Q- I’ve recently seen an article about ‘Jake the peg’, the five-legged lamb born on a farm in Northamptonshire, and was wondering if deformities like this are common?
A- Serious deformities are not a common occurrence, but, due to the sheer number of lambs born each spring, they are seen on a fairly regular basis by busy shepherds. Some breeds are known to be more susceptible to certain congenital defects, and some deformities may be due to external factors, such as exposure to diseases or toxins, or possibly certain trace element deficiencies. While some – such as Jake’s extra leg – are merely an inconvenience that can be dealt with, others are more disturbing. I have delivered a lamb with two heads, alive, which was quite spooky, and have several times come across lambs with no head at all, just a long thin tube ending in a tiny mouth, with a great bulging eye on each side. Obviously, lambs affected in this way should be euthanased immediately. Other minor deformities include incorrectly developed genitalia and urinary systems, under or over-shot jaws, entropian (turned in eyelids) and imperforate anus. In most of these cases lambs can be reared to satisfactory slaughter weights, following appropriate treatment (if required). On no account should deformed lambs be kept as ‘curios’ (although I do know of one ewe that enjoyed a long and productive life with six legs).