PUGET ISLAND, Wash. -- Patrick McKay-Beach raises sheep in a setting exposed to harsh elements.

Puget Island is in the middle of the Columbia River about 30 miles from the Pacific. With hills on both the Washington and Oregon sides of the river, weather gets funneled down the channel.

Wet lambs born in wet conditions may need help warming up. Even when the lambs have been turned out onto pasture with their mamas, they may get chilled.

If a lamb is unresponsive, he said, that's your first clue.

"The way to take their temperature is with your thermometer," he told students. "Hold up your hand. You've got a handful of thermometers. Just stick a finger in the lamb's mouth, way to the back of the tongue.

"The lamb's normal temperature is 102.5 degrees," he said. A goat's temperature is 101.5. "That's warmer than your hand, so it should feel warm in there. If it's cold, it's time to help."

McKay-Beach described several ways of warming a lamb.

A heat lamp may seem like an obvious choice, he said, but it warms only one side of the animal.

A tub of warm water will work, he said, but you've got to keep the head out of the water. Once it's warm, dry it off with a towel or old blanket. The only problem with this technique: "We've taken away the lamb's scent, and the mama won't recognize it."

To avoid this, he said, wrap the lamb up to its neck in a plastic bag.

One student suggested using a blow dryer. This works, he said, but you've got to be right there to tend it.

He built his own variation on a blow dryer, constructing a box of plywood and cardboard on top of a plastic crate. A low-cost space heater inside the crate provides gentle, consistent heat for a chilly lamb placed in the box.

Once the lamb is warm and can suck, he said, "feed it so it can create its own heat."

If it can't nurse, a tube is used to get a dose of colostrum straight into the lamb's stomach.

-- Steve Brown

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