The Family Flock

Sunday, February 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:20 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gerri Moore is a little sick of having lambs all over her kitchen floor.

“At first they’re kind of cute, but after you get four or five in here, it gets a little old,” she says. She raises her voice slightly to be heard over the bleating practically underfoot.

Her husband, Cecil Moore, looks down at the three newborn lambs in boxes on the wooden floor. They stare back.

“These guys are hungry now,” he says, “so I’m going to go ahead and mix them up a formula.”

Two sets of twins came into the Moores’ lives during some of the coldest days in January, adding to the 40 sheep, two horses, four dogs and four cats on the farm.

“It never fails — if the weather turns, we got lambs,” Gerri says.

At the lambs’ insistence, Cecil turns to the sink to get a bottle ready. One set of twins share a box — their bleating and attempts to scrabble up the sides of the box makes them look like antsy toddlers.

The other lamb, this one suffering from pneumonia, gets his own crate. His twin is in the barn with Momma, who seems anxious about her missing baby and uninterested in her present one.

“Whoa boy, he’s going to go after it,” Cecil says as the lone twin lunges for the bottle. “He was in bad shape this morning ... That one’s ears got frozen pretty good.”

The lambs compete with each other to suckle from the bottle, raising up on their still-wobbly limbs to reach it. The family mutt, Annie, roams around the kitchen, only mildly interested.

Much more interested are 20 or so 4-H Club children and adults packing the adjacent dining room to learn about lambing. Gerri dips rich hot chocolate with marshmallows from a giant pot on the stove and pours it into Styrofoam cups. The children, flushed from the cold and munching on homemade brownies, watch as Cecil feeds the babies.

As he moves the bottle from one mouth to the other, the babies make quick work of the formula. “Here you go, you want to finish this off here?” he asks one.

When they finish every last drop of formula, Cecil beams. “They did it — drank the whole bottle.”

Gerri has shared her kitchen floor with lambs for years. The Moores started their flock seven years ago with Montadale sheep, when their daughter started raising them in 4-H. They eventually branched out to include Polled Dorset sheep, and their son, 17-year-old Nathaniel, helps raise them all.

The flock numbers 40, give or take a few depending on if it’s lambing season. But taking care is less of a challenge because Cecil Moore is a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.

The lambs often give birth in the middle of the winter, so the yearly lambing season is a set routine for the Moores.

“I usually pull the all-night shift, get up and do the 12 or 1 feeding and let Cecil sleep,” Gerri says.

In the beginning, the lambs are fed every three or four hours if they’re weak. As they get stronger, they can last six to eight hours between feedings. Ideally, they’re fed three times a day. And they stay inside the kitchen until it gets warm.

Gerri’s seen her share of sick lambs come through and knows their behavior. Sometimes, if the lambs won’t latch on and start nursing, they have to tube-feed them.

“I hate tubing lambs — I hate it, I hate it, I hate it,” Gerri says. “I’ll spend two hours trying to get it to latch on before I’ll stick a tube down its throat.”

The danger of tubing lambs is putting the tube into the lungs rather than the stomach, which will kill them if that’s where the food ends up.

But right now, the scene in the toasty Moore home is one of cared-for lambs and children. Their bellies full, the lambs quiet down a little. The children have finished their hot chocolate and brownies and pad around in their stocking feet. The domestic warmth makes the cold outside seem remote.

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