Checking the Flock

A little over a year ago, assessing the wellbeing of ten sheep was as easy as walking into the paddock with a handful of grain and waiting for everyone to come and say “hi.’  I could touch, FAMACHA and evaluate all of my sheep in a few minutes.  Simple!

With 60 sheep now present in the main group and many of them more independent and less friendly than my sheep last year, this approach is no longer feasible.  So we put together a panel-pen, shook a bit of grain, and collected most of the flock.  I had set up a new paddock for them to enter, so “inspected” sheep could exit into a different paddock than the location of our un-caught flock.  Trust me, it made sense.

Here are the notes we took.  Dagging means trimming poopsicles off bums – the flock is now dingleberry-free!  Ivermectin and Fenbendazole are wormers, we treated sheep who looked more anemic with Ivermectin.  We are still struggling with the wide variety of tagging systems present in our flock – Letters denote the color of the tag, so B122 is Blue (appropriate for Bluefaced Leicesters!), crossbred lambs are Yellow, pure Border Leicesters are green, and we have a few stray pink and white tags for Cormo crosses and other crosses.   Other ewes from other flocks, well, let’s just call the system eclectic:

Notes as follows:

  • Ozzy is now numbered B112
  • GWAR got 2.9 ml Fenbendazole
  • Summer looked fine
  • Judy looked fine
  • Emma looked fine
  • Sue looked fine  (Judy, Emma and Sue are all yearlings from our starter flock)
  • 65 looks good and has regained weight since lambing.
  • 1606 looked good.
  • 95 was thin and received 1.5 ml Ivermectin.
  • Fannie had pale eyelids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole
  • Tag-torn unknown lamb is now Y132 – torn ear has mild infection and will need to be addressed.
  • 210-Bisdorf was thin and pale-lidded and received 2.5ml Ivermectin.  (This ewe has huge, vigorous lambs who’ve taken a lot out of her- she will be 7 next year)
  • Fancy B124 had pale lids and received 1.5ml Fenbendazol
  • Krombopulis Michelle had pale lids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole
  • 1616 required dagging
  • Chloe had pale lids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole.  We should have retagged her, but we forgot. (Chloe tore her tag out while at Rhinebeck!  She never even made it home with her scrapie tag).
  • Lamb 130 is fat and healthy!  (This is the youngest lamb of the main group, though there are some later-born lambs from yearling ewes)
  • 2503 is fat, received a bum-trim
  • Ewe 13-266 from Sue is now G100 (this fixes the Border Leicester ID issue – there are three more ewes who needed visible flock-tags.  Luckily most had existing ear piercings and weren’t subjected to a new taghole)
  • Another tag-torn lamb is now Y133 and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole
  • 122Blue had pale lids and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole
  • 123Y is small and poopy.  Was dagged and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole
  • 115Y was poopy and was dagged
  • Sheppenwolf was thin and had pale lids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole
  • 128Y is fine
  • Ewe 13-264 from Sue is now G101
  • Lamb Y121 looks good
  • K-Michelle’s son is now White347
  • Lamb y126 is good
  • Lamb 103 is all wool, no sheep.  Concerned about poor growth
  • Lamb 110 had pale lids and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole.  Eyes are perfectly clear and healthy!
  • Ewe 72 looks well
  • Ewe OH-Bisdorf-K looks good, considering her advanced age.  Ewe was born 2010.
  • Erin looks good
  • Y118 looks good
  • Y122 looks good
  • OH34, the skinny one, is concerningly skinny and was dosed prophylactically with 2.9ml Ivermectin.  Will have the vet inspect next time she is over.
  • 1411 Border Leicester is now G102
  • 1620 needed dagging
  • 13-270 is now G104
  • 13-262 is now G105.  Tag 103 broke in tagging.

Cloverworks farm sheep grazing in field

20180708_161610
This ram lamb is for sale!  Registered BFL.   He passed our inspection.

 

Pasture and Fear

The grass ripened for grazing this week, and the sheep went on grass on Friday.  I have been watching them every moment since then.  I have been so anxious about putting the ewes and lambs out on pasture, which makes little since as we are a pasture-based farm focused on rotational grazing!

I worried that sheep will bloat during the transition from hay to pasture.  Ruminant digestion relies on beneficial bacteria populating the gut of the sheep.  They don’t adjust well to sudden dietary changes.  If indigestion takes place, the sheep will develop painful gas in the rumen that can cause death in an hour or two.  The rumen becomes so inflated that the sheep will suffocate!  So I watched the sheep on pasture like a hawk, even training a high-beam flashlight on them at night to check for illness.  So far, everyone has been fine.

IMG_20180511_125308_619
Pasture, Day 1

Another anxiety is whether the lambs will understand to avoid the fence.  Ideally, a lamb will touch the fence with his/her nose, get a shock, and jump back.  Usually, they run off with an offended “BAA” and learn that the fence is to be avoided.  But once in a while you get a special one who runs forward and entangles.  So I have also been watching the fence lines for stuck lambs.  Also, so far so good.

My final anxiety is about the season.  I am worried about whether I have correctly matched the numbers of sheep with the amount of land I have.  I am asking this land to support more than 70 sheep, but I am worried that I won’t have the fodder to support them.  In short, what if the grass won’t grow?  On this one, I am trying to just have a little faith that my instincts are good and the sheep will have feed enough.  The lambs will ship just as feed runs low in the fall, so I think I am in better shape than I feel like I am.

20180513_084112
Pasture, Day 3

Meanwhile, the sheep are filled with joy to be outside.  They graze in the bright sun and ruminate in the shade.  The lambs bounce and play a bit, but most are old enough that grazing is the focus of their day.  Each paddock at this time of year is approximately 164ft x 164ft, more than a half-acre.  The sheep move a little more than once a day, primarily because I am carefully watching the grazing rates.  It is crucial not to allow the sheep to graze below the growth point of the grass.

The following is from Beef Magazine, but is relevant to my project:

Research shows when up to 50% of a plant’s leaf volume is removed, root growth stoppage is about 2-4%. If 60% of the leaf volume is removed, root growth stoppage escalates to about 50%. At 80% removal, the roots have no regrowth.

I want to have strong regrowth, so monitoring is constant.  The sheep are really a full-time job right now.

In other news, we treated GWAR for a bit of footscald with a mediboot.  We caught her on pasture and put some nice treatment goop between her two toes and then stuck the embarrassing blue boot on her foot.  GWAR hopped away, bereft of dignity but will hopefully feel much better in a couple of days.

20180512_090951
Sue is still Sue – diving under the fence to get to the new pasture first.

 

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:

r7jn4poful99qk4sazj3

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

20180408_151422
Starting to look crowded in the barn!  
20180408_152315
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.
20180408_151437
Some of the newest arrivals
20180408_153118
The bleakness of early spring.

 

Mismothering

First, I will start with the good news:

A year ago, we had a fiasco where several sheep tested as positive or as exposed to CL: Caseous Lymphadenitis.  We were never able to determine the source of the disease, but several good sheep went for meat in our effort to eradicate CL in our flock.

Last week, we received our test results back for CL, Ovine Progressive Pneumonia and Johnes (which is kind of like Tuberculosis in humans but not zoonotic).  We are clear of all diseases!  We have one ewe who came up as “suspect” for CL, (neither negative nor positive) so we are watching her with a gimlet eye.  That said, I think we are in the clear, so I am now willing to consider selling rams for crossing purposes.  So let me know if you would like one!

So, mismothering:  On 3/31, ewe 1627 went into labor.  Many ewes chase existing lambs thinking they’ve given birth, but 1627 somehow managed to convince one of 1606’s lambs that he was in fact hers.  So when her real lamb was born, she had milk for one but a huge, hungry single to feed.   1627’s real lamb was hypothermic on Monday morning, and we’ve been trying to energize him ever since.  He seems to brighten, only to stop eating and weaken again.  I admit I am finding him rather frustrating!   So we will end up raising him, even though his mother was willing to try, because she won’t give up her stolen lamb and there is only milk for one in her udder.

 

 

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!

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.