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  • Writer's pictureMarie

The Life of a Bum

When you hear about a bum, you probably think of a poor looking, dirty, hungry, homeless guy begging on the side of the street. When I talk about bums, I am speaking of the poor looking, dirty, hungry, homeless lambs left alone begging on the side of a two track.

There are many reasons that lambs can become bums. Oftentimes a ewe cannot produce enough milk to raise multiple lambs, especially when she gives birth to three. The herder must pull one of the lambs off its mother to ensure they all get enough to eat. It is also more difficult for a ewe to keep track of three lambs when they’re in the thick timber of the forest and covering a lot of country, so it’s best for them to raise 1-2 regardless. Sometimes a ewe will abandon her lamb. This happens when she cares more about feeding herself than feeding her lambs. It is usually old wore out ewes that will lamb and not care to mother them, or a young ewe that doesn’t know what she is doing. In this instance, if the herder catches the ewe before she is too far gone, then she gets tied up to a sagebrush so she cannot leave her lambs. Some ewes will lose or leave behind one of their lambs. Sheep cover quite a bit of country when grazing, and it is common for a lamb to be sleeping in the brush and get left by the rest of the bunch as they graze off to another area. If the herders come across the abandoned babies, they pick them up and try to reunite them with their mothers. When ewes give birth in close proximity, or one lambs next to one that is about to lamb, they may think the other’s lamb is theirs and not claim their own. Although, the herder can usually solve this problem if caught soon enough. And, of course, there are always those few poor ewes that die during labor and leave the lamb motherless. Lambing and raising lambs is a lot of work!

Sometimes when a lamb dies, the bums can be adopted onto the ewe with the dead lamb. This is called grafting. It is done by skinning the dead lamb and using its hide as a jacket on the bum so that the ewe is tricked into thinking the new lamb is hers by its smell. If the bums do not have the opportunity to be grafted, then they are sent to the ranch to be bottle fed. We are constantly picking up multiple bums from all the different camps and transporting them home on the floor of the pickup, in a box or dog kennel, or tied by a leg with baling twine on the back of the pickup.

We mix 3 parts water, 1 part powdered milk replacer and pour it into a glass beer bottle with a gray nipple to feed the precious little lambs. Some of the lambs we bring in are pretty weak and very hungry. Getting these starving lambs to suck is a tough task. Some of the lambs don’t want to transition from their mother’s milk to this foreign nipple. Feeding these stubborn ones takes a lot of patience. Others are good strong lambs that take right to sucking and won’t stop chewing on our fingers or head butting us for more. As our bum numbers get up to about 10, and they suckle a bottle good, the lambs get transitioned to a cooler.

The cooler has multiple nipples emerging from all sides, with hoses running to the bottom on the inside for the lambs to be able to suck the milk out. This allows for multiple lambs to suckle at a time. It usually takes a few days and a lot of working with them to learn how to suckle it on their own. Once they do, they are able to drink whenever they are hungry, which is more natural and healthy for them and a lot less work for us.

We continue feeding them milk until early July before weaning them off, along with grain and alfalfa, and they are turned out in a grassy pasture. Bum lambs need a lot of good feed to grow since nothing compares to their mothers’ milk. We keep them around the ranch the rest of the year, feeding them until they are yearlings. During this time, they serve as dog trainers for our guard dog pups. We raise the puppies with the lambs so that they bond with sheep and learn to love and protect them.

When the pups are old enough, around 6 months and older, we take them out to the main herds along with the nice, Rambouillet ewes from the bum bunch which are returned as replacements. Since the pups are bonded with these ewes, we turn them out in the herd together.

As yearlings, the wethers are big and fat enough to eat. We butcher several for family, friends, and ourselves. Although we dread this part of the process, we love the amazing meat they provide us with. The majority of these wethers go out to the herds for the sheepherders to eat throughout the year. We no longer call them bums at this point, rather carne. Carne means meat in Spanish.

Every single lamb is treasured, cared for, and important to the ranch in some way. Regardless of if they are the biggest best lambs raised by awesome ewes, or the abandoned dinky bums that we must put a lot of time and money into. It is a neat life cycle to be able to save these lambs’ lives, feed them into big beautiful yearlings, and allow them to feed us in return.

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