Our newest family member – meet Shaun the sheep

WARNING: This is a very word and picture heavy post.

We have had a heartbreaking few weeks here, with an early lambing season coinciding with freezing conditions and some ill considered nutritional decisions. I have been letting my girls out to graze freely right into late pregnancy this year to reduce the cost of buying hay for them, so they have been eating a lot of lantana and when the freezing weather came two weeks ago (on the 16th July to be exact) Kracken went into labour three weeks early. I can’t find any evidence that the lantana is to blame for the early labour or the low birth weight of the babies, but my instinct tells me this is the key.

 I was away for the day and didn’t get home until 10.30 pm, my long suffering partner dutifully called the girls in, fed them and shut the gate in the afternoon, all without realising that Kracken was in the throes of labour. When I got home I went out to check the girls (the usual night time tuck in ritual) and found that she had given birth to twins, one looked to have been born dead and was very small, the other was also tiny and was struggling to even sit up. I took the live baby to the shelter and nestled him into the straw bed with his mum, hoping that he would get stronger and be able to stand to feed.

This is Shaun at 12 hours old in the lambing shelter.

In the morning we let her say goodbye to her dead lamb and buried him, then began the fight to save the living one. He still could not stand, so I mixed up a small bottle of Divetalact (milk replacement for animals) and fed him before work, hoping that would give him the energy to stand and feed alone. Kracken was very worried by this time as her baby wasn’t doing normal things. By the time I got home from work she had decided he was a lost cause and walked away from him, so I knew it was time to take over.
He was whisked inside and put in a box beside the fire wrapped in a towel while we tried to milk his mum to get some colostrum. This activity fits firmly into the ‘don’t try this at home’ category of extreme farming; she kicked and butted, she refused to let down her milk all the while calling out in combined anger and fear to her sisters who crowded around and tried to offer advice. Eventually we gave up and decided to do our best with commercial products.

All wrapped up in towels in a box

He took to the Divetalact well and fed hungrily every bottle (every three hours) and won my heart by cuddling up against me with a contented sigh after each bottle. He was peeing and pooping well so we knew the inside bits worked, but he still couldn’t stand up. As he weighed in at 1.4 kg (a normal twin weighs about 2 kg) I decided it was because he was so premature and gave him time to learn to stand. Thanks to the kids at school (and my boss) he was named Shaun the sheep.

On the third day he managed to struggle to his feet for a short while and after that there was no stopping him. He is now two weeks old and weighs just over 2 kg. He lives in the humpy with us (of course) and is still having three hourly feeds. I am suffering badly from lack of sleep and washing overload (he uses ‘nappies’ made from ripped up old towels), but am completely in love with him. He is resting on my bed under the covers (wrapped in a towel) as I type this. He has suffered some shortening of the tendons in his front legs, but regular exercise and massage will cure this I’m told.

Shaun’s attitude to my writing. He loves cuddles though

On his nappy towel beside the fire

In his coat being examined by Dr Bandit

Meeting Rabbito, who weighs more than he does.

Spending some time with his biological mum

In his new permanent house (well, until he grows out of it)

Tucked in for the night

Lounging in the dog beds

This is how we weigh Shaun

This lambing season has been terrible; Nut lost her lambs earlier in an early miscarriage, Kracken had twins and lost one and Snow White had twins but both died (despite our best efforts), now only Gaia remains and I’m beginning to think her belly is just pudge (what can we expect naming her after an Earth goddess) as she has no udder development to speak of and would be due in another two weeks if she is pregnant. Peridot is too young for babies as yet so has been spared the sadness. Next year I will be bringing them into the lambing paddock a month before due and damn the expense of feeding them all. However, Shaun has been a blessing and has inspired love, joy and kindness all around him. A good friend of my eldest daughter’s who is in her last year of a veterinary degree, sent me a lecture on tendon shortening in lambs and offered to have a look at him for us, my youngest daughter spent her precious time off from university feeding and cleaning up after him while I worked and my partner (who refuses to touch animals and only grudgingly pats the dogs) has donated several days to caring for Shaun while I work (and yes he does have to touch him as he won’t sleep without a cuddle). A friend of mine (Graham) has offered Shaun a home when he grows up and insists that he needs a mate for him so he won’t be lonely, is building him a shelter and fencing in his property in anticipation.
Shaun has reminded me once again that the simple love of a child is the real treasure in life (he is my child, even though he isn’t my species), the in-the-moment joy of being warm, safe and full is so evident in his whole being that it can’t help but make everyone around him happy too.

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