Squirt: A Short But Happy Life

He was one of the smallest lambs we ever had. His mother didn’t want anything to do with him, but he quickly won all our hearts, and he may have been the most loved and photographed lamb we’ve ever had. On March 6, we thought Betty White, a yearling ewe, had had a single when she produced a big, 9-pound lamb and seemed to be finished with labor. We put her and her lamb in a jug and were getting on with the morning’s rounds when Melinda and I looked over at Betty White and there was a little black-and-white face emerging from her backside, wearing the most beatific smile. It was Squirt, just 3 pounds at birth.

He may have been shunned by his mother, but he was energetic and ready to live.He was a fierce sucker—we had no problem getting him to drink his mother’s colostrum from a bottle. We put him in a laundry basket under a heat lamp in Betty’s jug, just to keep her from trampling him since it was clear he was not the son she had in mind. But by the second day, he climbed out of the basket and he was so small he went right through the sheep panel, got himself into a corner and we found him dangerously cold. After that, we kept him in a dog kennel in the tack room, warmed with a heating pad, a heat lamp AND a hot-water bottle. We would let him out for meals and he developed his life-long trait of following us around like a puppy, and managing to be right under our feet at every step. But, like an adorable puppy or child, he was often in our arms. Every guest to the ranch fell in love with Squirt. We kept kidding that he was the door prize and encouraging someone to take him home. But we really didn’t want him to go. Although I had insisted that we were going to have no more pet wethers, we all knew I wasn’t going to enforce that once Squirt came along.

As he grew, from three pounds to five, we put him in with the bottle-lamb gang, and he found a way to be at the center of every lamb-pile, just his little face peeking out from his new group of friends. He would walk right under the bellies of some of the other lambs without even having to duck. It was hilarious.

When Speed Bump got mastitis and had to be put to sleep, and her lambs Goofy and Sister joined the lamb gang, little Squirt befriended big Goofy, who was a fraction of Squirt’s age and three times his size. On Goofy’s first night in the orphan group, Lisa heard Squirt tell him: “You’re going to be OK, they take good care of us here at the orphanage, and then later this summer we get to camp out in the Lamb Park!”

Before the Lamb Park, the lambs first camp-outs were in the Bay-view pasture, with trusty Shep guarding them. Squirt hung out with his bigger friends, learning to graze and ruminate, and seemed to be doing well. Lisa brought him a little red collar with a bell. I made him a little rope halter and started trying to halter train him. Melinda was scheming to bring him with her to San Jose for a Mother’s Day visit. We kept him on milk longer than the other lambs because he was so small, and he would follow us into the barn several times a day for a clandestine bottle.

His one weakness was a lingering wet cough that appeared to be an aspiration pneumonia, from inhaling (literally) his milk-meals when he was younger. He was generally vigorous but couldn’t shake that cough. In the first few days of May Squirt seemed to get weaker, and his breathing was labored. We thought he was pulling out of it, but Saturday—one day short of his 2-month birthday—Lisa couldn’t find him in the afternoon. We searched and searched the Bay-view pasture and concluded that something (a hawk? a bobcat?) had come and taken him in broad daylight and somehow when Shep wasn’t looking. Poor Shep knew we were blaming her although we were trying not to, and we all went to bed that night with heavy hearts.

It just didn’t make sense that he had disappeared like that without a trace. We’ve never lost a lamb to predation, and even though he was small, it just didn’t seem this was the right explanation. Yesterday morning Lisa made one last search and found Squirt where he had apparently crawled into a dense patch of thistles and died. Poor little guy.

We are relieved to know we don’t have a predator problem and to know that he wasn’t violently snatched up and killed. But we’re still so sad to have lost him. The East Friesian lambs are very prone to pneumonia, and each year we lose at least one lamb to the illness. It is always painful, but Squirt hurts a little more. Lisa said he was just too small for this great big world. We buried him today under the oak tree in the garden.

Ready to escape the laundry basket (the heat lamp makes things look red)
Melinda's mom with Squirt
My friend Annie feeding Squirt
That's Squirt's little face peeking out right at the center of this cozy lamb-pile
Lisa with Squirt in Bayview pasture
My friend Patty with Squirt
Squirt's grave in the garden

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