There's nothing cuter than a bottle fed lamb, except perhaps a little kid holding a bottle fed lamb. That's why we look forward so much to that day in April when the local preschoolers come over for their annual field trip. These are country kids, accustomed to farms and farm animals. Still, the look of enchantment on their faces when they hug a tiny lamb is priceless.
Our lambs are about a month old by the time the field trip rolls around, and that's just right. They're strong enough to scamper away from an overly enthusiastic child, but also curious, gentle and trusting enough to be petted and held. I set up a big circle of haybales inside the barn, and the kids and grownups all take a seat. Then, I close the outer barn doors and let all the lambs out of their pens to run around at will.
The bottle lambs always steal the show, but we don't have them every year. As adorable as they are, most sheep farmers don't exactly jump at the prospect. Every effort is usually made to compel a reluctant ewe to accept her lamb. In the case of a true orphan, there isn't usually much choice. Artificial rearing of lambs is alot of work. It's especially true in the beginning, when a newborn needs small but frequent bottle feedings of milk replacer. With any luck, lambs can eventually be transitioned to a self-serve milk dispenser, and in as little as 6 or 8 weeks they are able to be weaned onto pasture and grain. A bottle lamb becomes thoroughly attached to you, like a little puppy dog. Again, it's cute as can be, but requires a high level of commitment and not a little extra expense.
Sometimes we find ourselves just supplementing a lamb with milk replacer. That's much easier. Two years ago, we had a set of triplets born. They needed a bit more nutrition than the ewe could provide. It's tougher than you imagine though to train a lamb in that situation. Even when hungry, if a lamb is getting any natural milk at all from its mother, it can be extremely reluctant to take a bottle from you. You have to be patient, repeatedly holding the lamb and force squeezing a litle milk into their mouths. They still might not take to it.
This last year, we had no orphaned lambs, and no lambs on supplement. Good news, right? On the contrary, I was disappointed about the upcoming kid's field trip. It wouldn't the same without a cuddly bottle lamb! I started casually offering a bottle to each lamb. As expected, most were completely uninterested. One lamb came around though, and would come running over every night for an extra snack. Later that lamb was the hit of the party of course.
The kids had a terrific time as usual, and the parents and chaperones too. After a time with the lambs, we headed over to the chicken coop, which always seems to be a little more scary for the kids. It's those beaks for sure. Shortly after that, we did lose two of the boys to the tractor which I mistakenly left parked in the barn. What was I thinking? Five minutes after that, everyone else pretty much forgot about farming and peeled off to play on our daughter's swings. All in all, a memorable outing though to be sure, and you should have seen the hand-drawn thank you card we received the next day!