So Much Going On

I’m afraid this will have to be one of those bullet-point affairs:

  • We got a couple of additional BFLs from Ohio last weekend in order to grab the last available breeding-age ewes from a breeder who sold out her flock three years ago.  They are MAGNIFICENT but don’t seem to particularly want to be photographed.20180611_184458
  • We drove 14 hours out and 16 back (due to having to take smooth roads with a full trailer).  We dropped off a Bluefaced Leicester ram in Western NY while outbound and then enjoyed a slow day seeing Ohio and chatting with the shepherd who was parting with his BFL flock.  The next day, we left the hotel at 5am for a 5:30 loadup and a long, straight drive home.
  • We got back to Vermont at 9:45, totally exhausted.  As we approach the house, we see strange figures near the ram enclosure.  Turns out our neighbors’ beef herd was loose.  They availed themselves of our hay and grass, leaving copious amounts of fertilizer in payment
  • We tried to herd them into our barn, but only two were willing to come in.  Our neighbor Terry helped us find the owner, and soon we were shooing the cattle slowly home.

    We released our new sheep, free from the risk of roaming cattle taking our fencing down and slept fitfully.

  • Meanwhile, our chickens are headed outdoors by the end of the week.  We are pleased to see our Slow White Broilers growing rapidly while still behaving naturally.  They as active and chirpy as chickens their age aught to be.  The jury is still out on how they’ll finish out, but so far, so good.  Interested in chicken?   We will have pastured chicken available after July 18th.  We also have
  • Our geese now roam the yard freely.  Contrary to the information we read, our geese are neither friendly towards us nor are they aggressive.  They seem cautious and inclined to move in a flock.  I am anxious about slaughtering a goose because plucking is apparently a significant challenge.  But I am willing to try at least one and then start tweaking.  Friend of the Farm Suzanne Podhaiser has been very generous with her experience, so I am grateful to her for her sage advice.
  • We are getting Jersey calves!  Two Jersey steers are forthcoming from Richardson Family Farm.  We need to think up some good names for them.  While most bulls born on dairy farms board a truck shortly after birth to meet a destiny inside a hotdog casing, ours will enjoy a winter and two summers of grass, shelter and sunshine.  We hope to keep them friendly but not pushy.  Brace yourselves for some big brown eyes.
  • Back to the sheep we bought.  I am enamored with their amazing blue color and fantastic structure.  They are real beauties.
  • We are trying to decide whether to raise more chickens or whether to have a few turkeys.  Our main goal with the birds on the farm is to pump up the nitrogen in the soil where it is seriously depleted.  Thoughts and opinions?

A few more pictures:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More Goodbyes

Many of you who follow this blog know that Caseous Lymphadenitis has been an issue in the flock in the past.  After an aggressive eradication campaign, the whole flock tested negative in March.  However, my last CormoX ewe, Meadowlark, developed a very large and very concerning abscess on her cheek last week.  Even though she tested negative for CL three times, I know that false negatives are not impossible and I didn’t feel I could risk having her cyst bursting, spreading illness around.

We separated Lark from the flock, but realized that we couldn’t just have her in the barn all alone.  We had been on the fence about keeping Dalek after she had a premature single, failed to come into milk, and showed no signs of regaining any weight.  We decided that it would be okay to let her go at this time also.  So we transported both sheep back to the barn for a day.  We had an on-farm slaughterer come and the deed was swift and stressless for both sheep.  We got our answer about Dalek- massive lung damage from a bout with pneumonia.  We had noticed her wheezing a bit, but our previous vet hadn’t heard anything in the lungs then.  I assume that she had pneumonia at some point earlier in her life and was treated, but had sustained serious damage.  If we hadn’t intervened, she would have died a slow and agonizing death.

20180514_112943
That lump under her ear is bad news bears.  There is no recommended treatment for CL

I feel sad to lose such good ewes.  Both were devoted mothers and herd leaders.   I am so frustrated that this disease issue continues to worry the flock.  I am committed to eliminating it, though, for the long-term wellbeing of the sheep in my care.  I have to assume that any disease that packs the lymph nodes with nasty puss has to be painful as well as economically damaging.  I will really miss them both.

IMG_20180517_093150_355

The rest of the flock seems very happy out on pasture.   The grass is rich and the ewes are gaining a bit of weight to counter the pounds they’ve milked off in the last few months.  We also have our first new lamb in a while!  Sheppenwolf had a single ram lamb this morning.

20180517_151207.jpg
What a cutie!

 

 

A Sick Sheep

I did chores as usual this morning- I fed hay to the rams, bottle fed the two lambs, checked and changed everyone’s water…

But then I noticed that everything was too quiet.  Our older bottle lamb,Steven was not baaing for the “cookie” he gets each morning . Usually, he would be insisting on my attention.  The cookie has oats, cornmeal, molasses, salt and vegetable oil, so just a bit of extra energy so he won’t have to bad a setback from being weaned off milk.

Today, I found him lying down next to another lamb, looking poorly.  When I got him up, he was lethargic and sad, with drooping ears and a sad posture.  I’m thinking he has pneumonia and a touch of anemia – just too much stress from weaning.

20180418_100443
Sad Steven!

I brought him in to the house, where he drearily half-followed me.  Time for some penicillin, some Nutri-Drench, and a little TLC.  I admit that I gave him a bit of milk, hoping that the hit of nutrients and hydration would offset the potential for an upset tummy.  And he did perk up with the milk, but he certainly isn’t out of the woods.

So if you have a moment, please spare a thought for Steven.  I think he will recover, but nothing is guaranteed.  We are watching Great British Bake-Off and petting him on the couch.

20180418_122413
Perking up, eating some hay.

 

 

Six Inches of Button Thread Saves a Life

Midnight:  Matt tells me that Chloe is starting labor – she has a bag protruding and is restlessly shifting.  I set an alarm to wake up in 90 minutes.

1:44 – I can see on the Barn Cam that Chloe has birthed one black lamb.  Out to the barn I go to find a large, handsome ram lamb.   I set Chloe up with a pen, and I notice a foot sticking out of Chloe.  Usually, lambs are born in a crouched position, front legs forward.  The sole of this hoof was facing upward- clearly the hind leg of a lamb coming out backwards.  Lambs can be born backwards, but it is usually smart to help; the umbilical cord will break before the lamb’s head is out, prompting the lamb to breathe.  If the lamb tries to breathe while its head is still inside, it can drown.  I locate the second leg and a thin white lamb slips right out.  She coughs and splutters and finally manages a big inhale and a tiny “maaahhh.”   I towel her and her brother off, as it’s quite chilly out and they can chill before they muster the energy to stand.

20180319_021533 (1)
They are blurry because I didn’t have my glasses on, and because the wiggling wouldn’t stop

Back in the house, I set an alarm for 2 hours.

3:44 – Despite my hopes, the lambs have chilled and aren’t standing well.  Chloe doesn’t look great herself, spending an unusual amount of time lying down.  I focus on the lambs – I bring them in, mix them up some stored colostrum and give them a quick first meal to help them along.  I’ve found that often, a little energy boost gives them what they need to stand up and learn to nurse.  Failure to intervene would likely result in hypothermic or dead lambs in the morning.  I warm the lambs by the fire and feed each one.   Both respond well, and soon they have little coats on and are headed back to Mom.  I know that they can make it through to morning on this feeding, even if they don’t decode nursing on their own.

IMG_20180319_045454_451 (1)
Getting toasty – you can see the bleeding issue a little in this photo.
20180319_044900 (1)
Momma is happy to see them again.

Back in bed at 5am.

At 8am, Matt goes out to do morning chores.  Usually, this is my job, but Matt has kindly agreed to let me sleep given all of the hustle and bustle overnight.  He comes back immediately, reporting that the ram lamb is bleeding out!  I had noticed that the ewe lamb was bleeding more than usual from her umbilicus, but I didn’t really register it as an emergency.  When Matt brought the ram in, however, he was weak and shaking, with a massive sausage-like bruised mass of an umbilicus.  (I’m putting the photo of this at the very bottom of the post- it will be educational for shepherds but it’s more gross than I usually show).  The vet confirms my suspicion – it didn’t look like a hernia where all of the intestines are coming out.   I tied the umbilicus off with six inches of button thread from Matt’s sewing kit and we offered the ram lamb some electrolytes.  In minutes, he was up and more alert.  Success!

At 9am, we are noting that the ewe lamb isn’t nursing.  Matt and I take some time trying to nursing-train her.  We get her to latch, but she didn’t drink a lot.  We are still concerned about Chloe, and it occurs to me that she could have a mild case of Milk Fever, which happens when the body deploys too much calcium to provide milk for the lambs, leaving the ewe’s calcium levels low.  We ground some Tums in our coffee grinder and added water to make a drench.  Some Tums and hot molasses-water had Chloe looking brighter.

20180319_152739 (1)
Fruity tums-drench.  Blecch.

We debated what to do about the ewe lamb- would she be better off on the bottle?  How much intervention is too much?  How do we provide just enough help without lessening her chances of ever nursing from her mother?  Even after seven years of kidding and lambing, I always ponder this question at length.  Matt and I agree that if she is too weak, we will bring her in for warming and go from there.

I go back to sleep after this- it’s now 11am.

I’m a little vague on times after this, but Matt went back to keep working on getting the lambs to nurse.  Once the ram wasn’t bleeding, he was up and at-em, nursing away.  But the ewe still needed help.  He milked Chloe into a bottle and fed the ewe lamb, but couldn’t get her to latch.

At 3pm, I was up for the day and went out.  Finally, after lots of patient guidance, the ewe lamb latches and suckles for several minutes.  I let her go, and she latches herself and nurses again!   Doing a victory dance in the middle of their bonding pen would have been counterproductive, so I saved that for my announcement of the news to Matt back in the house.

We will keep monitoring this little family, but finally, I am comfortable that everything is headed in the right direction.

 

 

 

Here’s the hemorrhaged umbilicus, for those who want to see it:

 

 

 

 

 

Bloody umbilical stump in lamb, bleeding abnormally.
This was pretty messy, but a tie-off and electrolytes saved the day!

 

 

Fiber and More Lambs

I thought you all might appreciate some bonus photos of the lambs in the barn.  Every time I got to do some chores, they are up to something silly:

20180310_095035
Lambs pestering…
20180314_121554
More lambs pestering…
20180314_121555
You can’t blame a ewe for retaliating!

 

20180315_113653
Ewe friendships warm my heart.
20180309_103245
Lambs cuddle up for warmth.
Ewe and her twin lambs, cuddling
Family time!

But sheep-raising as a living is more than just cute critters.  I’ve been working through pounds and pounds of wool from shearing.  We sent 40 pounds of raw wool to two different mills, hoping to see which will make the yarn we like the best.   Most will be white Border Leicester yarn, with some natural colored Border yarn and some CormoX, too!

My usual approach is to categorize wool into four piles: the cleanest wool goes for raw Handspinning fleece.   Acceptable but not ultra-clean wool goes to the mill.  Wool that is too dirty for the mill will be hand-picked and hand-combed by me until it will make a good batt or roving.  And finally, if I can’t clean it or if it is britch or belly wool, it goes to compost.  I’m pretty picky, so we also have 30 pounds of wool in the compost category.

I’ve been madly cleaning and carding, resulting in lots of lovely batts.  YouTube has given me a few tips, so stand by for some roving!  I am especially excited to try the techniques.  So far, the Bluefaced Leicester is clearly much softer than the Border Leicester, but both are lovely and will be a joy to spin.  The Border Leicester has finally showed me its beautiful luster!  My picture of the natural Bluefaced Leicester Batts isn’t completely true-to-color – the wool is a rich coffee-bean brown with gray highlights.

I hope you will take a moment to check out the shop to see our array of wool products!

20180318_172017
Wool drying by the fiber- it’s getting crowded in here!

Eye Trouble

We’ve been having a few eye issues in the flock of late.

Chloe,  a beautiful ewe from Maryland, developed a cloudiness in her left eye recently.  It looked like she managed to get a solid poke in the eye, and our vet comfirmed such.  So we are giving her some eye ointment that might increase her healing rate and comfort.   Unfortunately, Chloe is already on the shy side, and we were only able to sneak in and get her about four doses before she wised up and began to assiduously avoid us.   I have often wished that there were a way to communicate to sheep that they’ll be happier with the help.  We’ve abandoned chasing Chloe for now, especially as the treatments we did manage clearly helped a lot and she is still making progress.

20180312_191526
Warily watching us.  (she is the black ewe with the torn ear)
20180312_191519
Also warily watching us using literal side-eye.

 

The other eye case is a little weirder and more complex.  One of the lambs born last Friday had strange-looking eyes.  He was newborn and gunky, so it was hard to pinpoint exactly what was going on.  Gradually, it became apparent that he had some sort of eye issue.  Our first thought was Entropion, where the lower eyelid is folded inward so the eyelashes irritate and injure the eye.  But we couldn’t find any sign of lower eyelashes at all.

The vet came to look at both sheep.  Part of being Animal Welfare Approved is providing treatment when treatment is needed, not leaving animals to “fend” and suffer.  Our vet felt like the lamb had some defect or issue in-utero that is expressing itself outside.  The little ram does play with his friends and is active, but does behave as though he is not completely sighted.  So we have been treating him with ointments, drops and antibiotics, trying to improve his condition.  Like Chloe, he now avoids us like the plague and associates us with mean stuff.  It’s so hard to do what is right but sometimes uncomfortable for the animal.  He is on the mend, as demonstrated by his increasing ability to evade me, so I know that the medications are helping.

20180312_185646
Note the gray-blue haze.
20180312_185636
This one is reddish.  

Everyone else looks fantastic.  The lambs are bouncy and jolly, and I can see on the shorn ewes that most are in fantastic condition.  Fred has been showing off his lovely conformation and I finally got a good picture to show you the difference between 2 month old Agnes and a 5 day old lamb (probably the brother of our cloudy-eyed guy).

Some Lamb Pictures

Pictures of some of our lambs at Cloverworks Farm.

We now have 16 lambs born, out of 9 mothers.   Here are some pictures!

IMG_20180306_151057
We love the pattern on this sweet girl.  She is a purebred BFL who will be registered.
IMG_20180306_151034
Another view of the ewe with the “Fancy Face”, as Matt termed it.
20180306_172044
Just before these three sillies started bouncing.  This is Steven, with his friends, Ohio-65’s ewe and ram.
IMG_20180306_151328
Nibble, nibble
20180306_165917
This picture gives just a hint of the size differential between the one and two month old lambs and the new ones.  It it is striking in person.
IMG_20180306_150706
Everyone likes a touch of sunshine.

 

 

The Last Four Days

Friday: I was cleaning up the house and buying groceries in anticipation of shearing on Sunday and my mom coming up to celebrate her birthday among the sheep.

Saturday: At 8am, Mom calls to say that Grandma is dying.  I try to keep personal stuff off this blog so I haven’t talked extensively about this, but Grandma has been sick with dementia and heart failure for the last five years.  She went into comfort care at the end of February.   I finish chores and hop in the truck, but I get to New Hampshire about 30 minutes after Grandma passed.   We spend Saturday together as a family, just trying to comfort each other after such a long journey with Grandma’s illness.  We toasted Grandma with white wine with ice cubes in it, as was her preference and shared memories of her.

I had called Mary, our shearer to cancel shearing, but I realize that some distraction is just the right thing for the family.   So I asked Mary if I could un-cancel our shearing on Sunday morning, so we could still have Mom’s birthday activity.  This may sound a little heartless, but I hope you will believe me when I say that there was little left to process in this passing.  We all were able to say our farewells to Grandma and we’ve been mourning every loss of memory and capacity as they have transpired.  Her passing was a release and a reprieve from suffering.

Saturday at Midnight:  I drove 3 hours back to Vermont and arrived at 10pm.  Matt let me know that Pearl the BFL was in labor.  At midnight, she delivered a ewe and a lamb.  We checked them throughout the night, and on little sleep I woke up early to prepare for shearing.

Newbluelambs.jpg
Just born. Our barn lighting is that bright- it really is midnight!

Sunday Morning When I got to the barn at 7am, I found Amethyst the BFL in labor as well as Ohio-72!  Ohio-72 had two rams at 7:30 and Amethyst had a ram and a ewe at 8:30.   Matt scrambled to repair a broken lambing jug so we could house all of these new lambs.

I prepared the pen for shearing and lugged our shearing board out to the barn.  Needless to say, we weren’t entirely ready for Mary when she arrived to shear, but she knew we’d had a long weekend already.  We were up and running in about 20 minutes.  It took 4 hours to shear the whole flock.  The ewes all looked relieved to be free of their hot fleeces.  Meadowlark stopped panting.

We all enjoyed lunch together, dining on the breakfast sandwiches I had meant to make in the morning!   Then we sat and relaxed for a bit before going to to the garage to sort some fleeces.  Mom and I have an arrangement to get the wool to one of the mills we plan to use this year and we know we need to get it to them ASAP.  We started skirting the 13 white Border  Leicester fleeces and made it through 9 of them.  The necks and backs of the fleeces were dirty and we threw away all of the britch wool, but the sides were perfect.

By evening, I was starting to feel a little scratchiness in my throat.  We feted Mom with a lamb loin roast and brussels sprouts and potatoes.  We had all of the ingredients for the cake I had meant to make on Saturday, but Mom wasn’t really feeling the need for more food, so we just ate the oranges instead.  None of us had slept properly in the last few days, so we were all in bed by 8pm.

Monday: I woke up on Monday feeling very poorly.  Mom and I got it together to finish the wool skirting, but Mom felt like she’d rather leave early than contract whatever was brewing inside me.  I took to the couch and wrapped myself in blankets, and Mom headed home.  Poor Matt has had to do all of the animal management for the rest of Monday and the beginning of Tuesday.

Tuesday: I felt much better after a good lie-down and a sound sleep.  Despite still feeling weak and headache-y, Matt and I did our routine to release ewes and lambs from the bonding jugs where they’ve been getting used to each other for two days.  We dosed each lamb and all of the ewes with Vitamin E and BoSE, and trimmed the ewes hooves.  We docked tails only on BFL ewe lambs, leaving the tails long enough to cover the bum.  Neither ewe lamb squirmed, so I think we were successful at minimizing discomfort (docking early and banding between the bones of the tail makes a huge difference).

IMG_20180306_114848_048
Matt wins, but barely.  This ewe will feel better once she has her vitamins and pedicure.  Some people go to spas for that!

We are now relaxing after too much stress, sorrow and sickness.  We didn’t want to go to Town Meeting in case my illness is contagious, so that will wait for next year.  It looks like Summer the ewe will have her lambs very soon, so the excitement continues even as we try to sit down for a minute.   The farm never sleeps, even if the farmers would really like to.

 

Our Bottle Lamb Thrives

Updates about our bottle lamb.

Many of you may be wondering how Steven Jr., our bottle lamb, is doing.  I’d like to report that he is doing very well.  He was born on February 23rd, early in the morning.  By that Sunday, he was finally getting up and walking on his own.

IMG_20180228_112925_343

We gradually moved him to the barn.  Living indoors isn’t healthy for sheep and he needs to learn to live socially with other sheep.  We left him alone outside for one hour and brought him in.  We then tried two hours out and four, and finally an overnight.  He adjusted fine to the temperatures, as we’ve had quite a thaw in the last little bit.  Getting used to other sheep has been harder.  He baas a lot and seems to irritate them with his lack of lamb social skills, but they are patient and generally kind.

He found a friend in Ohio-65’s ram lamb.  They are the same size and age, and their common interests are sleeping in the sun and play-butting each other.  Steven isn’t really big enough to run around with the bigger, older lambs, so he sticks with his buddy.  He has also grown impressively – we are pleased with how well he is doing on milk replacer.  His mother, Dalek, doesn’t seem to acknowledge him, so there was no possibility of him returning to her care.

20180227_111231
Sheep friendship- this is what it looks like.

I was very worried about him when he was born- a lamb that can’t stand has very poor prospects unless it can make huge gains quickly because they can’t digest their food properly lying on one side.  Steven completely surpassed my hopes for his recovery and I’m happy to have this cheerful little fellow in the barn.

 

In the Middle of the Night

I woke up a 3:30 this morning.  I think I was having a bad dream that woke me.  My immediate intuition was to check the lamb-cam, just to be sure all was well.  I scanned the barn and saw a weird black smudge on the hay.  Blearily, I realized that the immobile black form on the camera had to be a lamb, so I threw on some clothes and went out.

It was a lamb!  Dalek had birthed a single ram and cleaned him off completely, but all was not right.  The lamb wouldn’t stand up and seemed to lack control of his limbs.  Dalek had no milk to speak of, and to make matters more complicated, Ohio-65, a Border Leicester ewe, was also beginning labor and was CERTAIN the lamb was hers.

I penned Dalek and brought the lamb inside for warming and evaluation.  He just flopped on the floor- he had poor control of his front legs and no control of his hind legs.  We got him some colostrum-replacer, and I snoozed while he slept.  I woke up and checked Ohio-65.  She had a ewe out and was licking her with gusto.  Good.

Eventually, Ohio-65 had a ewe and ram.  Though she is not an experienced mother, she knew what to do and her babies were up and at-’em.

20180223_115239
Cute, but not walking.

But Dalek’s little ram showed few signs of improvement through the morning.  He and I snoozed until 7:30, when friends of mine visiting from Massachusetts came downstairs to see what the commotion was.   I think I was sleeping face down on the floor in front of the stove, with the lamb curled beside me at that point.  When I explained the lamb’s condition to Dani and Sarah, they started working to help him learn to stand and walk.  The lamb made rapid progress – with assistance, he began to stand stable-ly and then figured out a tentative walk.  He also figured out how to sit up a bit without assistance, so he wouldn’t just lie on his side.

IMG_20180223_090259656
Sarah helping the ram learn to walk.
IMG_20180223_080909158
Dani helping the ram learn to walk.

It is hard to make a call about trying to save a lamb in the condition that this young ram.  Lambs are always cute and it’s easy to go to extreme measures.  We’ve agreed that we will continue to help him along provided he is making progress, and provided he is in a state where he can survive.  Currently, we are worried that if he fell on his back, he would be unable to roll over and could be asphyxiate on his rumen.  As of now, he is developing the ability to right himself and to stand up from a lying down position.  So we will see how things go with our little lamb.

IMG_20180223_080607150
Walking and shouting.