In farming, you are going to make mistakes. Sadly, the hardest ones to forgive yourself for are the ones that cost an animal its life. We made one of those big time mistakes Monday night.
We got home from our trip Monday night with sleet and snow coming down. The temperature was dropping steadily, but we fed our lambs and made sure they were strong and healthy. I put them back in the barn with their mother and she seemed glad to see them. They had a place out of the wind to snuggle down, so we figured they’d be fine, tucked in the barn with the other sheep to help them stay warm.
We were wrong.
Tuesday morning, very early, my oldest daughter went to the barn. She found No-Dot dead outside the sheep pen (we have no idea how she got there) and Dot was snuggled in a far back corner of the pen, out of the wind, but almost dead.
Dot’s mouth was cold, too cold, and her body was limp. But she had a heartbeat and we had to try.
I put a tube down her throat and poured some warm milk into her stomach. While we were running a warm bath, we wrapped her in a towel and I shoved her under the covers with one of my still-sleeping kids.
The quickest way to raise an animal’s core body temperature is to hold it in a warm bath until it begins to revive. So into the tub Dot went. She stayed in the tub for 20-30 minutes, until she began to show some signs of life. I had to watch her carefully because she was so limp she could hardly hold her head up and I didn’t want her to drown.
We wrapped her in a pile of towels and set her in front of our fireplace snuggled under some blankets with my daughter. The thermostat was set higher than it’s been all winter. (The kids say that mom and dad must love the sheep more than we love the kids!) Periodically, we rewrapped dry towels around Dot as the damp ones became cool and soggy.
Later, my daughter blow dried her a body part at a time, keeping the other parts of her body covered with towels and blankets.
After several hours, Dot seemed okay. She was quite sluggish all day though and spent much of the afternoon cuddled under blankets with my kids.
So now since it’s cold, Dot is a house lamb. She sleeps in a cage in the garage under a heat lamp. She runs in the house, but we have to watch her carefully because, like any baby, she will eat pretty much anything.
The trauma of almost freezing to death is still affecting her. She’s not quite gotten her appetite back, and I still have to tube feed her. However, she’s beginning to suck on a bottle a little more.
We totally overestimated how much cold our lambs could tolerate. It seems that bottle lambs really can’t regulate their own temperatures outdoors on cold nights without a constant source of warm milk.
It’s a hard lesson to learn. We will never make that mistake again.