Some of you may have heard that last Tuesday, during a regularly scheduled Rare Breeds talk behind Wetherburn’s Tavern, guests got a bit of a surprise! They were able to witness a live birth of not one, but two lambs. And one of the twins is turning out to be a very special, little guy.
Edmund was the eighth lamb born this season. Not only has he been a source of glee over the past week, he has also been a source of anxiety and sleeplessness for some of our staff. You see, little Edmund’s start to life was a bit rougher than most. Usually the lambs in our flock are born without much trouble. The ewes give birth, clean and bond with their lambs, produce plenty of milk, and we release them in the pastures a few days later to frolic for the cameras. Occasionally, though, our ewes and lambs need some extra assistance. That’s exactly what happened the day Edmund was born.
His mother was a first-time mom, which is always a bit concerning for us in Coach & Livestock. Frequently, first-time moms aren’t quite sure what to do with the slimy little creatures that have just emerged from their bodies. They can be inattentive: wandering away after giving birth, forgetting to clean the newborn lambs, or refusing to stand while the lambs try to nurse.
Typically these new moms just need a little time to figure things out, and confused first-timers can quickly become excellent mothers. This is one of the main reasons our normal lambing routine includes taking the ewes and lambs to small pens in our stables for a few days just after birth. The mamas get some time to bond with their lambs while we can keep a close eye on them and provide help as needed.
The team and I noticed the inexperience of Edmund’s mother fairly quickly. She managed to get the first twin cleaned up, but wasn’t quite sure what to do after her second lamb arrived. Photographer Fred Blystone caught the moment immediately following the birth—illustrated in the picture above. She cleaned him a little, but eventually walked away from both babies.
It took a little bit of wrangling for us to get Mom on the trailer, but after heading off to the stables, we assumed everything would proceed normally. We all joined in to finish cleaning and drying the babies, and then milked out the ewe and tube fed the lambs. This is a standard and critical practice because food is heat for newborn lambs, and babies can die of hypothermia if they don’t get a bellyful of milk within the first few hours. After getting the new mom and her lambs settled into their pen, we left them alone to start bonding.
When I came back after about an hour to check on everybody, I realized immediately that something was wrong. While his brother was up and moving, Edmund wasn’t doing much. His breathing was very slow and he felt cool to the touch. I scooped him up in a towel and started vigorously rubbing, while I called in Elaine Shirley, our Rare Breeds Manager and resident lambing guru. We gave the little guy a warm water bath, dried him, and put him in a warming box for a few hours. Once his temperature was up, we popped him in a sweater and put him back in the pen with his mom and brother.
I still assumed all would be well, but again I was wrong. Edmund’s mother tolerated him while he rested in the pen, but as soon he tried to nurse, she started head butting him away. She wasn’t violently trying to kill him (like some ewes do), but she was making it clear she didn’t consider him her baby. Elaine and I built a mini-pen inside the big pen, which let the ewe see, hear, and smell her baby without being able to hurt him. When we left to finish up a few more chores, we still thought the ewe would come around to accepting the little guy. We were wrong.
When we got back later that evening, we had planned to hold Edmund’s mom still so he could learn to nurse, a trick that works surprisingly well in getting ewes and lambs to bond. That’s when we noticed the next problem. Something was seriously wrong with Edmund’s leg. One of his back legs had become very swollen and his joints would buckle whenever he tried to stand. At this point, Elaine decided to take him home for the night, where she could monitor him and give him a 2 a.m. feeding. If he made it, he would be a bottle lamb.
The next morning, our local vet, Dr. Lee, came to see the little guy. His first thought was that Edmund had a “congenital laxity in the ligaments of his left hind leg”, or what we like to call “a wonky leg.” He also mentioned that it could be broken, but it was still too swollen to tell. Either way, the solution was to stabilize the leg with a splint and the best vet wrap ever!
As soon as Cameron, our new ox driver, put him on the ground, Edmund started hobbling all over the place, a flurry of activity compared to the previous evening. A lamb with a splint is quite possibly the cutest and saddest thing at the same time.
The team decided to let him stay in the mini-pen next to his mom and brother during the day but take him home at night, alternating between a few staff members who live nearby, myself included. At the end of each day, we’d pack up bottles, measuring cups, enough milk replacer for the night, and a whole boatload of towels, as well as the lamb. Edmund travels in style, in a hi-tech carrier: a cardboard box.
I’ve taken Edmund for two nights so far. Once getting him home, I set up his crate with clean towels and let him explore the kitchen and yard for a bit. If you ever find a lamb in your house, just remember this little tip from Elaine Shirley, “linoleum is a wonderful thing.” After burning off some energy, he usually settles into my husband’s warm lap for some light reading or a little TV watching. After a good feeding at 8 p.m., he’s usually ready for bed, and so am I! At 2 a.m., I wake up and start heating a bottle while the lamb exercises a bit more, which seems to take forever but in reality is about seven minutes. I feed him and then head back to bed. I repeat the process of exercising and feeding again at 8 a.m. and then pack up to head into work. Cam, our new ox driver, also takes Edmund home—much to the delight of his wife and kids.
Caring for a lamb is much like caring for a baby—with late-night bottle feedings, cleaning up poop, and constant supervision. But like me, Cam says caring for Edmund has been a rewarding experience.
And just within the past few days, our little guy has grown stronger and stronger. Not only do we exercise him when we take him home at night, but we have also started removing the splint several times a day at work for physical therapy.
PT mostly involves letting him hop up and down the aisle at the stables, but occasionally we also let him build up his muscles by doing some “off-roading” in the grass. He is already able to put weight on the leg and only wobbles occasionally (though he may always walk with a bit of a limp).
During one of his checkups, the vet said there may indeed be a break, but since Edmund is putting weight on the leg and doesn’t seem to be in pain, he can walk without the splint and build more muscle, which will help stabilize the joint.
We will continue to bottle-feed him throughout the day until he can be weaned at about two months. We will also keep bringing him home in the evenings until he’s big enough to make it through the night without a feeding, at which point he will get put out to pasture with the other lambs and work on his social skills.
Our future plan is to incorporate Edmund into our wether flock, which I started walking to Market Square on a regular basis this spring. I think his spunky personality and comforting nature will make him a great animal for you all to meet the next time you visit.
Make sure to keep an eye out for our buddy as he grows up and starts to get out and about around town in the coming year! And check out our Bits & Bridles Tour. There’s a good chance if you visit in March or April, you’ll be able to see some of our newborns in their pens at the stables.
For those of you wondering where Edmund got his name—click here! We named him after Edmund Pendleton who fell off a horse and broke his hip in 1777—an unfortunate mishap that just like our little lamb, left him with a permanent limp.
GUEST BLOGGER: LAYNE ANDERSON
Layne Anderson is a Livestock Husbander/Interpreter in the Coach and Livestock Department. She has a long history with the Colonial Capital. Not only did she study Biology at the College of William & Mary, but her maternal grandparents, parents, and sister all attended as well. She spent her youth coming to Colonial Williamsburg for field trips and family vacations. After graduating, Layne left Virginia to work in the field of wildlife conservation, but returned to Williamsburg in 2013 after her husband landed a job in the Tin Shop. She joined the Foundation herself in 2014 and loves her position because she can pursue her interests in animal husbandry, Rare Breeds conservation, and history.
Lamb Caretaker & New Ox Driver: Cameron Green
Cameron Green is the Senior Ox Driver at Colonial Williamsburg. In New York, his beloved home state, he studied early American history at Siena College. After college, his passion for history brought him to work in the field of public history and eventually to Colonial Williamsburg.
Cameron’s other interests are in agriculture and husbandry which led him to the department of Coach & Livestock. Currently Cameron lives in a historic house in Williamsburg with his wife and three kids, but is hoping to have a farm of his own one day soon.