Lambs! What a day we had yesterday! Two sets of twins out of our 2 ewes: 3 rams lambs, 1 ewe lamb. Sadly, one of the ram lambs died early in the morning before we got out to the barn. Looks like he never had the caul cleared from his face.
But what confusion we had the first half of the day trying to figure out who was the surviving lamb's mother. And even whether the lambs were twins or two singletons. Sounds silly, but both ewes had evidence of vulvar bleeding.
When we could find only one afterbirth, I figured we had a set of twins which meant one of the two ewes hadn't lambed yet. But which one? To make things more difficult the newborn ram lamb was confused too. And his mother, whichever of the ewes it was, wasn't bonding with him. One of the ewes rejected the little guy, so we thought it couldn't be her, but then she sort of warmed up to him after a couple of hours while the other ewe remained aloof. As the hours ticked by he wasn't nursing, so we were concerned and milked some colostrum out of our primary maternal suspect and syringe-fed it to him orally.
Meanwhile both ewes kept munching hay steadily with those half-smile expressions.
A long morning of worry, ovine sleuthing and outright speculation eventually turned into lunch time, so Sam (my son & partner in crime) and I took a break and got some lunch and a bit of a rest, then headed back to the barn. We had secluded our ewe/lamb dyad in a stall before leaving for lunch and hoped they would work the relationship out while we were gone. We did not want to end up bottle-feeding the lamb. We've never had to do that because our ewes have been terrific moms and we didn't want to go that route unless absolutely necessary.
With heavy hearts and little hope, we returned after lunch to hear the telltale "Maaaaa!" that told us our lamb was still with us. But when we looked in the stall, there were 3 dark fuzzy newborns, not one. Our primary suspect wasn't the lost lamb's mother after all! She had lambed her own set of twins while we ate lunch. Go figure. Clearly, she wanted us out of the way. Of course, this definitively resolved the issue of maternity and we put the early morning ram lamb in with his rightful mother. This time he trotted up to her and began suckling like a pro. We were dumbfounded...then relieved. As only an 10 year-old can express it, my son turned to me and said, "Mom, I feel like going to my bed and punching my pillow!" But he was too happy to leave and so was I.
I'm a firm believer in standing back and not interfering in birth and post-birth bonding for all mammals (including humans), so I have to say I felt somewhat foolish having put the ram lamb with the wrong ewe for half the morning. But we were afraid we might lose the surviving twin because of poor bonding, so we did intervene. And...nature did set our morning up with one lamb having died for lack of a simple clearing of its airway. I'm guessing the ewe was busy birthing the second lamb and didn't get to him in time. So there are risks with letting things simply unfold too.
In the end, Sam and I did learn quite a bit yesterday about lambing when you have multiple ewes -- and about the personalities of our particular ewes during lambing, like they never stop wanting to eat whether in early labor or immediately post-partum. In retrospect, a quick vaginal exam would have cleared up the issue of maternity and who should bond with who. But what is farming if not a humbling experience? If it's not confused newborns, it's flaky apple trees that don't blossom or stubborn tomatoes that won't turn in the sunshine!