An animal sanctuary in Oregon has saved fifty-five lambs and counting during this year’s lambing season, and its founder has a message for the world about the wool industry. The large group of orphaned babies racked up enormous vet bills, tireless hours of bottle feeding, and required the teamwork of several sanctuaries and independent rescuers across the Pacific Northwest.
Deedee Demes of Sunset Farms Sanctuary got her first call about an orphaned lamb three years ago and has been smitten by the tiny, vulnerable creatures ever since. “By far they are the most loving and meek babies and I suppose that reaches to my maternal instinct,” Deedee says of the lambs her organization rescues, adding that of all the animals in her care, sheep hold “a special place” in her heart. Since her first rescue, Deedee has built a relationship with local wool and meat sheep farmers, allowing her the opportunity to save the lives of countless young lambs in need.
Source: Sunset Farms Sanctuary
The lambs that Sunset Farms rescues are called “bummer lambs,” an industry term for infant lambs that ewes (mother sheep) are unable to care for. Because selective breeding has caused sheep to give birth to larger yields of lambs, the animals are often unable to nurse multiple babies. “Twins and triplets are common with sheep and more and more quads are becoming more common than they used to be,” Deedee states. “For ewes that have more than two babies, most farmers will pull the third or fourth baby from mom, giving the strongest two a better chance at survival.”
Because these lambs are bred for their wool, Deedee explains that accidental mixes of different sheep breeds can lead to undesirably textured fleece. “These unwanted lambs are either taken to auction as a bottle baby or left out in the elements to die,” she says. Many people believe the wool industry to be harmless, but the countless lambs left in fields or taken to auction and denied veterinary care paint a very different picture.
Every lambing season, sanctuaries are overwhelmed with distressing calls about orphaned lambs; and sadly, most simply do not have the capacity.
Industry estimates on lamb fatalities are alarming. In Australia, an estimated 10-15 million lambs born for meat or wool die every lambing season within 48 hours of birth. While exact estimates are not available in the United States, rescuers know that it is far too high. Although she cannot save them all, Deedee is determined to make a difference in the lives of as many lambs as she can. “Although we can never replace their mom, we can show them love, compassion, and give them a life worth living,” she says of the lambs her organization is able to save.
Not all of Sunset Farms Sanctuary’s rescues end in success. Rescue work can be grueling and emotionally exhaustive. Beyond the viral cuddly photos are sleepless nights, endless veterinary funding, and a demand that simply does not stop. Because lambs left out in the elements for hours or days on end are incredibly weak, veterinary medicine cannot always save the ailing infants. “I can’t tell you how many babies we’ve held as they take their last breath, knowing that the only kindness we can give some of them is love, compassion, and dignity in their death,” Deedee says poignantly.
Deedee’s job is not for the faint of heart, but she believes it is her duty to show mercy and empathy to the forgotten lambs who hold such a special place in her life. Already, Sunset Farms has spent over $7,000 in veterinary bills and bottle feeding supplies this year; and lambing season has barely come to an end. Last lambing season, Sunset Farms spent over $8,000 in veterinary costs.
Source: Sunset Farms Sanctuary
Deedee doesn’t do this work alone. The California sanctuary Animal Place took in a number of lambs as did independent rescuers across both Oregon and California. However, Deedee’s sanctuary serves as the first place of kindness and mercy that many young lambs encounter. It is ground zero for so many medical issues that ailing babies present when they are first rescued.
“I need people to see these amazing sentient beings and understand they have every right to live their life as nature intended, not as man dictates,” says Deedee. Deedee will be 58 this year, and every year lambing season becomes more physically demanding on her body. Still, she continues to push the limits and turn out for the infant animals who have no other place to seek refuge. “Although we are physically exhausted every second caring for 10 (remaining) bottle babies and as well as the rest of the sanctuary, we wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
For countless lambs who face the predetermined fate of certain death the moment they enter the world, Deedee, her volunteers, other sanctuaries, transporters, and rescuers are all unsung heroes. These fragile and vulnerable infants who have nowhere else to turn find mercy and compassion in their presence.
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