Preparation for birth
As the birth of a lamb approaches, the ewe’s body prepares in many ways, the most noticeable changes being caused by hormones. The ewe becomes more tame and quiet. The mothering instinct takes over, sometimes to such an extent that she tries to steal other newborn lambs.
Her tissues and bones soften so they can move and flex during birth. Her udder prepares colostrum, the first milk. Inside her, the lamb automatically positions itself for birth. With head resting on its front legs, it forms a wedge to gently force the birth canal open during delivery, allowing its wider shoulders to follow through. If a leg moves out of position, or the head moves to one side or downwards, both lamb and mother will perish, without human intervention. The same is usually true if the lamb presents hind feet first.
Sheep with abnormal birthing positions, left to themselves, would die. Natural selection would thus produce an easy-birthing breed, but this is not evolution. No new information is added to the gene pool. Instead, a fault (as a result of a fallen world) is automatically corrected.
When the lamb is born, it is covered with the broken placental membranes. It is also wet and slippery from the natural yellow lubrication oils that eased the birth process. The ewe seems to like the taste of this and licks it off the lamb. This is important, as the licking partially dries the lamb’s wool. In certain conditions, evaporation of moisture from an unlicked lamb could cause it to lose body heat and die.
Amazing birth wool
Newborn lambs are covered with a densely packed, finely curled wool. As the lamb moves around and dries, this wool “unsprings” from its dense, skin-hugging position. It forms a thin layer of curly, spring-like wool, trapping the air and forming an insulating blanket.
The new wool commences growing immediately, but it is never as dense and finely curled as the birth wool. The wool is also rich in the natural oil, called lanolin, which waterproofs it, adding to its insulation. Thus, God provides preplanned cover for His lambs. And in cold, windy, wet weather, with no shelter in the fields, the lamb can take refuge from the elements on the lee side of the sheep.
Almost as soon as the lamb hits the ground, it struggles to its feet for its first feed. It is amazing to see a newborn lamb, yellow, wet and slimy, still trailing placental tissues, staggering around on wobbly legs. Where did its strength come from? The sheep will sometimes position herself so the lamb can easily find her milk. But usually she is distracted with licking, and keeps swinging her hindquarters away, making the lamb find its own way to the “milk bar”.
As the lamb bumps around, it stimulates the sheep to lower her hindquarters, sometimes until she is almost crouching. This brings the udder forward, making the teats easily accessible from behind her legs, usually angled towards the lamb’s mouth. When the udder is too low, or the teats hang straight down, the young lamb can starve to death. This is often a fault in the genes, so a good farmer culls these ewes from his flock. Each teat is initially sealed with a tiny “plug”, which is removed by the lamb’s first sucking. This plug prevents mastitis by stopping germs entering the udder before birth.
A good sheep will stand still so that the lamb can find this essential first feed. Who put that instinct into the sheep? Blind chance? Not likely! Again, who put the sucking instinct into the lamb? If a lamb doesn’t suck within a short time of birth, for whatever reason, it usually loses this natural urge and if left to itself will die. And how does the lamb, hardly able to stand, know where to find the milk supply?
The colostrum kick-start
The first milk, called colostrum, is remarkable. It has over twice as much protein as regular milk. It is a thick, yellow super-concentrate, packed with extra nutrients and antibodies needed by, but not naturally present in, the newborn lamb.
Colostrum kick-starts the immune and digestive systems, removing meconium (a sticky dark brown substance) from the gut of the newborn lamb, getting it digesting normally. Colostrum also provides a slippery protective coating over the gut, shielding it from rotavirus and other infections.1 It is, of course, at exactly the right temperature—blood temperature—neither too cold to chill the lamb nor too hot to upset digestion.
A small drink of colostrum straight after birth can keep a lamb alive for about 12 hours, without any other food. In cold weather a lamb will die within half an hour of birth if it gets no colostrum. It has seemingly miraculous qualities, in some conditions reviving almost-dead lambs.
It is incredible how the composition of milk changes exactly as the lamb needs it.With our modern advances, the farmer may mix a replacement with extra protein, vitamins, minerals and antibodies. But it is only a second-class substitute. The lamb will probably live, but won’t do very well. Without colostrum, real or man-made, the poor wee lamb is bound to die. So, the farmer will obtain genuine colostrum from another ewe or newly calved cow in an emergency. The latter, of course, is designed for calves and, with lower levels of proteins and fats, doesn’t quite suit the lambs.2 God designed sheep colostrum to perfectly suit lambs. Man, with all his science and chemistry, cannot produce a perfect substitute. Master plan or evolutionary accident? There is only one reasonable answer.
The lamb needs at least two feeds of colostrum to get started. Its ability to absorb the lymphocytes and immunoglobins reduces with time, the most being absorbed in the first few hours after birth. This is when the sheep produces colostrum and when the lamb is most exposed to infection.
After a day or two, the ewe’s milk changes composition to regular sheep’s milk. The lamb now produces its own antibodies, as the newly coated, protected digestive cells in the gut are shed every four days.3 It is incredible how the composition of milk changes exactly as the lamb needs it. Perfect timing. Perfect evolutionary change? Never! What would have happened while this system was evolving? All lambs would have died and sheep become extinct. This system had to be fully in place right from the birth of the very first lamb. No lambs, no sheep. End of story.
As the lamb searches for milk, it will butt the ewe’s udder. Again, this is no mere accident nor impatience on the part of the lamb, but a predesigned response mechanism. This butting stimulates the release of oxytocin hormones, which contract the milk sacs causing the ewe to let down her milk.
The mother sheep identifies her lamb mostly by smell. As it feeds, she constantly checks it is the correct lamb by smelling it, thus bumping the root of its tail and hindquarters. This touching, in turn, stimulates the lamb to fresh bursts of intense sucking. Not only does it obtain the life-sustaining milk, but the ewe’s uterus is stimulated to contract, thus helping it to expel the afterbirth (or other lambs, in multiple birth situations).
If a lamb dies, an orphan lamb can be fostered onto the ewe. An old-fashioned trick was to cover the new lamb with the dead lamb’s skin. The first lamb may have been brown and the new lamb snowy white. But even with head and ears poking out from under the old skin, the sheep will accept the lamb because it smells correct.
Nowadays, we have sprays and potions to put on the ewe’s nose and the lamb’s head and tail. These do the same job until you put more than one newly mothered set in the same paddock. Then confusion reigns. Whose lamb is whose? They all smell the same. Like human fingerprints, only God can give each sheep and lamb set its own identifying smell. Man’s imitations can never match the perfection of God’s originals. “O LORD, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things …” (Isaiah 25:1).
The ewe is extremely protective for the first few days after birth. Any dog, cat or other small animal coming too near is challenged or charged. The sheep will circle around her lamb and if it walks away, will call it back. When her udder feels full, she will call it to drink. When the weather turns rough, she’ll lead it to shelter.
As the lamb grows bigger and stronger, the ewe’s care diminishes. She no longer fusses and, if she can see it is safe, will often not answer its bleating. As the lamb gets older it can butt her so hard that her hindquarters almost lift off the ground. She’ll walk off while it is drinking if she thinks it’s had enough.
As the lamb matures it begins eating grass, so for many weeks it is living on both grass and milk. As it grows more independent, the ewe’s milk supply diminishes. At this stage with domestic animals, man steps in and ends the weaning stage by separating the two. The weaned lamb then eats only grass and its digestive system can no longer cope with milk.
Mary had her little lamb, obviously well fed on colostrum before it adopted Mary as mum. Like the rhyme, the lamb’s birth was preplanned by a Master Designer. Without a whiff of evolution. Not a baa of it!
Look—the Lamb of God!
The first death in recorded history was the killing of an animal. In the Garden of Eden, the Creator God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). Neither Adam nor Eve realized they were naked until they disobeyed the Creator and ate the fruit they were commanded not to eat (Genesis 3:6–7).
God had to kill an animal (possibly more than one) to acquire the skins. How could the animal have done anything wrong? The blood of the innocent was shed to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Like a crimson thread, this truth is woven through the entire Bible.
For example, at the time of Moses, when the Angel of Death killed the firstborn males in Egypt, all the sons of the Israelites were spared. In each household, a lamb was slain in their place and its blood was sprinkled at the entrance of the home. The angel saw the blood and “passed over” that house (Exodus 12:1–30). Each lamb that was sacrificed had to be a male and without any defect.
At the beginning of Jesus” public ministry, when John the Baptist saw him in the crowd, John called out to the people, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John the Baptist compared Jesus with a sacrificial lamb. That is why Jesus, the Son of God, was born. The sinless Lamb of God shed his blood on the Cross to cover our offences and guilt, and he rose again from the dead to be our Saviour and Lord. How wonderful to know that Jesus Christ has purchased forgiveness and salvation for all who believe.