Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mopple moves outdoors (part-time)

Not much has happened the past few days as it’s been very hot and humid and I’ve been under the weather with an oogy tummy.

Mopple has been spending part of the day out in the pen Big Mama and Tank (goats) use at night. It’s escape-proof and this way he can safely interact with the other sheep and goats through the fence. He isn’t enthused about this and screams when first deposited in the pen, though he settles down fairly quickly.

He tries to interact with the sheep when I have him loose in the yard with me (I pick him up when the adult goats are nearby, lest they butt him). Most of the ewes and wethers accept him but the spring lambs think he’s scary and stomp their feet to warn him away.

He’s drinking water from a pan but (so far) isn’t interested in dry feed (apart from nibbling grass). I’ll pick up some Honey Nut Cheerios today and feed a few to the little guy. They’re perfect rewards for clicker training sheep and goats.

This morning I left the door to the walk-in closet open (it’s an unused bedroom) and found him in there repeatedly butting a bag of raw Cheviot fleece with all his might. He gets on butting jags from time to time, though he quickly learned that butting humans is unacceptable.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mopple's indoor home (bottle babies in the house)

Mopple is almost ready to move up to the bigger bottle baby crib—an enormous “wolf-size” wire dog crate. This is a record: he’s growing even faster than our Boer goat kids!

Our first indoor lamb and kid crib is a large, wire dog crate we bought not long after we were married, so it’s at least 35 years old! It’s nice because in addition to the usual front-opening door, the top flips open for easy access to the baby inside. We usually leave the top open for the first few weeks, especially when housing small Miniature/Classic Cheviot lambs. However, Mopple is tall and unusually active, so we closed it right from the start.

When there are two occupants they keep one another company but when there’s only one, I usually put a plush toy animal in the crate for company. Since Vanessa sent Delilah’s shed fleece along with Mopple, he had that to cuddle and sleep on.

The secret to relatively odor-free indoor bottle baby keeping is using lots of easily washable bedding. I use old bath towels, secondhand infant receiving blankets and large pieces of old bed blankets (pieces are better than whole blankets because you can choose exactly the right amount of padding and pieces are more easily laundered).

I start with a very absorbent layer; worn wool blankets from the used-a-bit shop work especially well but towels do the job too. The middle layer can be anything. The top layer should be lightweight and easily wash- and dryable because it must be replaced every time the baby poops. Healthy milk-fed lamb and kid poop is yellow and (if you’re on track) log-shaped; if the baby’s digestion is at all off-kilter, pudding consistency (or worse). Mopple has been a gem: little logs all the way (hooray!).

To further quash odor and to keep things tidy, I wipe the crate down with Lysol every time I completely strip the bed. Barring incidents, I do that three times a day.

When things are kept clean there is little or no odor until the kid or lamb starts eating solids around two to three weeks of age. Then urine takes on a more pungent aroma.

Most of our kids and lambs move out at about three to four weeks of age, depending on whether or not they have a companion and things are getting crowded (and smelly!). The long-term record is held by Tumnus, a Boer-dairy goat cross seized in an animal neglect case and given to me by our veterinarian. His urine never started to reek and ensconced in the wolf-size crate, he lived in the house for six whole weeks.

Of course, the option is to housetrain the lamb or kid. That’s doable, but we’ll talk about it another time!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

We're showing progress!

Mopple is hard to photograph! His features get lost in his very black face.

I’ve never started lead training a baby this young but things are coming along nicely.
Using the bottle as a reward a la Squishy in The Box Game ( didn’t pan out as Mopple is extremely focused on food and continually mobs me if he knows I’m holding the bottle. So, I’m scratching his back as a reward for now. Next time I go to town I’ll buy a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and teach him to eat Cheerio rewards (my goats love these).

So far we’ve only led indoors (no distractions) but since the day is dawning bright and clear, today I’ll take the project outdoors.

I’ve been thinking ahead to moving him to outdoor quarters when he’s older (that won’t happen for a couple more weeks). I think I’ll buddy him up with Edmund, the Nubian kid I started clicker training this spring. Edmund is disbudded and also black (with frosted ears and a few white spots), so they should make a cute pair for exhibitions. Edmund is older but he’s not a huge kid; by the time Mopple moves out, they should be a good match, weight-wise, though Edmund will be taller.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mopple's collar

Yesterday afternoon I found a collar for Mopple at the farm store. It’s a cute red number made of faux suede with an elastic insert, brass-colored fittings and a bell (yep, it’s a cat collar).

We keep a brass goat bell suspended in the bottle baby crib, so Mopple’s already used to the sound of bells a’tinkling. He’s the first lamb to actively play with the bell (and in the wee hours of the morning, no less); kids love it but until now, our lambs pretended it wasn’t there. So, he didn’t fuss a bit when I strapped the bell-clad collar around his neck. Then I took him outdoors for a run.

The three older rams come out in our yard for a few hours every evening; this was their first nose-to-nose meeting with the lamb. They crowded forward to sniff him; he didn’t care, he simply kept spronking and practicing ninja kicks. Wooby gave Rumbler a knowing look and rolled his eyes. They put their heads together and began mumbling. I couldn’t help myself—I eavesdropped. This is what they said.

“Did you see that thing around his neck?” Oran demanded.

“Yeah,” said Rumbler. “It has a bell on it and it’s red!’

“Disgusting.” Wooby sighed as the lamb spronked by. “Disgusting and very un-sheeplike. Next thing you know, we’ll have to wear them too!”

Mopple wasn’t nearly as enthused when I snapped a featherweight leash to his collar but today he was yielding to pressure quite well.

Tomorrow I’ll introduce the clicker! Weather permitting (it’s pretty crummy out there today) I’ll do it outdoors a shoot some pictures to share.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Mopple update

Mopple enjoyed yesterday’s outing immensely. The other sheep and some of the goats watched him zoom around the yard in amazement.
The white sheep watching Mopple play is Louie (Wolf Moon Louie), my two year old former bottle baby and the last bottle lamb I raised before Mopple. He’s an unusually smart and biddable wether and would make a neat agility and trick sheep (and after Mopple, I may attempt to train him as such) but is too small for carting. He’s a Miniature/Classic Cheviot and stands about 20.5” at the shoulder.

Today we drove to Thayer (MO) to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy a small dog collar for Mopple so I can start clicker training him to lead. They were not only out of small dog collars but didn’t have cat collars in stock either. John is going to pick up something at the larger Wal-Mart in Ash Flat (AR) tomorrow on his way to work.

Mopple is growing so quickly! Vanessa weighed him at seven pounds when he was one day old; I just weighed him at 13.8 pounds, so he’s almost doubled in weight. He’s definitely an eager eater and has begun nibbling plants when I have him outdoors. I have a hunch he’s going to be a big boy!

I’ll be writing an assigned article about hair sheep for Hobby Farms this coming year, so have been reading about them and printing out research material. Based on what I’m learning and factoring in how next to impossible it is to find shearers in many parts of the country nowadays (ours included), it’s hard to understand why anyone raising meat sheep doesn’t switch. We’re seeing more flocks of Dorpers and Katahdins in the Ozarks all the time and it looks as though quite a few goat ranchers in this region are switching to hair sheep as well.

More about Mopple as soon as he gets his collar. I still have my big Boer wethers’ baby collars around here somewhere but darned if I can find them!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sheep or goat?

He looks like a sheep but he’s a goat. Traveling children’s photographers in days gone by often photographed youngsters in a cart or wagon drawn by a goat. Thanks to their impressive horns and long, luxurious locks, Angora goats were the cart goat of choice. Note this handsome Angora goat’s tail and the shape of his horns—dead giveaways that he isn’t a sheep.

Sheep or Goat?

Some folks think hair sheep like Mopple resemble goats. While that’s somewhat true, they aren’t the same; there are easily noticeable physical differences between sheep and goats.

Consider tails. Unless they’re frightened or ill, goats’ tails stick up; they’re short, with a fringe of longer hair at the sides. Sheep’s tails always hang down. Wool sheep lambs are born with long, woolly tails ( that are usually docked (shortened) to help prevent flystrike later on. Flystrike is a particularly nasty condition in which blowflies lay their eggs in the wool on sheep’s manure-encrusted tails; when the eggs hatch, the resulting maggots secrete enzymes that liquefy their host’s flesh and create a nasty, open wound. Because hair sheep lambs don’t have wool on their tails, they needn’t be docked. Mopple gets to keep his cute tail.

What about a beard? Goats of both sexes can have beards, though not every goat has one. Sheep never have beards, though rams of most hair breeds have manes: longer hair on their shoulders and their lower necks.

Look at those horns. Unless they’re disbudded ( or dehorned, nearly all goats have horns, though polled (naturally hornless) goats exist; sheep come in polled and horned breeds (in some horned breeds only rams have horns, in others both sexes have them). The horns on most goats sweep back and then up or out while horns on most sheep breeds curve into loops at the sides of their faces. Dorpers and Katadhins are both naturally polled; Mopple won’t have horns.

If it’s a male, does he make you think pee-ooo? Bucks have the charming habit of spraying urine on the backs of their front legs and into their faces while they’re in rut (girl goats find this sexy); during rut, scent glands near their horns (or where their horns would be if they are polled or disbudded) emit a strong aroma too. Rams don’t reek when they’re in rut (score one for sheep!).

Goats are (usually) hairy; sheep are (generally) woolly.
This, however, is not a given. Most hair sheep breeds ( are carpeted in coarse hair with a soft, fluffy undercoat under that; some breeds grow short wool. Both types of hair sheep spontaneously shed their winter coats, whereas wool sheep must be shorn once or twice a year. To confound things, Angora goats ( grow long, lustrous, non-shedding locks of fiber; many people mistake Angoras for sheep.

Check the lip. A sheep’s upper lip is divided by a distinct groove; while there is a shallow crease in a goat’s upper lip, it’s only superficial.

The eyes have it. Sheep have distinct tear-shaped scent glands at the lower corners of their eyes as well as scent glands between their toes; goats don’t.

And though you can’t see this. Sheep have 54 chromosomes whereas goats have 60. This is why sheep and goats are rarely inter-fertile. Very, very infrequently a geep is conceived and carried to term. Be sure to visit this site ( to read about Lisa the German geep—she’s adorable! Geep can also be produced in the laboratory, in which case they’re called chimera ( and they’re pretty darned cute too.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mopple's education

It’s still rainy today so the light outdoors is bad. However, here are a couple of so-so pictures taken of Mopple out in the yard. He obviously enjoyed his outing and spronked and streaked around the yard nonstop. He is one energy-packed boy!

Several years ago, I began collecting goat and sheep ephemera at eBay, primarily vintage photos and postcards. From time to time I’d happen upon an item depicting a sheep hitched to a cart or wagon. A pretty neat concept, I thought!

Later I talked with a man who trained his Hampshire ram to drive. It worked, he said, but the wool was a problem. Sheep have sensitive skin and pulling their wool hurts them, so you can imagine how having harness leather tugging on wool must feel.

So, I started thinking that some day I’d like to have a hair sheep wether to train, but the thought kept getting backburnered. Then last year I decided to put together a program showing what neat things can be done with goat wethers and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat to include a sheep wether too?”

About the same time, I discovered YouTube. While searching for videos demonstrating clicker training (I’ve done this with horses for many years), I found these gems. Then I was really enthused!

Spotty’s Tricks

Clarinha (Clicker Sheep)

The Box Game (Lamb Clicker Training)

Smartest Sheep in Granger County

So, I Googled the various hair sheep breeds and settled on Dorpers for their beauty, size and strength. While researching Dorpers in Arkansas and Missouri, I happened upon Vanessa and Abby’s Acres ( Now I have Mopple!

I plan to begin clicker training Mopple in a week or so using the bottle as a reward as done with Squishy in The Box Game” at YouTube. I’ll teach him tricks and agility as he grows up and when he’s a big boy, I’ll train him to pull a wagon as demonstrated at Marna Kazmaier’s great Working Goats ( site. If that goes well, perhaps I can drive him to my goat cart. We’ll see!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bonus post: Bottle Feeding Basics with Lyn Brown

Mopple is a smart little lamb! By his third feeding he was nursing like a champ. He’s taking four ounces per feeding and wants more. He’s a husky little guy and would overeat; this can lead to enterotoxemia (, so we’ll have to monitor his intake, though we’ll move up to five ounces tonight when we go back to feeding at four-hour intervals.

California Red sheep ( breeder Lyn Brown of Shear Perfection Ranch ( in LaPlata, New Mexico, donated the following bottle feeding information for Hobby Farms Sheep and she’s allowed me to reprint it many times since then. If you’ve never raised a lamb or kid but want to, print this out and save it. The information is priceless!

Bottle Feeding Lambs with Lyn Brown

"What I usually do to get my new lambs started is sit with my legs crossed, tuck the lamb in the middle in a sitting position (front legs straight and butt on ground). I cup my left hand under the lamb's jaw and open the mouth and insert the nipple with the right hand; once the nipple is in the mouth, I balance and steady the nipple with the left hand that is still under the jaw.

"In other words, I keep the bottle and nose aligned so that the lamb doesn't spit or move the nipple to the side or back of the mouth. I elevate the bottle with the right hand only enough to avoid the lamb sucking air. In this position, you can feel the lamb's throat with the heel of your hand, and you know if it is swallowing.

"If you elevate the bottle too much, the milk can pour into the mouth, and if the lamb were not swallowing, the milk could enter the lungs. I try to keep the bottle as level as possible while keeping milk in the bottle cap and nipple. Of course, that means the more the bottle empties, the more tilt there needs to be.

"Most people kill their first bottle baby with kindness; they overfeed it because the lamb cries and they think it must be hungry. I know I did. I follow this feeding schedule strictly (no exceptions). If our lambs cry between feeds, we feed them Pedialyte or Gatorade. That won't hurt them as far as enterotoxemia goes and gives them electrolytes while filling the void for them.

Days 1-2 : 2-3 oz, 6x/day (colostrum or formula with colostrum replacer powder)

Days 3-4: 3-5 oz, 6x/day (gradually changing over to lamb milk replacer)

Days 5-14: 4-6 oz, 4x/day

Days 15-21: 6-8 oz, 4x/day

Days 22-35: work up gradually to 16 oz, 3x/day
At about 6 weeks, I begin slowly decreasing the morning and evening feedings and leave the middle feeding 16 oz., until I eliminate the morning and evening bottle entirely (remember, they are eating their share of hay or pasture by now). I continue with the one 16-oz bottle for about two weeks, then eliminate the bottle feedings entirely.

"By making changes gradually, you can observe changes in the condition of the animal and judge and adjust accordingly. Gradual changes also avoid the complications (some of which can be fatal) of sudden changes in diet. Whatever you do, when you buy milk replacer, use lamb replacer. All-purpose milk replacers and calf replacers do not work well with lambs."

The same schedule and amounts work for standard-size kids as well. We feed slightly more to Boer kids and slightly less to our Miniature Cheviot lambs. The only thing I do differently, since I’m home all day anyway, is continue feeding six times in a 24 hour period until the lamb or kid is three weeks old. To do that I tally the amount of milk Lyn says to feed in 24 hours and divide by six. After that I slowly decrease the number of feedings, still using Lyn’s recommended allotment of milk and dividing by the number of feedings, until the baby is getting three feedings at six weeks of age. Then we’re back on Lyn’s schedule again.

We don’t use milk replacers, though we did until we got our dairy goats. Some worked well (Land O’Lakes Lamb Milk Replacer was so tasty that I put it on my breakfast cereal!), some didn’t, but we find virtually every lamb and kid thrives on high-butterfat Nubian goat milk. If you do use replacer, always buy a high-quality, species-specific milk replacer based on milk products, not soy!

Another alternative to milk replacer is a full-fat milk formula given to me by Boer Goat breeder Claudia Gurn of MAC Goats ( To make it she pours 1/5 of the contents of a gallon jug of store-bought milk into another container, then she refills the jug using grocery store half-and-half. I used this formula for both kids and lambs in the interim between using milk replacer and buying my Nubians and it worked extremely well! However, since ewe’s milk is higher in protein and butterfat than goat milk, I poured off ¼ of the jug of milk and replaced it with a quart of half-and-half when mixing formula for lambs.

The secret to raising happy, healthy bottle lambs and kids is consistency: follow a schedule exactly and if you’re feeding milk replacer, follow the directions and mix it the same way every time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

We're home!

Mopple is absolutely gorgeous: plump, playful and arguably world’s cutest lamb. I’m so grateful to Vanessa for letting me have him. He’s going to make a wonderful project sheep!

We’ve completed our first bottle feeding session and all in all it went pretty well. Lambs, especially lambs that nursed their dams for awhile, have absolutely no inclination to accept a nipple, so the first few feedings can be pretty much touch and go. With considerable help Mopple did nurse, though we all ended up with milk splattered here and there. We use a Pritchard nipple on a pop bottle and feed raw goat milk from our Nubian does, Latifah and Bon Bon. For the first ten days or so, since Mopple is a big, strong lamb, I’ll feed him every three hours through the day and every four hours at night. In a day or two he’ll be nursing like a pro.

He is, however, an extremely vocal guy, much more so than any of the Miniature Cheviot bottle lambs we’ve raised. Our big old Airedale, Hooligan, “protects” all the babies that come in our house; right now he’s lying on the couch with a pained expression on his face that clearly says, “Why doesn’t he shut up!” He will, but not until he gets over leaving his mom and sisters.

Vanessa did something really cool: she worked Delilah’s shedding fleece off of her back (Dorpers and Katahdins naturally shed their scant winter “wool” in a sheet that resembles an old felt saddle pad) and sent it home with us. This gives Mopple something to cuddle up to that smells like his dam.

I hoped to have cute outdoor pictures to post with this installment but it rained most of the day. These two not-so-great pictures were taken here in the living room. In one, John is scratching Mopple’s back—he seems to enjoy that a lot!

Tomorrow I’ll talk about my plans for Mopple, so please stay tuned!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'm getting a lamb!

(left) Here is a picture of Mopple that Vanessa took when he was one day old.

I’m getting a Dorper lamb! Late last spring I contacted Vanessa Murray of Abby’s Acres in Ellington, Missouri, about buying a bottle baby ram lamb to wether and train for agility and driving. However, by then their lambs were pretty well grown, so we made arrangements for me to buy one early next spring.

Yesterday Vanessa emailed saying they’d had a surprise birth (on July 7). Their ¾ Dorper, ¼ Katahdin ewe, Delilah, delivered triplets: two ewes and a ram lamb. I’m getting the ram.

We’re to meet Vanessa at noon on Friday, since Friday is John’s day off. She’s meeting us partway, in Willow Springs.
Today I hauled out all of my bottle baby supplies, then spiffed up the bottle baby crate and set it up in the living room. I can hardly wait!

I’m naming the lamb Mopple after one of my favorite characters in Leonie Swann’s mystery book, Three Bags Full : the food-loving “memory sheep”, Mopple the Whale.

Why don’t I train one of our Miniature Cheviot lambs instead? I need a large hair sheep to drive. Otherwise I’d have to continually shear my driving sheep so his wool didn’t get caught up in the harness. I wanted a Dorper because they’re so big (and handsome!). This lamb is even better than a purebred; he will still be big and brawny but his touch of Katadhin blood has given him a beautifully spotted black and white coat.
By blogging about Mopple's progress, I hope to show how smart and fun sheep can be (people who think they're stupid are sadly mistaken). Then I plan to write a book called Feeling Sheepish, much like the donkey, goat and cattle books I've written or am writing for Storey Publishing. In it I'll demonstrate the cool things small-scale farmers and pet owners can do with sheep, from harvesting handspinner's fleece to milking them to training one to pull a cart.
So please stop by often to check out my photos and catch up on Mopple's progress (and read the other things I post about sheep); I plan to post at least two or three times a week.