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Ida’s Story

 

13 June 2020
We have a family story emerging down in the nursery. A couple of days ago a ewe gave birth to
twin ewe lambs. One was skipping about and curious just as I would expect. The other didn’t move.
She lay still and if she did move, she fell over and planted her feet wide and she shook. Her mum
stayed very close. The lamb was warm, she was getting regular nuzzling and licking from her
mum. But she didn’t move. I picked her up and the ewe watched me closely. I put her down again
and waited, she didn’t walk anywhere, her mother came to her and licked her and weirdly instead
of moving towards her mum and suckling, this little lamb was making sniffing, snuffling lip
movements, ducking her head and she turned the wrong way, away from her mum. Oh oh. We
have a problem. I fetched her a bottle of milk.
The ewe was exceptional. She stayed close by while the lamb drank urgently. She was sucking
really well and she was thirsty. What’s wrong? She was easy to get on the bottle, so, why wasn’t
she finding the udder? I watched some more. This mother was not leaving, she called the lamb all
the time and she kept attending to her. Nothing. The lamb dipped her head towards the floor and
made more funny lip movements. She caught my scent and moved towards me. She followed me.
And her mum watched, so, I walked a circle so that she would walk past her mum. Mum took her
chance and intercepted the lamb, licked her again and the lamb just stood still. No normal reaction
to the ewe encouraging her to feed.
Over the next day I fed the lamb and watched the ewe trying really hard to get the lamb to feed. I
watched the lamb standing on her own and looking lost. I watched her twin sister go nose to nose
with her as they sniffed each other and I watched the twin lay her neck over her sister. I watched
the lamb unwilling to walk anywhere, wobble and listen intently but not approach anyone except
me. “She’s blind” I thought. She’s afraid to walk. And for some reason sight must be significant in
suckling (although I never found that in the literature or my agricultural studies). I made a pen. A
small 8 by 8 pen with solid sides and the little family settled in. I fed mum and got down among the
sheep poo and started training our little lass while mum stood still to eat.
It’s quite a tricky thing to do, transferring a lamb sucking your little finger onto a teat, especially
when the lamb immediately drops her nose and sniffs the ground. Bless her. This mum is really
something, she stood and waited and eventually we had 30 seconds of success. That little tail
wagged like crazy and then, flop, she slid off again and the little lip movements and sniffing start all
over again but nowhere near mum. I left her well fed from the bottle and at Jo’s suggestion, they
spent the night in the pen.
Early this morning, bottle in hand, I looked over the edge to see two well fed lambs laying in the
corner and gorgeous mum standing over them. Wow. She’s managed it, she’s feeding. OK lets see
what happens when mama goes out the graze.
Mum and twin leave the pen steadily and walk away. Little blind lamb lost connection with them
straight away. She was bouncing around in circles crying out and completely lost. Damn. I picked
her up and took her closer to her mum and watched. Ewe and lamb communication depends on
vocalisations at distance (distance increases as lambs get older), sight when they are closer to
each other and olfaction when they are very close. The ewe stood silently looking at her lamb.
Under normal circumstances the lamb would recognise her mum and run over. The lamb was
standing with her ears pricked out to the side listening for her mum. The ewe would be unlikely to
call at that distance. She has no concept that her lamb can’t see her. I waited, please find a way to
communicate with each other. Then. The lamb, put her head down and TRACKED. Proper, full on,
competition type tracking.
She bumped into her mum and her mum licked her. It’s so difficult to see, but each time the lamb
finds her mum she jumps. She seems to have so little warning that she has arrived. Sheep don’t
have whiskers so she has no vibration sensation feedback. I watched. She managed to suckle and
began to follow her mum. I saw her sister walk up to her and they spent time nose to nose again. I
decided to leave them for a while and check in later.
When I went back it was astonishing. They were all still together and the lambs were fed. I saw the
blind lamb use her sister as a guide towards the under carriage of the ewe. I saw the sister run
over to our blind lamb and bring her back to their mum. I saw their mum quietly intervene when a
bigger lamb ran over to our little one, the sighted sister was roaring around playing with the others,
the blind lamb was inspecting something in the hedge and mum stepped forward and prevented
the big lambs mobbing little one, twice. She’s amazing, she was really gentle with the others but
they clearly understood and left her with her mum. From a distance I saw the blind lamb actually
run towards her mum and bump head long into her udder. That was a shame, but her confidence is
already changed. She literally jumped in the air when I started the buggy, I need to think about that.
I’m going to watch more before I decide whether or not I need to do anything more than let them
learn together as a family. I could put a sheep bell on mum. We’ll see.
I am relieved to see her fear subside a little. The degree to which fear persists is bound to be a
significant factor in her future. I’ll consider making a video if they keep progressing together. I am
astonished by what I’ve seen today, I need to think about it scientifically, but there has been a lot of
learning taking place.

14th June 2020
Family drama update. They are all ok.
This morning the three of them were asleep in a corner of the field. Mum was cradling both lambs.
She is quite relaxed about me poking my nose in and we watched each other for a long time while
the lambs slept. It dawned on me how clever she had been. Her family were neatly stashed in the
corner so it would be relatively easy for her to keep track of her lambs.
Tonight we could see several things going on. Mum has moved them more to the centre of the
field. This is where the mums bring the lambs and they start forming bonds with their flock mates.
The lambs sniff the other ewes and they begin playing with the other lambs. The sighted sister is
very bold. She’s off roaring around the field, mixing with the other sheep, very confident. What we
saw tonight. She is taking her blind sister with her on shorter expeditions. When big sister goes off
for longer play dates, our little blind lamb stays close to her mum. More astonishing, the ewe
seems to be aware of the older sister needing to clear off for a while and we watched her step in
and sort of take over lamb watching.
The sisters are interacting together with a lot of tactile behaviour. I can tell you that it is more than I
would normally expect with siblings. Something interesting is going on. They sniff each other nose
to nose, nostril to nostril. There is quite a bit of neck weaving and cuddling. They touch a lot.
Sighted sister is taking her on forays. They are skipping and running together. Blind lamb is much
more confident today. She is doing short bursts of running and there seems to be a little bit of fun
going on.
And here is something truly amazing. The ewe has figured it out. When the lamb is in that proximity
zone where she should expect her daughter to be able to see her, she is vocalising. I had to watch
for a long time to make sure I wasn’t wishful thinking. But, they are definitely calling to each other
much more than the other ewes and lambs when they are close. They seem to be finding each
other relatively easily when the distances aren’t too big. Yesterday at these distances she was lost.
Today, she’s a confident little bunny.
Something else has changed. She is no longer leaping in the air, jumping in alarm. She is using
her nose. I was a bit worried that the lamb was listening for me too. She needs to focus on her
mum and sister and forget me. She orientated towards me when I was talking on the field, made a
few steps towards my voice and then stayed put. Hooray.
As we were leaving the field her mum bought the lambs over to the gate. It’s clear that our little
lass is tracking a great deal. She has her nose down and the funny little movements that I’d seen
before are now happening as she explores the ground and other sheep. She is able to close in on
something without bumping into it. Her nose and her ears are definitely beginning to get her          around the field. She is navigating quite busy spaces, she is locating her mum and she seems
much less fearful. Her family are totally cool about caring for her. They also seem to be extremely capable.
She didn’t jump when the buggy started. One of our Coaches in training has named her Ida.

27th June 2020
Loving Adele this evening and thinking about a tiny lamb who has been a light in my day today.
Today was a big day in the life of Ida. If you are joining Ida’s story here, she was born after her big
sister. Actually mum and I bought her sis into the world between us. When I returned to check on
them, there she was a little cutie all curled up with her mum and sister. It was only in the following
24 hours that I realised something wasn’t quite as it should be. Little Ida is unsighted.
So, we all had an adventure for a few days and the result so far is that Ida and her family are doing
astonishingly well. But. the day was looming, grass in the nursery is nearly gone, so the big move
was on for today. I’ve been watching to see how she was doing and would she be disorientated?
Would I need to pick her up? In a word, “no”.
A few days ago I thought I’d seen something amazing. Now I know I’ve seen it. Ida’s sister ran over
to her and laid her nose on top of Ida’s rump, using her nose as a pointer, two seconds later and
the pair of them ran off sis in front, Ida behind in the direction of the nose point. Don’t be so daft!!
Seriously? I surely didn’t see that? Wait. They hung out under tree with some other lambs, chewing
stuff and generally doing lamb stuff, then, oh my! Sister and Ida do this gorgeous neck cuddling
thing and Sis lays her nose along Ida’s flank….. whoosh, Ida runs ahead in the direction of the
nose point. Cue for a bunch of lambs to join them running like loons.
Ida lost them. They zoomed off and she bumped into a tree. Damn it. Nope, she was fine, the gang
circled round and picked her up. I watched this for days. She bumps into things occasionally, but
mostly her sister points and she either runs ahead or follows. Sis is now twice the size of little Ida.
Those first few days have taken their toll. But, her mum is as attentive as ever and she is being fed
well.
So, back to today. I built a sheep road years ago to guide the flock. My plan was for the ewes to
move their lambs between the fields at each end of the road. I called the ewes, greedy lumps, they
all come running and I fed them outside the field gate. Where is Ida? Can’t see her. That’s sort of a
good thing, she’s in the thick of this tiny flock, which means a lot of sheep are looking out for her
(even if the other ewes clonk her one for tying to pinch illicit feeds). Anna and I went into the
field to try and coax the tail enders out. By the time we came back to the road, ummm, no one
there! they’d gone. Vamoosed.
Five very young lambs were left in the field, so, we left the gates open. Their mums would come
and collect them later and take them more quietly on their own. So, it wasn’t until later in the day
that I closed all the gates and went to find our girl. I’m fairly sure that she made that big trip, in new
territory in the first wave of ewes and lambs shifting fields. Well. She doesn’t lack confidence
anymore.
There she was. on top of the new field and sure enough, her sister, tapped her on the bum and off
they went like the wind in the direction of the pointy nose. I had a slight wobble when I watched her
run into another tree, but, truly, she bumps into these obstacles gently. She isn’t clattering herself.
She seems very ‘matter of fact’ about it and is roaring around…. that lamb that “boldly goes”…
gone!
She will need some medicines to protect her tomorrow and then I will introduce the main flock.
I am still thinking about the best way to do that. I expect it will involve Josie and PJ. Will let you know how it goes.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Debra, thank you so much for your message. Really pleased that you’re enjoying her story. Interesting idea about the children’s book.

  2. This is a great little story of life in a sheep herd and how one little lamb overcomes her lack of sight. I just love it. This could be made into a great kiddies story with some pictures of Ida and her family.

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