Every once in a while for whatever reason, I’ll get a ewe that doesn’t want to properly mother her lamb or lambs. In sheep it is vital that within the first minutes after delivery, a ewe see, smell, hear, taste and touch her newborn lamb(s).
A strong ewe/lamb bond is formed by those behaviors. Any post-delivery interference between the ewe and her lamb(s) can upset the natural course and cause the rejection of lambs or poor mothering behavior.
It’s worth mentioning that a ewe that experiences a relatively easy delivery sometimes will not have as strong a maternal instinct as the ewe that has had a harder labor and delivery. The intense pressure of the lamb in the birth canal immediately before the full delivery of a lamb stimulates a ewe to accept her lamb.
Sometimes with an easy birth or twins coming quickly together, an inexperienced ewe will become confused. Often she will accept one lamb at the expense of the other. But sometimes both lambs are poorly mothered.
There are a few different tricks that I use to convince a ewe to accept her lamb(s). Each situation is different and requires an careful evaluation of the circumstances. But easiest trick I know of is called:
BRING IN THE DOG
Often the presence of a dog will encourage a strong protective instinct in a newly delivered ewe. The size of the dog usually doesn’t matter. Typically the ewe will stomp the ground or sometimes attempt to butt at the dog. Frequently she will direct her lambs behind her to protect them.
With a ewe that won’t allow her lamb to nurse, a dog into the barn, takes her mind off the lamb and puts it directly on the dog. This distraction buys time and allows her lamb to nurse. Once the lamb has nursed and ingested some of her milk, the ewe will recognize the lamb from the odor of its rear end. The lamb is now officially hers. If she doesn’t accept her lamb after 3 hours or so I will repeat the procedure.
With a truly stubborn or recalcitrant ewe I don’t hesitate to halter and tie her stoutly to a post; or stanchion her in a dairy goat head gate or hobble her back legs. I then tie a dog securely to another post or object to within 8 feet of her. I never leave the ewe and the dog alone. But instead find work in the barn while the dog and the ewe sort things out. Even the most wayward ewes will usually settle down and accept her lambs within 8 to 12 hours.
First time mothers tend to give more trouble than older experienced ewes. I do make exceptions for them and will give them another chance. But for ewes that cannot or will not be convinced to get on with motherhood, the best course of action is to promptly cull them from the flock. Good mothering in sheep is hereditary. No sense in breeding bad mothers.