Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Moonlight Delivery

When I did my field check last night I noticed a young purebred ewe making urgent grunting sounds. I knew she was in labor, but was worried about her dropping lambs in the cold, howling wind. Matt and I tried to get her into a lean-to but no deal. She ran at our slightest approach. We decided to leave her alone. Matt slept in the truck while I hid in a lean-to nearby and watched her in the moonlight. What a wondrous night. The ewe worked and worked to get the lamb out. She pushed while lying down, then stood up to push, then back down. Finally little hoofs showed, then more pushing. Then a face, then after a few minutes the shoulders - the hardest part to get through. More pushing and grunting, then a wet lump falls on the hay. Mom immediately starts licking, the bonding process begins. I knew better than to interfere with this crucial part of the delivery. Mom is talking to the baby, who makes little tiny meep-meeps to her. She has been talking to her baby during the whole pregnancy...he will know her voice in the middle of a large flock. When she has licked him off, I slowly move over to the pair and cover the lamb with my clean towel and scoop him up, never letting her lose sight of him. We crawl over to the lean to, out of the wind and I place him down. She will not run from us now. I gently lay the baby down and move away. Mom comes over to her lamb and I sneak away to get the fence panel to close them in. This way the lamb and mom can mother up without any interference with other sheep. I clip the cord and dip it in iodine, the milk out the teat, saving the precious yellow, thick colostrum. I draw up some of it with the barrel of a syringe and squirt it into the back of the lamb's mouth. This ensures the antibodies and energy giving fluid go right to the little receptors lining the lambs stomach and absorbing the liquid with decreasing efficiency over 24 hours. It truly "lights the fire" in the lamb's belly. Mom gets hay, water and a little grain to give her energy after the long night's work.

I gather up my gear and leave the two alone. Mattie is sleeping in the truck. Construction work saps all his energy and he has to be back on the job sight in a few hours. We go home to bed and I dream lamb dreams...

Before he leaves for work and while I am getting ready for my job, Matt goes to the field to check on the newborn. Surprise! There is one more! A cold little ewe lamb is huddling in the corner of the cold lean-to. There is also a pregnant ewe down in the field looking distressed...another challenging day begins for sheep and shepherds on Maggie's Farm...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lambs Doing Well

Lucinda and her twins are doing fine, along with the lamb stolen from Shavaun, who I named "Dot" because of the black circle on her side. Lucinda's twins are bigger and stronger, and eager to nurse. Little Dot kind of dances around the teat, poking at it with her nose. When the other lambs see this they dive right in and knock Dot out of the way. For this reason I bring a bottle of lamb milk replacer to the field with me and give Dot a drink from the bottle. One might think that this would turn her off on the teat, but that is not the case. After a few swallows of milk replacer, Dot goes right for the teat. I have heard the milk replacer referred to as "cheap insurance." A weak lethargic lamb cannot compete with other strong lambs for their mother's milk.

While on patrol around the pasture on Saturday I found Lilly in the lean-to with a very large newborn ewe lamb. If I had taken my walk five minutes earlier I would have seen the birth. I have been luck to witness a few in the past couple of years...and I highly recommend it. If everyone could observe how hard it is for some of the moms to squeeze out their lambs, they might have more respect for them.
Lilly is a second time mom and one of my favorite sheep. She is so proud of her girl, who I named "Ivy" and has her nose on the baby almost all the time. The sun was shining and the freakish heat of the March afternoon made me dizzy. I laid down on the hay in the lean-to and listened to the sounds of newborn suckling and motherly snorting. Sheep talk to their lambs while in the womb, that way when the lambs are born they recognize their mother's voices in a huge flock.

No more lambs born since Ivy on Saturday. Matt was 50 on Sunday. I invited his brother and sister-in-law to dinner and had to do a frantic clean up Sunday morning. Luckily Mia came to help me. She is bogged down with nursing school and took valuable time to come and see us for Mattie's big day. With lambing going on I knew better than to plan anything big. It was a quiet but pleasant day. We brought the company to the field and showed off the newborns. They stood incredulous as we brought the sheep in for feeding in their pen, and the goats in their pen. It is a bit like a rodeo.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Arabella's twins born Wednesday, March 8

Arabella, a first time mom, gave me two beautiful ewe lamb twins yesterday. They are crossbreds. Arabella's mother is Dulce, a registered "Natural Colored" ewe and her father is Duncan, my first purebred Bluefaced Leicester ram. The father of these twins is Legolas, a gorgeous purebred BFL ram from Kathy Davidson's farm. I knit newborn sweaters for all my lambs. It is cheap insurance against chilling and allows the baby to internalize energy and perk up faster for nursing. I help the process but a lamb must get up and nurse to survive. A lamb who is warm and not shivering in the corner is more likely to find that all-important teat. The teat is life!

Lambs are falling from the sky!

Matt went down to the field to do his early morning check while I did my morning chores and got ready for work. When the cell phone rang I knew why...sure enough there were lambs. Lucinda (her story another time) had triplets and they were alive. As I prepared to call in sick to work (and I WAS sick with the same sore throat/cough that has been afflicting the high school - but I was saving my sick days for the lambs)and get my kit together I was thrilled to think of little triplets, a first for me. However, that was not quite the case. After Matt called me he noticed Shavaun, Fiona's baby, standing nearly with an afterbirth coming out of her. He realized that Lucinda had stolen Shavaun's baby - or perhaps in the rush of motherhood had licked all the lambs around her. Once a lamb is licked off, the bonding has begun. There we were, in the middle of the field on a dark misty cold morning, wondering what to do with the situation. We had to do something so Matt could get off to work. He had two carpenters waiting at the job site and time is money! Thank goodness he stayed to help me sort things out.

We guessed which one was Shavaun's lamb due to the spot on the leg, same as Shavaun, and the tiny size of the baby. The other two were more evenly matched. We got all three lambs into the lean-to with ease, as Lucinda followed me with the babies. Then we tried to catch Shavaun, who did not want to be caught and kept wandering around, looking for her baby and bawling loudly. We knew we had to tend to the little ones and I needed help with holding Lucinda while I did my "clip, dip, strip and drip" routine (more on that later, too.) I got the cords clipped,dipped and the plug stripped and milked out enough colostrum for the three. I got their little sweaters on and fed them the colostrum (I had already drenched them with the Nutri-Drench). Now to catch Shavaun and hopefully transfer her lamb to her.

WELL, that proved to be impossible. Grain didn't work, placing the lamb on the spot where she left her afterbirth (and where she kept returning to look) didn't work. Matt gave up and left to join his workers at the job site (where the customer is looking out the window, one eye on the clock). We thought we might get away with leaving Shavaun's baby with Lucinda, a great mother, but when the lambs got over their colostrum and nutridrench "rush" and got up to nurse, Lucinda pushed away Shavauns baby! Some sheep are vicious and throw lambs against the wall. This was not a nasty push, but just enough to say, you are not my baby.

Okay, okay, get a grip. Can you handle a bottle baby? I don't take bottle babying lightly. It is only a last resort! Taking a lamb away from the flock is like taking it's identity away. They dwell in a netherworld, neither human nor sheep. A lamb without a mother is a said thing. No protector, no one to make those wonderful mothering sounds to you.

I have not given up yet...check in later to find out what happens. I have to get back to the field and check on everyone. Kids? Housework? Food? Husband who has a 50th birthday on Sunday? Dogs? Cats? What's that? Everything goes on hold during lambing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Twins are born...

Mattie called me at work at 3:00 to say he was walking on to the field and could see a black ewe with a newborn. I packed up in record time and started home. The mom, a first timer, was fretting over the long string of afterbirth coming out the back of her, and was spinning around trying to undo it. A tiny black lamb was finding its legs next to her. Matt told me he had been trying to get the ewe to follow him into the lean-to with no success. He went to get a bucket of grain. I scooped up the little one and enjoyed a moment of bliss. When I hold a healthy newborn lamb everything is right with the world and I experience a kind of euphoria. An understanding of why I do this washes over me and I am renewed. The little wet nose nuzzled my face and I returned the gesture. I ran my hands over the rough wool and fingered the tiny hoofs. I was just coming back to earth when a tiny cry came on the breeze. What was this? Another lamb? Where? Apparently mom had dropped a lamb back in the field. If a hard wind was blowing I would never have heard it. I called to Matt that there was another one and he ran to search. There it was, a little white ram lamb in the bushes by the stream! He brought it to me and I did my backwards crouching tip-toe to the lean-to, holding the lambs where mom could eyeball them. She followed in an awkward way, circling behind me, baaing like crazy, as if to stay, "What are you doing with my lambs?" We eventually got them into the lean-to, or "jug" as we call it in sheep linger. I looked behind me, and to my horror, a huge vulture swooped down and picked up the afterbirth which was left behind in the field. My first thought was of the little ram lamb, almost left behind. Would he have been vulture dinner? I went back to my mothering chores...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Waiting game

I have ten or twelve very pregnant ewes now. They are riding low, their udders are full, and they walk like they are pulling a cart. This presents a problem since Matt and I both work and can't be there to wait for the birth. In the morning I get up first, put the coffee on, walk the dogs, feed/water the chickens and bunnies and get ready for work. Matt gets up, showers and dresses, and goes down to the field to check for lambs. He carries his cell phone so he can call me at home, then I can call in to work. I have saved all my sick days for spring. My co-workers take sick days, I take sheep days.

You might ask, why do you need to be there? Aren't sheep capable of doing it themselves? Well, sheep are so much like people it is astounding. Some sheep are great mothers and others are terrible. Take my has been two year so I can talk about it now. My beautiful "high percentage" Bluefaced Leicester ewe, Myrna, was pregnant for the first time. I watched and watched for any signs of impending birth; swelling of her udders, puffiness of her back end, listlessness, etc. Nothing that I could see. One day I rushed home from work, went straight to the field as I often do during lambing season, and saw Myrna, running to the fence from the middle of the field. She was baaing and baaing loudly as if to say, "Mommy, mommy, something terrible happened!" I could see from afar two little black dots in the grass. My heart sank as I ran over to the spot. There were two perfectly formed black lambs lying dead in the grass. I can only imagine what must have happened...Myrna just ran away from the pain and did not mother them. If I had been there I would have picked them up and coaxed mom to follow up into the lean-to. I would rub them vigourously and shot a squirt of Nutri-drench into their mouths. I would get mom in a bear hug while reaching under her belly to strip the waxy plug out of the bottom of her teat, then save some of the thick, yellow colostrum in a jar. I would draw up some of this precious fluid in the barrel of a syringe and slowly shoot it into the back of the lambs mouths. This colostrum lights a fire in the belly and gives them antibodies and energy which enable them to get up and find mom's teat. This must be done soon, as the lining of the lamb's belly has receptors that absorb the colostrum with decreasing efficiency over 24 hours.

Perhaps Myrna would have come to terms with her babies and the mothering instincts would have clicked. I just got there too late!

99% of the time lambing goes just fine and I come home to find healthy little ones tottering around their mother...