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:

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A Mighty Wind

We had 70 mph winds last night.   Our power went out, our house rocked like we were having an earthquake,  and we kept checking the orientation of the chicken coop to make sure it hadn’t blown over.   Poor Matt was restless all night long, but I did manage to sleep through it.

In the morning, everything that had been on the porch was scattered across the property.  The chicken coop shifted, but remained upright.  The barn had clearly rocked on its foundation – the brackets are bent and will need to be bent back to their original position and redrilled.

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Yikes!

Because our power was out, I set out for the Craftsbury General Store for some coffee.  With so many coolers, one assumes that they must have a generator!  I found a long line and my neighbor the clerk writing IOUs because without internet service, their card machine was down!  But at least there was coffee, and soon I was more prepared to cope with all of the downed trees and detritus.  Matt took our new tractor out for a spin and helped the town crew to saw up and clear some of the larger downed trees.  I brought him his coffee and joined in the effort to remove a large poplar in a “widowmaker” position.  He and Tim from the highway department leapfrogged with the saws to make manageable chunks, and I was tossing the chunks and brush off the road.  A group of motorcyclists stopped because of the blocked road, turned their bikes off and lent a hand.  The tree was all gone in a few minutes -a testament to teamwork!

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The neighbor’s children’s play-store.  Their fencing was down and they had a tree across their driveway.
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So much for that shed.
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The very nice sign for Diamond Heart Acres Dutch Belted Cattle, bent.
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Matt’s new pride and joy: a Zetor Major 80.  

A Sick Lamb, Part Deux

An update on Steven gets…scatological.

When last we left our heroes, Steven the lamb was on the couch, looking a little perkier but not really ready to go back out.  Even through my “everything needs to be economical, this is a business” mindset, Steven has really touched my heart, so what follows reflects my failure to follow my own advice.  I really wanted Steven to be okay.

Our first thought about his symptoms was to assume pneumonia because his breathing did seem labored.  But as time went on, we realized that gastric upset might be the more correct diagnosis.  If you have four stomachs, gastric upset is a big deal.  We noticed that Steven was grinding his teeth, which indicates acute discomfort.  He was also lethargic and his eyelids were very pale, indicating anemia.

So Matt and I decided to fetch him an iron supplement, and we also worked on getting him eating more hay.   Finally, some farts and ball-bearing-like pellets indicated that he wasn’t obstructed.  Pellets aren’t hard to sweep up and a little cleaning spray and we are in business, so we kept monitoring Steven inside.  A few hours and dozens of pellets had Steven looking brighter, but certainly not well.  I treated him with the usual constipation/bloat treatment- some olive oil to get things lubricated and moving again.

Matt had posted this adorable picture on his favorite discussion website:

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And another user had made the comment “Wait, you have a lamb with gastric upset INSIDE YOUR HOUSE?”

As we pondered those prescient words, Steven started to baa.  His tummy gurgled and we tried to bring him over to the mats beneath the parrot perches where bird droppings land.  But he didn’t make it, and soon a jet of absolutely rank manure came straight out.  We had the idiotic idea of putting him in the tub, but he’s large enough and tall enough to get out.  So we had the obvious idea of *taking the lamb back outside where it clearly belongs* and we did so, post-haste.

I was still really worried, so I got up at 4:30am to check on Steven.  He was fine, and more energetic than before.  He had clearly, ahem, continued to empty his digestive tract but was happily munching a bit of hay.

Today, Matt and I were smarter.  We realized that it was really too much to expect Steven to cope with weaning while competing with adult sheep, so we put him in a less-competitive environment- in with the other two bottle lambs.  Despite the inconvenience of removing him from the pen so they can be fed without harassment, Steven can now eat his hay without being pushed aside, and he can more easily reach and drink the water he needs from a correctly-sized bucket.  We are withdrawing them from being Certified Grassfed and will give them creep feed to help them gain weight without a mother’s TLC.  Steven looks happier already, and I’ve already washed the floor again.

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.

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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.

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Perking up, eating some hay.

 

 

Getting Through Lambing

Twenty of our thirty-three ewes have lambed so far at Cloverworks Farm.  Thirty eight lambs have been born, with thirty six surviving.  One loss was a little BFL ewe lamb who failed to nurse overnight with her mother.  Another was 1627’s lamb, whom we had indoors and who just faded away, likely from pneumonia.  Though some amount of loss is usual, I am still disappointed with my failure to keep these lambs alive.  I’ve been intervening more since the first loss, feeling that I could have done more to warm and feed the lost lambs.

But the sad part aside, we have 34 healthy little lambs in the barn and two bouncy lambs in the house. Due to weather and mis-mothering, we have one lamb each from the recently-born triplets in our custody.  With Steven Jr. weaned and on his own, we can deal with lambs in the house again.   The lambs in the barn are happy and bouncy.  Since the oldest lamb is now four months old,  we have quite a range of sizes.   Some of the youngest lambs still haven’t figured out how to home in on their mother, so I’ve been helping 123 find her mom, 264, often.  All of the adults are struggling to tolerate the shear number of lambs who want to climb on their backs.

We are still waiting for the snow to melt and the pasture to start to green.  Not much by way of spring weather yet, other than a few days with highs in the 40’s F.

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Starting to look crowded in the barn!  
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The lamb with the bright yellow tag is three and a half months younger than the lamb in the foreground facing us.  That fella is about 2/3 the size of his mother right now.
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Some of the newest arrivals
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The bleakness of early spring.

 

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.

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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.

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Getting toasty – you can see the bleeding issue a little in this photo.
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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.

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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!

 

 

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.

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Warily watching us.  (she is the black ewe with the torn ear)
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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.

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Note the gray-blue haze.
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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!

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We love the pattern on this sweet girl.  She is a purebred BFL who will be registered.
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Another view of the ewe with the “Fancy Face”, as Matt termed it.
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Just before these three sillies started bouncing.  This is Steven, with his friends, Ohio-65’s ewe and ram.
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Nibble, nibble
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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.
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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.