of attention from them. Chuckling, I did ask if my mother-in-law had explained our “no return policy.” As my husband’s been known to say, “Hey, you touched him last.”