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Lambing Mixup

So my prayers for “not lambing” during our deepest cold last night were not answered.

At maybe 2:30am, Matt woke me to say that he needed help in the barn.  It was -15F out and one of our oldest BFL ewes, Kay, was lambing simultaneously with Wild Thing, a Border Leicester. Kay is 9, which is an age where sheep get a little marginal in their ability to manage lots of lambs and to compete at the feed bunk.  Kay is sturdy and healthy, but I can tell she is at risk of falling behind under strain.

When we got to the barn, we had a pile of white lambs in front of us, but it was not at all clear whose were whose. Kay was licking up a nice, big, rather Border-y looking ram lamb, while Wild Thing was mothering a suspiciously blue-headed ewe. There were two other lambs – one that was clearly a blue-tinged BFL and another that was hard to evaluate due to the pink of her ears.  Sometimes BFLs are born looking a tad pink.  Such lambs typically blue-up as they age.

We brought the two unclaimed lambs in for warming. The obvious BFL died, sadly. Sometimes they are just too far gone and she was the runt.  This was our first lost lamb born alive.  It is a painful failure to lose a valuable ewe lamb like that.  We were left pondering about the ‘ownership’ of the little girl before us.  Her pink ears have gray patches, which Borders typically don’t have.  Her ears are also very high-set, desirable in both breeds but more conspicuous in my BFL stock.

After a long discussion, we came up with a theory of the case – K had triplet BFL girls, one of which was claimed by Wild Thing. Meanwhile, Wild Thing’s big, vigorous lamb wandered over to K. Sometimes ewes make decisions when faced with lots of lambs that they don’t think they can manage and raise.  Ewes may choose one or two of the litter to focus on mothering, instead of dividing their effort too much and losing all lambs to the cold.  So perhaps Kay thought that Wild Thing’s ram was her most vigorous lamb (he is about twice the size of the triplets) and chose him.

The outcome is that Kay is raising a Border ram, Wild Thing is raising a very nice BFL ewe, and we are also raising a BFL ewe since there were no claimants to the other lamb. In this cold, it’s not really worth the risk or the battle to foster her onto a ewe. Plus, who would we choose? Try to convince an unfriendly, aptly-named Border to accept a lamb that’s definitely not hers? Or put her with her real mom to make her compete against a huge ram lamb for sparse milk? We would have ended up raising one or two of K’s triplets in any case, given her age.  She didn’t lamb with enough milk to support more than one big lamb or two small ones.

So that was our night.  I got maybe an hour of sleep – the wash cycle with the dirty lamb towels took longer to complete than the amount of sleep I got.  This morning, I was greeted with…surprise!  More lambs.  A single from an experienced mom, fortunately, so I can feel comfortable that they will manage with less help.

Mercifully, this cold snap will soon break and everyone will be grateful.

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Lambing Under Duress

Our exposed, West-facing hillside got 63mph winds with 52mph sustained gusts.  Combined with raw, cold snow, the weather is absolutely brutal right now.  We can feel every crack, fissure and draft in our house.  It is cold indoors and worse outdoors.  Much worse.

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Here’s the wind blowing across in front of the garage

So I was worried about what I’d find in the barn.  Mostly, the sheep have been huddling for warmth under tough circumstances.  But all of the lambs are fine and nursing.  We had a birth this afternoon- one enormous ram from our 2017 bottle lamb, Sue.  Last year, her lamb didn’t make it, so we were watching her carefully.  This year, much better luck.  With some toweling-off from us, he was up and suckling quickly.

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The lambs are handling the weather by cuddling up to conserve energy.  Here’s an adorable pile of little ones during the worst of the weather this morning:

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Fierce mommas are the best kind to have.  Summer is very concerned that her little ram lamb might be cold, so she guards him constantly.  Next to this hay bale, he’s in the lee of the wind.

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Shepherds have to protect themselves, too.  I’m breaking my anonymity by showing you the multi-level attire I adopted to deal with getting to and from the barn.  Once in the barn, I was actually significantly overdressed.  As breezy as it is, the barn offers good protection.

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Compendium of Lambs

We started our lambing season about a week earlier than expected, and we haven’t had a break yet.  Eleven little Border Leicesters now grace our barn.  We have had three sets of twins and two sets of triplets.  Sadly, one triplet wasn’t born alive.  This happens sometimes, despite our best efforts.

Enjoy some photos of our bouncing babies!

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An Ice Storm

Last night, we could hear the logging trucks trying to drag their loads up the temporary road.  At the top if the hill, the skidder helped pull the truck onto the ice-covered road using its chained tires.  The logging job is almost done, but our logger is scrambling to get the crop off the field before the thaw starts to create mud.  We are pleased by their work- the sheep will have plenty of grassy areas interspersed with shade for the hottest days.

We had a decent ice storm, causing traffic snarls in the more populated counties and causing us to go looking for the ice-devices for our boots.  Having fooled around with Stabilicers, YakTrax and other similar items, we have gone hardcore.  We use these:

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So the rule is “no walking on the deck or stairs with the ice devices on”.  Predictably enough.

The sheep, geese and chickens have taken the storm in stride.  While we chip away at frozen metal, the geese walk with confidence.  Did you know that they have little claws at the ends of their toes?  Ignore the webbing for a moment, because those claws are sharp and can do damage!  The geese appreciate that warmer temperatures have kept their water thawed and entertaining.

I appreciate that Matt went down to the woodchip pile created by the loggers.  He hauled some chips back, and used them to treat our driveway when we ran out of salt.  I have to say that the chip-traction is even better than the salt-traction.  And a little friendlier to the earth, too.

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The path from the house
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And the rest of the driveway

The sheep are protected from the grim weather as they enter the final stretch of pregnancy.  They have been relaxing, eating and growing ever-wider.  I’m really hoping for lots of healthy lambs.

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The sheep were not untouched by the ice, though:

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Manure-sicles.