One night was all it took to convince us that bringing another orphan lamb into the house would not be the wisest of moves. At first, little Miss Chocolat was very cooperative. She drank the colostrum from her bottle with no problem and then fell asleep. That was the end of the good news. She spent the rest of the night refusing the bottle. Down at the barn was a free milk bar! Icelandics are known for their abundant milk production, and Vivian still had plenty of milk. There had to be a way. We know of systems of restraints that would force a ewe to stand for several days while the lamb nursed. To us it seemed unnecessarily cruel. The theory was that the lamb, after nursing for several days, would eventually smell like the mother. This would lead to the ewe’s eventual acceptance of the lamb as her own. An enforced bonding, if you will. On paper, theories look great. Trying to carry them out is another thing entirely. We didn’t like the idea of making her stand for several days, but perhaps we could use a more moderate restraint system, one that would allow her to eat, drink, and sit down.
The answer came in the form of a goat’s harness we found at the local farm supply store. It would fit around her head allowing her to eat and drink. The end of the tether would then be fastened on to the side of her pen so that she couldn’t turn around. On the first day, we decided to use it sparingly, only bringing the lamb down to the barn for short intervals. Vivian was then unharnessed and the lamb was brought back to the house. The lamb had no problem drinking, and Vivian stood quite still. We were pleased that she did not try to kick her away. Little by little, Vivian seemed to be getting more comfortable with Chocolat in the pen.
Day two brought a dilemma. It was whitewashing day. While the barn was getting its new, very clean, and very white look, all the animals had to be out of the barn for most of the day. This of course included the new mothers in the lambing pens. Dulce and Heath were let out into the barnyard with no problem. They had already been in the lambing pen for four days. We didn’t quite know what to do with Vivian and Chocolat, however. Vivian was still in her harness. We had to let her out, but at the same time, we felt that Chocolat was not ready. She was still less than two days old and had spent only a small part of that with her mother. The whole process of bonding, if indeed it were to work, would take a lot longer. She would have to come back to the house.
Sometimes decisions are thankfully taken out of our hands. We brought them both out and put Chocolat down next to her. Would Vivian bolt or would she stay with her lamb? In fact, would she even remember that she had one. As predicted, she immediately took off. That could have been the end of the story. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Something must have registered because she suddenly turned around, looked frantically in every direction, and finally focused on tiny little Chocolat standing hesitantly on her little legs. She ran up to where the lamb was still standing stock still in the hay, and after a little sniffing, led her out to pasture, Chocolat’s little legs going as fast as they could go to keep up. If anyone could have seen our faces at that moment! We were in complete and total shock. Could bonding have taken place that quickly? We watched them closely for the rest of the day, and the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. She stayed with her lamb all day. They occasionally lost sight of each other, but always ended up back together again. We of course were waiting for the magical sounds that we hadn’t heard yet, those special little mother/lamb sounds, the calling signals unique to each pair. Sure enough, by the end of the day, we heard a little cry from Chocolat followed by Vivian’s hesitant reply as she ran to find her lamb. That sealed the deal. We put them back into the lambing pen that night, no harness, no restraints. We did not dare to think that something so crazy could have worked so successfully and so quickly. But we were certainly a lot more optimistic than the day before.
Today is their second day out in the pasture together. For all intents and purposes and as improbable as it sounds, we were able to reopen that window of opportunity, the one that we thought had been closed for good. We knew that Chocolat would now grow strong with the benefit of that good Icelandic milk, and, more importantly, we could get some much needed rest. No more bottle babies, at least not until next year!