MIS-MOTHER­ING

Country Smallholding - - Feature -

From time to time you will hear sto­ries of a ewe that has given birth, and then, quite mirac­u­lously, pro­duced an­other lamb a week or so later. Well, un­less you, per­son­ally, ob­served the ewe ac­tu­ally giv­ing birth on both oc­ca­sions then I sug­gest you take th­ese sto­ries with a very large pinch of salt! The most prob­a­ble sce­nario is that, on en­ter­ing the lamb­ing field or shed af­ter be­ing ab­sent for a while, two ewes (an old one and a young one) are no­ticed to have ap­par­ently given birth to a sin­gle lamb each, and are con­tent­edly mother­ing their new off­spring. All ap­pears nor­mal, so the ewes are penned up with the lambs and that’s that. How­ever, an as­tute shep­herd would have re­alised that in fact, the younger ewe had ac­tu­ally given birth to twins, the first of which had been stolen by an overly ma­ter­nal, dom­i­nant, older ewe, while she was de­liv­er­ing the sec­ond. Sub­se­quently, the older ewe goes into labour and pro­duces her own lamb(s), at which point, if the mix-up wasn’t iden­ti­fied and rec­ti­fied at the time, she may re­ject the stolen one. Its own mother won’t ac­cept it back at this late stage ei­ther. There­fore, it can be seen that the vast ma­jor­ity of th­ese sto­ries are sim­ply the re­sult of poor shep­herd­ing and a gen­eral lack of un­der­stand­ing of sheep be­hav­iour. Although it can oc­cur when sheep are lambed out­doors, mis­moth­er­ing is more par­tic­u­larly a prob­lem in housed flocks due to the close prox­im­ity of in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals to one an­other. Other than good ob­ser­va­tion, there are a few steps that can be taken to help re­duce the prob­lem:

Preg­nancy scan­ning. Know­ing how many lambs each ewe is ex­pect­ing can help avoid mud­dles such as in the ex­am­ple given above.

Pro­vide cor­ners. Plac­ing straw bales or other bar­ri­ers at in­ter­vals around the walls of the yard pro­vides lots of lit­tle cor­ners in which ewes can be alone to give birth. They also lessen the chance of the first born one of twins wan­der­ing off while the sec­ond is be­ing born.

Re­move trou­ble­mak­ers. Some ma­ter­nally minded old ewes will per­sist in steal­ing each and ev­ery new born lamb they come across, for maybe as much as week be­fore their own lambs are due. This causes a lot of dis­tur­bance, and can be very dis­tress­ing for the younger ewes, so it’s best to re­move the trou­ble­mak­ers from the main lamb­ing area. They can tem­po­rar­ily be housed with some later lamb­ing sheep.

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