This Week in Review

Content Warning- Real Farming.

If you’ve read my Facebook Page recently, you’d know that we had a really fabulous and successful lamb open house.  My goal for the open house was to share the joys of lambing with the public, and I would say “Objective Achieved.”

I’m committed to running this farm open-source, so that others can learn from my experiences.  In that spirit, I will share the following:

The Fourth Doctor died on Friday night.  We checked him at 6 and he looked completely fine.  At 10, as we settled down to sleep, we heard strange sounds from the ram shed.  I threw some pants and a shirt on to go and look, and found him in agony, straining.  We called the vet, 45 minutes away, and I sat with The Doctor, trying to comfort him in his suffering.  Matt went for supplies and Mom came over from the B&B to lend emotional support.  When the vet arrived, she diagnosed a Urinary Calculi blockage.  We catheterized him to see if we could break up the blockage and allow him to pee, after cutting of his urethral process (really adding insult to injury for his situation).   The catheter went all the way in, but nothing came out but a little blood.  One option was to access his bladder via a hollow needle from the side and attempt treatment that way.  When Cat, the vet, said that the odds of success were less than 50%, we decided that it would be unkind to continue treatment.  The Fourth Doctor was suffering badly and continued to moan in pain under sedation.  We said a hasty goodbye to him, with final hugs and kisses.  Fred, the other ram, was distraught at his companion’s pain and confused to find himself living with the girls again.

So we were feeling pretty terrible, recognizing that having the ram’s water freeze over regularly probably contributed to this loss.  Then we got worse news.

Valentine, the last of my first set of lambs born on my farm, tested positive for Caseous Lymphadenitis.  Gut Punch.  We had noticed a weird cyst on her cheek and her wool break earlier and decided to look after it.  Well, the news came on Wednesday afternoon, and we’ve been in emergency mode since then.

  • I cancelled all of my breeding stock reservations this year.  No one would thank me for potentially introducing a serious disease into their herd, so all of my handsome little rams will stay here this year.
  • Tragically, there is no good treatment for CL.  I made the crushing decision to slaughter Valentine and Peggy, too.  Valentine for testing positive, and Peggy for potentially showing symptoms.  This leaves three lambs as orphans.  Peggy’s lambs were already being fed by us, but poor Pencilvester is lost and distraught.  Still, the risk of transmission if Valentine’s cyst were to burst was too much to allow.
  • The vet came today to test the remaining sheep for CL.  At $50/sheep, this will be a painful and expensive exercise, but well worth it.  Our next steps will depend entirely on the results of the test.  A few positive ewes can be culled with minimal negative effect, but if the illness is widespread, we will have to do a long-term control plan involving having a “clean” flock and a “positive” flock that will have to be biosecure and separate  Here’s hoping for option 1.
  • I have also contacted everyone to whom I’ve sold a sheep in recent years.  Having to tell someone that their flock may have been exposed is worse even than receiving that news about your own flock.  I would rather have my own flock potentially sick than know that I’ve exposed others, but in my case both are true.  The feeling is terrible.
  • All ram lambs will be future meat this year.  I will keep the crossbred ewe lambs just to keep stock numbers growing and to see how they perform overall.

This experience reminds me that my commitment is to the flock, not to the individual.  The sacrifice of Valentine and Peggy for the good of the flock overall feels terrible, but justified. I may be called to make more such decisions.  Fortunately, CL is not highly transmissable from ewe to lamb, so the lambs may be okay.  They are too young to test accurately, anyhow.

Recovering from this will be a multi-year process.  Nevertheless, I will persist.  I have tremendous gratitude for all of the responses I’ve had from friends and other shepherds helping reassure me that I’m not a terrible shepherd.  It’s hard not to feel like a terrible shepherd after a week like this one.

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Eleanor and her Lambs

We had a really long night with Eleanor’s little ones.

Eleanor had her lambs on Wednesday night.  When Matt went out for the midnight feeding, he called me right away to let me know that two little white lambs were staggering around the barn.  We penned them up and fed Eleanor, but the lambs were losing energy quickly.  It’s fairly easy to detect failing lambs: droopy heads, slow blinking, loss of ability to stand.  The ewe lamb was looking okay, but the boy gradually started looking poorly.  We brought both lambs into the house.

 

Rapidly, the boy started looking very pekid.   His eyes closed and he looked very ill indeed.  We wrapped him in a heating pad and I got out the tubing supplies.  Knowing how to tube a lamb is a real confidence booster.  I wouldn’t say I wasn’t worried about this little guy going down hill, but as soon as he started moving and getting antsy again, I knew I could get some sustenance down the hatch.  I fed him some colostrum from his mother along with some milk replacer.   A few ounces in, and he was ready to sleep it off.  I kept him on by tummy, heating pad on low.  Meanwhile, his sister had taken several ounces from a bottle with no trouble, and she was soon ready to go back to Mom.  Out she went, and we saw her successfully nursing on the lamb-cam soon after.  Phew!

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Around 3am, the little boy was finally up and at-’em, so out he went to be a sheep once again.  He brightened a little more every day, and he’s looking just fine now.

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Baking a Cake for Peggy

Dear old Peggy lambed yesterday, on one of the coldest and most brutal days of the year.  I’ve been worried about Peggy for the last few weeks.   She has lost condition since shearing, despite being fed grain daily.  She’s old, and filling her massive udder took the last of her energy stores.  She looked much better in the fall.  It’s a lesson to me about why people cull ewes at age 8 or 9.  You might not know that she’s done until she’s really done.

In any case, after a few false alarms, Peggy really went into labor.  While I had feared all kinds of trouble, Peggy had her lambs like an old pro.   She lay down and squeezed them out, knowing exactly what to do.  Peggy is devoted to her lambs and pays full attention to all of their needs.  Sadly for Peggy, her estimation of her capacity to handle her lambs and mine differed.  Her black ewe seemed to be thriving, but her white ram was falling behind.

“Peggy – can I milk you and see if I can’t help your lamb along?”

” NO I’LL DO IT MYSELF”

So we argued, I milked her, fed the lamb, and the next thing I saw returning to the barn was that dang lamb finally finding her low-slung teats and nursing on his own.  I could swear she glared at me a little.

But on to the cake:

My sheep are total grain addicts, and even opening the passenger door to my truck sends them baaing and scrambling.  To feed just one shy sheep, I realized I’d need to offer a tasty, grainy treat that didn’t announce itself.  Taking some steel-cut oats, eggs, veggie oil, molasses salt, cornmeal and a touch of baking powder, I baked a cake designed to deliver calories, nutrition and a wealth of sheep-approved flavor.

Two sniffs convinced Peggy that she needed to eat this cake.  I put it on a flake of hay, and soon Peggy was digging deeply into her hay to clean up the crumbs.  Snuffle snuffle snuffle and she was done.

A rough recipe for sheep cake:

  • 3 cups of steel cut oats
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Bake at 350F in a lightly greased 9×13 pan for 25-30 minutes.

Lambs go Wild

Here’s a rundown on how the lambs are doing.

Born on 3/1, Summer and Morty are fat, sassy little brats.  No longer timid newborns, they bounce around the barn and annoy all of the pregnant ewes.   They are also milk-seeking guided missiles, trying to sneak a sip of milk from any ewe standing still.   They are healthy, happy, living-testaments to hybrid vigor.  Bobolink is a fabulous and attentive mother.

Little Moose gave us Sue Perkins and Gordon Ram-sey on 3/6.  Little Moose had Gordon first.  It was cold out, so I toweled him off straightaway.  She seemed alarmed and annoyed by his presence.  I was concerned that my assistance had put her off mothering, so when she had a second lamb, Matt and I decided to leave them be.  Little Moose lay there, lamb behind her, and lay, and lay, and didn’t turn around or look at her lamb.  Nothing.  I tried to milk her so that we could bottle-feed the lambs, but nothing let down.  If we were prepared with a headgate, we could have imprisoned Little Moose until she decided that being a mother was better than being in jail.   Without a headgate, we set Little Moose free and pulled out our supply of emergency colostrum.  The lambs are growing well, though the feeding every four hours is very wearing on Matt and I.  Matt has been so kind as to always do the 2am duty.  He’s a hero in my eyes.

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Little Moose’s bottle lambs, Sue Perkins and Gordon Ram-sey

Dalek had her lambs on 3/10.  Her girls, Dame Judi Densch and Dame Maggie Smith, are GIGANTIC monster lambs, at least 15 lbs each.  Judi, the black ewe, was a little dopey at first, but both got the hang of nursing on Day 1 and are now happily roaming the barn.  So excited that the BFL ewe lamb count is at three already with more registered ewes yet to lamb.

Then, this morning, Peggy went in to labor.  We had a false alarm earlier this week regarding Peggy, and I’ve been worried about her since the fall as she is so old now.  Lately, she’s become too thin.  I’ll write a bit more about how I’m intending to help Peggy later.

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Bobolink’s newborns
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Summer is full of beans
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Family portrait with Dalek
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Dalek’s babies staying warm

 

Haters Gonna…

I’m used to talking to people with all kinds of perceptions about farming.  People who are afraid of farm animals, people who want to learn more about where food comes from, people who see livestock as pets, and people who see pets as livestock.

Recently, I had a commenter on a social media feed whose agenda I didn’t really have a ready response for.  She started out by stating that she was upset to see the “instruments of exploitation” in response to my posting a photo of some lambing supplies.  Some conversation revealed that she’s a vegan, and pretty upset by the idea that animals die by human hands for any reason.  The “Instruments” upset her because they reminded her that the sheep would be bred and some would one day be eaten.

I don’t want to set up a strawman just to take down, so I won’t rehash the whole discussion.  I’m not anti-Vegan: the diet has many excellent points about sustainability.  Humane-itarianism, which I practice as best I can, has borrowed many ideas from veganism.  My vegetarian friends and I get along fine.  The idea, though, that we would be better off without any livestock and the crucial manure, labor and nutrients they provide to us seems completely wrong to me.  Saying “No” to animals is saying “Yes” to petrochemicals and deforestation seeking land for ever more beans.

I am not ashamed or sorry that animals from my farm are slaughtered and eaten, including ones that I like very much.  It is part of taking responsibility for them, just as owning an emergency lamb-puller, ear tags,  iodine and other medical supplies should be.  Regarding slaughter: animals don’t worry or anticipate death.  They don’t realize they are at a slaughterhouse until they reach the kill room, and then they don’t have long to spend there.  I watch the employees there thandle the animals with gentleness and respect, even as society treats them without respect and the job is typically viewed as “unskilled.”

I found it meaningful to have other farmers join my argument during the multi-hour discussion, pointing out weaknesses in the other person’s argument and helping me remember the values that guide what I do.  Special thanks to Jen at Allsorts Acres who joined me in refuting some of the silliness thrown our way.   It’s a funny way to finally meet a fellow shepherd, but I’m grateful for the camaraderie.  I hope that the person who was so affronted that we would ever eat an animal and that we think it is okay to raise livestock one day recognizes that there is more to kindness to animals than just avoiding killing them at any cost.

First Lambs

Matt checked the sheep at 10:55.  Nothing doing.  He went to the dump.  He returned directly for find this:

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A white ewe and a ram lamb from Bobolink.  The lambs are half Cormo, half Bluefaced Leicester.  They were up and nursing straightaway, no assistance needed.

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The Bluefaced Leicester heritage is clear in the ears and the faces.  They are as loveable as can be!

wp_20170301_17_32_18_proEleanor wants to meet the new addition right away.