Tuesday, March 24, 2015

33 Lambs



The last week has been a blur of morning chores, work, home to more chores.  Winter requires more work in terms of feeding and watering...add 33 lambs coming over the course of a month, in the most intense unrelenting cold, and you have a daunting and ongoing challenge.   This has been the winter that was, and the sooner it "was" as in past tense, the better it will be for everyone.  Yesterday morning it was 8 degrees F. outside, this morning 4 degrees.  All the water buckets and bowls freeze.  Hopefully the sheep, goats, bunnies and chickens have consumed the water we give them or we have blocks of ice that have to be removed before we give them more.  Animals do well in the cold as long as they are out of the wind and have food and water.  It's harder on the shepherd, who has to suit up and protect hands and face from the burning cold.  The lambs are doing fine, fat and happy.  It's a big job keeping the moms fit enough to feed all those babies.  Three moms are still in the old mama's twins, are being supplemented with bottles.  I've tried to give the triplets bottles but they don't want milk replacer, just mom's teats.  Poor girl, I try to baby her all I can.  Last night after chores I thought I better go to the way, way back and check around.  My shepherd's intuition paid off...there, tucked under the hay feeder, was a newborn black ram lamb!  This is Gippeto's baby, Wensleydale ram number 2, from Laurie O'Neill's lovely black ewe Erin.  I brought them forward to the maternity ward for the special newborn treatment.  Erin is a fantastic mom and loves her boy.  I got inside around midnight, relieved that I caught this birth not long after it happened.  I found the frozen placenta by the back door and gave it to the very grateful Knut.  Livestock Guardian Dogs, LGD's, are programmed to eat placentas so as not to attract predators. They think they are delicious.   Not sure I agree.  I think I am all done lambing except for one more of Laurie's ewes.  The fleeces should be incredible.  I'm proud that I have another young flock of sheep to love.  In six weeks they'll be on green grass, leaping and bounding over the hillside, drinking from the pond.  I will lie down on the grass and soak up the sun and rejoice that we made it through this winter.  33 is a nice round number.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Morning in the Barn


 The playful piggies think it's funny to tease the chickens who are trying to snack on their slop.  They tipped the pan on the poor little hen up against the fence.  She wiggled out alright but came back for more.  I've heard of pigs eating chickens who wander through the pen, but I haven't noticed any behavior like that.  My pigs are so well fed they don't need to scrounge for food.  I throw the trampled down moist hay I drop while I'm carrying it through the barn into their pen and they LOVE it.  What they don't eat they make a bed out of.  I'm so proud of the way the pigs are turning out.  I'm going to let Matt take the "pink" boys first, then keep Natasha and Niven so they can have a litter.  They are crossed with Berkshire, Tamworth and Olde English Spot so there is enough diversity to have a healthy litter for food.  Thankfully I will never have to sell lambs for food, due to my teaching job.  The thought of eating sheep who could grow up and produce wool is not within my realm of possibility.  I don't even like the taste of it.  Who could eat babies anyway???



The sheep are doing well and all 32 lambs are alive and kicking.  Still expecting one or two more sheep to deliver then the Nubians will start dropping babies.  Old Mama is hanging on and her boys are cute and spunky.  Don't think she will see another winter.  She put everything she had into these twins.  All the supportive treatment in the world can't extend her life too much longer.   More tails and balls today.  Much easier on the lambs when it is done very early.  Bad news - I have put out too much hay and will have to find more to buy.  Thought I could make it through but with all the moms feeding great big lambs, no way.  Wish me luck finding good round bales that can be delivered with a vehicle that could get them up this slippery north side slope.  Fingers crossed.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Care Package


Look what I found at the village post office today!  A care package came all the way from Kim and Crew in Kingston, Ontario.  It contained several knitted lamb coats, delicious Multatelli French Roast Coffee, a beautiful knitted sweater for the shepherd, candy corn, lemon chamomile tea. and a lovely applique pillow created by the talented and beautiful Lindsay Parkinson, upcoming fiber artist.   After a week where I was hanging on by the proverbial thread, this is just what the doctor ordered.   Words can't express...

Three's A Crowd


This four year old ewe, first time mom, is valiantly trying to feed her three newborns.  I'm not as worried about her as I was earlier in the week.  She looked dazed and not fully with it.  I thought she had twins, then came home from work to find another baby in the pen.  I think the oxytocin I gave her the night before helped birth the last baby.  I gave her a vitamin B complex injection and wormed her.   I've been trying to supplement the little ones with milk replacer to give mom a break but they seem to be getting enough from her.  She refused the coveted  warm bucket of pig slop the other ewes would kill for.  She hardly nibbled at the rabbit pellets mixed with cracked corn that sheep love.  I am giving her some of the second bales that I sort out from the mold.  She smells me coming down the ladder with it and perks up.  I wish I could find her a bale of alfafa.  This late in the season it won't be easy.  I love this girl.  She had a funny set of triplets.  Two look just like her, a ewe and a ram lamb.   The third is a big gangly white ram lamb with pink ears and nose with lots of black freckles.  I almost think this guy was another ewe's lamb she claimed from a more timid ewe.  We'll never know now.  She has claimed him as her own and makes noise whenever I pick him up.  We'll see how it goes.  Green grass will solve everything but it's two months away at least.  Maybe three.

Piles of Lambs


I love to watch the lambs pile up for a nap.  Some of them have already outgrown their sweaters.  I pull them off and lovingly wash them to save for the next lambing.  With temps at 40 F. now I don't have to worry about frozen lambs.  I do have Nubian babies coming, probably in late April or May, and hopefully they won't freeze.  We have had snow on Mother's Day so I can't be too sure.  Every sweater has a story.  They've been knitted by friends and sent to me from far away, even other countries.  It is very gratifying to pull the knitted tubes over shivering newborns, wet from their mother's nurturing tongues giving their first bath.  The lambs stop shivering and curl into a bundle, like they've gone back into the womb.  Sewn or purchased garments just won't do for my lambs.  They are bred for wool and wool they deserve...with love in every stitch.

Protecting the Nipples!


I must be very careful to protect these nipples.  They are filled with rich, juicy milk replacer and everybody with teeth on this farm wants to bite them.  I have to carry the bottle around in my vest pockets and make sure nobody nips off the tips from behind me - yes, grown sheep have done this.  I can't put them down on a barn beam while I do other chores.  Kitties will chew off the expensive rubber teats in an attempt to get at the delicious milk, even if it's a drop or two.  These are Pritchard's Teats, which have to be ordered by mail or they are even more prohibitively expensive at the local feed store, where I only go in desperation.  Pritchard's Teats are soft, small and more like a mother's teats.  I've had more success with them than the hard round rubber nipples that don't fit easily into a newborn's mouth. They can be screwed on to soda pop bottles.   I'm very lucky to only have four on bottles.  Out of 32 that's not bad.  I am supplementing the triplets but they are getting something from mama, too.  The cost of milk replacer is ridiculous and much higher than four years ago when I had a big lambing.  I don't understand why considering it is powdered whey, a by-product of cheese and yogurt making.  We'll have green grass in two months and the lambs will be outside.  I enjoy sitting in the dark, with a lamb on my lap, listening to the rhythmic sucking of the tiny mouths on the bottle and mama munching on grass next to me.  It is a sound as ancient as time itself.  It is life.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lamb Count - 32

I rushed home from work and found the old girl's little twins standing and nursing.  Perhaps she has some milk after all.  I peeked in the pen of the big black ewe with the newest twins - and there was another lamb in the pen!  She had a triplet in there?  Really?  The oxytocin apparently had helped her birth that third lamb.  I really am very lucky I have not had to pull lambs this season.  The only lamb I pulled would have come out on it's own, but that's Monday morning quarterbacking.  As I was pondering my new set of triplets, I saw another monster lamb, cord hanging, standing by the maternity pen gate.  A year was crying pitifully nearby.  She seemed to be more interested in calling me than paying attention to her new baby.  The lamb toddled around, going to random sheep for comfort.  I quickly got the dogs out to pee/poo then prepared the afternoon bottles.  I brought the bottles out to the barn with me along with the newborn kit.  I fed the only true bottle babies I have, the darling black twins - one of whom I pulled, interrupting the birthing process, big mistake - and watched the newborn across the barn as they drained the milk.  I got in the old girl's pen and made her little ram twins drink some milk.  While I was with them I saw Finn, retired sheep guard dog, come in through the back of the barn, snooping around for afterbirth.  The dogs follow the scent and eat it, even if it's days old.  LGD's, livestock guardian dogs, are hard-wired to eat afterbirth or dead lambs to keep predators from being drawn near.  The new lamb toddled over to Finn, after all he is big and fluffy white, and sidled up to him.  Finn sniffed him all over then backtracked away.  I really had to finish the bottles and get to that lamb.  I scooped him up, all 15 or so pounds of him, and gave him two shots of NutriDrench newborn elixir.  I clipped and dipped the cord.  You would think mom might be curious about what I was doing to her lamb, but nothing doing.  She was too busy being flighty, and baaaing into the air.  I tried showing the lamb to her, I tried catching her with my crook.  Nothing doing.  The phone rang and it was spouse telling me he would be leaving soon.  Thank goodness as I really needed help catching this irresponsible ewe.  Finally he arrived and together we got the ewe and monster ram lamb penned together.  We had to let two ewes and their four lambs out to make room in the maternity ward.  Matt held this big, fat ewe while I nursed her out.  The yellow colostrum came out in a healthy stream and hit the bottom of the cup I was holding under her with one hand while pulling on the teat with the other.  Music to my ears.  How I wished I could give this ability to produce milk to all my ewes.   I gave the colostrum to the big ram lamb in 3 cc syringe barrel fulls.  When it was all gone I went back to work, toting water to all the pens and communal watering buckets, forking hay and mixing pig slop.  The flighty ewe kicked at him a few times but by later in the evening she was perfectly at home with him pulling on her teats.  Motherhood prevails.  I heated some Chinese food from the night before and we had dinner.  More chores, more bottles and I had to go horizontal.  Mia's meds were keeping me alive but the cold virus had an icy grip on my chest.  I barely remember Matt standing over me pouring some cold medicine in my mouth.  I made me sleep through until six am, when I woke with a start.  Had I let somebody die during the night?  The morning light revealed everyone still alive.  No new lambs.  Sigh of relief....then off to work to get some rest.  The infected finger is about to explode making barn chores painful.  The cold and cough is still dragging me down.  I am the shepherd of 32 lambs, their mothers and brothers
.  The joy is sustaining me.  This is my life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lamb Report - 30 Live Lambs

I knew she was pregnant but was sorry I let it happen.  She's so old, and so frail, that when I bump against her she falls right over.  I had her in the maternity ward for a few weeks, letting her eat all the hay she wanted without being bothered by the big sheep.  She scooted out and was hanging by the pig pen, where she could poke her nose through just enough to lick the pig slop from their bin.  I'm not sure how old she is, but she has a yellow tag.  The yellow tagged sheep made the trip with us to the farm nine years ago.  She was full grown then making her at least 11 or 12, ancient for a sheep.  They live on average from 8-10 years.  Pampered sheep can live longer, but mine are not what you would call pampered.  They live on hay alone, with a smattering of grain now and then mostly for keeping them in the barn.  I came home from school yesterday, took the dogs out, and went out to check on everybody.  Lamb count was at 24.  I knew more were coming but I thought I had a couple of weeks to go.  There she was, standing up, with two tiny white twins on either side.  I couldn't believe my eyes!  She was making mommy talk and the babies were nosing around her teats.   I ran to get my kit and gave the babies a squirt of the high-energy Nutri Drench I give all newborns.  One must weigh five pounds, the other three or four.  I got mom a bucket of warm molasses water and climbed the ladder to fork down some fresh hay.  She had made her way past Thor and Knut, which most sheep are reluctant to do, and gave birth to the twins in front of the chicken room.  I threw the afterbirth to Knut to thank him for not hurting the mommy when she dared to tread on his turf.  I clipped and dipped the cords, then reached under to strip the waxy plug from her teats and check for, oh please, some milk.  I held the cup underneath her and gently ran my fingers down the teat.  Nothing.  I reached for the other teat and got a tiny squirt, not even enough to draw up a three cc barrel for the babies.  What to do???  If she had any milk at all I would have to get it started.  I did not have any other moms who had given birth in the last 24 hours.  The belly of the lamb takes in the benefits of colostrum in decreasing efficiency over 24 hours.  It contains all the antibodies from the vaccines the mom has been given plus the mechanisms she's used to fight off diseases her entire life.    It is the most important meal of a sheep's life.  What to do???  I gave mom a warm bucket of pig slop and she slurped up half of it in one long rhythmic draw.  I went inside to post a question on my sheep group's page and went back out to the barn.  I thought I would get chores going since I was out there and got busy.  As I was mixing more pig slop, forking down hay, delivering it to each maternity pen, and toting water I looked down the dark barn - the light sockets down there have long since stopped working - I saw a tiny white long legged figure dragging a hose around.  Could I be so lucky as to have a birth happening now?   I crept to the back and, sure enough, mom was eating hay at the feeder with afterbirth hanging out. I heard another cry and followed it to the other side of the barn.  There was a twin, wondering where everybody went.   I scooped up both babies and attempted to coax mom to come with me.  No deal.  She was acting a little disoriented and distracted.  I got Matt to come help me.  Fortunately he had brought home Chinese and with a little food in his belly he was ready to come out.  I needed someone to hold the gate to the maternity ward open for the new mom without letting out sheep.   I tried again to coax her in but still nothing doing.  We got a halter on her and he pulled while I pushed.  She flopped over on her side, exhausted.  I checked a teat while she was down and no milk came out!  I knew I really had a problem on my hands.  We got her up and pulled, pushed her into the maternity ward and into her pen with the babies.  To my horror I watched as she kicked at the babies who tried to nuzzle her udder.  I knew I had a better chance of getting milk started with this one instead of the ancient girl.  I gave her wet slop, warm water and hay.  I popped her with the 1 cc of Oxytocin as recommended by my sheep group.  Oxytocin makes the uterus contract and expel birth debris along with assisting in milk let down.  As I was fishing around in my bucket I found a jar of colostrum from Sunday's birthing!  What a blessing!  I gave it to the tiny twins straight away, one tiny syringe barrel at a time.  By this time it was midnight and I had to go to work the next day.  I had major meds on board for this awful cold and the infection under my nail was getting worse.  I needed to lie down for a couple or three hours.  At 5 am I woke up feeling a little better.  Got the fire built, coffee brewed, and dogs out for a pee/poo.  I'm having to walk Tanner on a leash now as the after-birth scent has brought the dogs in the barn to snoop around looking for tasty treats on the barn floor.  I got them back in the house and ventured out.  Tiny twins, still alive, looking stable.  The "monkeys," bottle lambs, scooted over for me with their bottles. I got them fed while I skimmed my eyes around checking everybody out.   I had resolved to bottle feed the old girls tiny twins before I left for work as I had no idea what was going on with mom's udder and didn't have much hope of finding it full of milk.  I checked out new twin mom and was greatly relieved to see a relaxed willing ewe with two happy twins poking around her udder and finding teats.  Her milk must have come in during the night.  Thank you pig slop and oxytocin.  I picked up the babies and checked for warm mouths and firm bellies and found both.  Sigh of relief....As I was thanking my lucky stars I heard a little cry.  There it was...a tiny white long legged figure dragging a cord.  Another birth!  A big black ewe was standing by, but then, another ewe was circling around baaing like she was calling a lamb.  The white newborn was confused too, and looking for a mother.  It took some calm study of the situation to figure out that the black ewe was getting ready to deliver another twin and could not pay attention to her lamb the way she would like to.  The white ewe was probably thinking she had miraculously given birth, or wanted to have that cute little lamb for her very own.  I went back inside to wake my poor bedraggled spouse and ply him with strong coffee to come and help me again.  After all he had gotten 6 hours sleep - a marathon at lambing time!  This mom was also a little weak and confused.  Her lambs are huge and wore me out carrying them both while bending over in front of her.  She wore herself out growing these monsters.  We got them clipped-dipped-stripped, no milk to speak of, and dosed with oxytocin.  I ran around doing other morning chores and hit the tub at quarter of eight when I should be pulling out of the driveway.  Somehow I got to work on time, a little rough around the edges, but that's what my colleagues are used to from me.  Matt fed this morning's mom the same warm slop and hay menu that worked so well with last night's ewe.  He bottled fed the ancient mom before he left for work.  He is management and can "manage" a late morning better than I can, and he doesn't have kids waiting at the classroom door.  I'm rushing home not knowing what I will find.  Lamb count is a 30!  I pray I don't lose any.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Banding...


I hate it, I despise it but it has to be done.  If I put a band around the sac the little boys become big docile wool machines.  They can stay with the ewes forever.  Their moms never have separation anxiety.  Intact males become a nuisance and have to go bye-bye.  I have two intact Wensleydale rams and do not need another ram.   I do tails at the same time, along with shots.  Girls get their tails banded.  A long, thick, wooley tail is an invitation for manure packing which invites flies to lay maggot eggs and then the dreaded fly-strike.  Don't want that.  Can't think of a worse thing to happen to a sheep.  I band a little lower than the show people do on the tail.  I like the private parts to be covered.  Just looks right and balanced to me.  If you band too high on the tail the sheep loses some muscles vital to giving birth.  Matt was a BIG help to me today, scooping up the babies from the pens, sitting on a stool and holding them still while I rubbed  the leg with alcohol for the selenium and tetanus shots, soaked the tail (and sac on the boys) with iodine, then placed the bands on.  The tail bands should be placed between joints, not easy to do.  The boys testicles sometimes have not descended far enough and it's tricky to get both balls under the band.  I have to hold the elastrator open and reached through the band to bring the balls down.  One testicle left up and the boy is still able to impregnate a ewe and then - surprise!  I think I have an even number of boys and girls, perhaps leaning to the male side.  I meant to count and forgot.  Four boys remain, one running around the back with mom, two with undescended balls, and one, young Ragnar, just one day old.  I'm still watching him for problems.  He seems sluggish to me.  I listened for raspy breathing but didn't find any.  I haven't seen him nurse yet, so we nursed out mom and gave him a meal.  I think he's just slow after a difficult birth.  Margareta, his mother, is the biggest sheep I have.  She's half Border Leicester and her sire, Zack, was HUGE.  Ragnar should have magnificent fleece.  The whole point of this lambing is to have fewer sheep with more wool.  Think I'm going in the right direction. We'll see. 

This Is Not My Mother!

No lambs in the barn this morning.  I think I have two more ewes to go.  They are so big they can hardly breathe.  We had an eventful day in the barn yesterday, with a giant 15 pound ram lamb standing beside two ewes when I first went out.  He was magnificent, all dried off, just hanging out.  Trouble was when both ewes acted like his mother.  Both had semi-clean behinds, one way to tell if a ewe has just given birth - they clean up magically and quickly.  Both were talking to him, and nosing him, a maternal behavior.  I decided on one ewe and we went about pulling them both into the maternity ward for clip-dip-strip and bonding.  The other ewe kept acting funny and my instincts told me she was about to give birth and might have decided the ram lamb was her baby already born.  The ram did not seem interested in nursing from the first ewe and the other one kept looking for the lamb.  As the day went on I realized I had made a mistake.  I put the lamb back out into the barn and she ran for him.  I got spouse to hold mom so I could check her out.  Sure enough - she was LOADED with milk.  I nursed out a full cup of colostrum and fed it to this hungry baby.  They are now in a pen together and she is in heaven.  He is a little slow and I'm watching him.  Great big lambs can sometimes be a bit lethargic.  I have two sweaters on him and made sure to feed him before I went to bed.  If he is not nursing this morning I will have to nurse her out again - not a favorite thing for ewes, as gentle as I am. Margareta, half Border Leicester and half Bluefaced Leicester is a huge ewe, and very beautiful, with bountiful fleece.  Young Ragnar should give me a lovely fleece himself.  Very much looking forward to that.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Sofa Time


Spouse came home from Schnectady tonight.  First thing he said was you didn't go to work today???  Funny, it took him a half hour to get my van unstuck from the storm Tuesday night , that is, after he got his tractor stuck.  He had to chip the ice and snow from around my tires and pull me out with his company van.  Like I would have gotten out to go to work anyway?  Certainly not with triplets and another ewe lamb still wet from their mother's womb. I was thrilled when he presented me with a pound of French Roast, grapes, bananas and a lox bagel from a Jewish deli in Schnectady.   He helped me a great deal tonight.  We got Edie and her lamb from the way way back and put her in with her sister, on the advice of Laurie O"Neill who I purchased them from along with her Wensleydale ram, Gippetto.  Sister Finnute was not thrilled but they are working it out.  Matt helped me get the triplets and their mom, as big as a pony, out from behind the stanchions and up to the maternity ward.  I did my backward walk holding the trips at eye level in front of her to keep her moving along.  It was quite an armload, over 20 pounds of lambs I'll wager.  Triplet three will definitely be supplemented with the bottle.  Oh, what handsome foursome they are.  Good thing my shearer is over six feet tall.  Jim Baldwin handles the big ones easily.  This mom is gigantic.  I will also supplement the ewe lamb belonging to the ten year old plus ewe.  She just doesn't look heavy enough for me.  Lots of work for me but worth it in the end to see them thrive.  Everybody else doing fine and the single ram lambs are busting out of their sweaters.   Early bed for me as I'll have to go out with a  bottle for little . triplet. Would love to bring him inside but mom loves him. Can't beat a mother's love. 

Maternity Ward


The maternity ward will shortly be dismantled to allow the moms and lambs to mingle together.  Now that they are bonded there won't be any problem with mixing up babies.  If not put together alone at birth lambs can wander away and crawl into the tiniest spaces, as if they are trying to get back in the womb.  Jealous ewes might steal another ewe's lambs.  Flighty moms might run away and forget about their babies.  All kinds of things can happen.  Dismantling the maternity ward and turning it into a kindergarten will make my life enormously easier.  I will have one hay rack and one water source.  With warmer temps coming the sweaters will come off and lovingly washed and put away for next year.

So Far This Morning....

It's 9:45 and so far this morning I've done this much:

Mixed bottles for the Big Black Twins.  They were screaming for them when they heard the barn door close.
  Four new born lamb cords clipped and dipped.  Three sweaters on. Mom doesn't want any part of me pulling on her teats.  She's about 200 pounds and I'm not.  She won.  Blocked triplets mom with babies together with plywood found in the hay mow.
 Milked out Edie  fed her ewe lamb.  Edie's not crazy about me pulling on her teats either.
  Toted hay and water to maternity ward, forked hay to the way back, carried water to them.
 Carried water and feed to the piggies, who wanted to eat the new lamb born near their fence.  Not a chance.
 Fed watered bunnies.
  Fed and watered chickens.
 Oh, and walked the dogs.
 Back inside.  Quickly fried the egg I found under a rooster in the chicken room and put in on the rice from last night.  Just like grits!  Yummy...

My day has just begun.  Keeping 23 lambs alive is a big job.

Triplets!!!

While I was giving bottles to the Big Black Twins I heard a little cry.  Okay, I thought, I'll be there in a minute.  Can't you suck any faster???  I got my Nutri Drench bottle and started creeping slowly back to the far end of the barn.  I found the black ewe in the trench behind the stanchions.  Phew!  They are not chilled, they are standing, looking good, then another pair of legs behind her!  Triplets!  I have never had triplet lambs, not ever!  What a thrill.  All three looking good, one a little small.  Two rams and a ewe.  oh, and another ewe is in labor!  What a morning....and I thought I was almost done.   Well, maybe I am, and what a way to end my lambing season.  So far - 22 live lambs.  Not bad considering many minus 20 nights and a full time job.  Oh, my poor job.  Another day of calling in "sheep."  I hope they still love me after this.