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Pregnancy Checks and some Updates

With temperatures in the low single digits today, we are surely in the thick of winter.  Last week, we finally received the replacement barn-ends that we ordered after the back of the barn tore in half during the Halloween storm.  Unfortunately, Matt and I concluded that we won’t actually complete the repairs until spring.  Neither of us want to battle stiff, uncooperative materials in terrible weather while the barn is filled with pregnant sheep.

Speaking of pregnant sheep, our vet Dr. Emily came out yesterday to ultrasound each of our ewes to check for pregnancy.  The news was mostly good- lots of multiples, ewes look generally healthy, and we even have a few pregnant ewe lambs!   We sent each ewe through the chute for a fairly low-stress exam.  It was a perfect opportunity to check on some of the ewes who are skillful at avoiding us under most circumstances.  I am so pleased with how chubby and healthy most of the flock is.  I really feel like I have that aspect under control at the moment.  I think the biggest factor is that Matt made all of our hay this year, and the ewes eat it with great gusto.

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I hold a sheep, Dr. Emily scans, assistant Allison evaluates

On the downside, we do have three open adult ewes.  Ewe lambs get a pass on not breeding their first year, but 1616, Beth and Eilis all scanned empty, much to my disappointment.  Sadly, we are reasonably sure that Eilis is dying, so we are preparing to euthanize her soon.  Two vets, endless exams and many treatments have all yielded no improvement in her condition.  Dr. Emily and her former owner agree that cancer is not unlikely.  I am so, so heartbroken that after all of the TLC we provided to Eilis, we have no offspring from her or from her sister, Beth.  Beth has been fat and healthy the whole time, but just won’t settle a pregnancy.  We are blood-testing her for a final chance that maybe her pregnancy could have been missed, but I am not holding my breath.

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Lamb Frustration

This year, I have a few naughty lambs.

Border Leicester #125, who is a really pretty ewe lamb, and her sidekick Border Leicester #151 persistently wiggle their way out of our electric fencing.  Sometimes, Border Leicester #122 joins in.

For a while, it really was my fault.  We only had a 1 joule charger on a large amount of fence, and the charge simply wasn’t hot enough.  Worse, we were using some old, slightly droopy netting that was easy for lambs to slip beneath.  I could watch them slide their little Roman noses under the wires and then shuffle under, awkwardly.  Sometimes, a lamb would inadvertently pull the fence out of the ground while shimmying, releasing the rest of the flock.  Having your sheep at-large will ruin your reputation in the neighborhood pretty quickly.  We needed to take action.

Then the arms race began.  We bought a hotter charger with twice as much power.  Still, 125 and 151 would sneak out.  We stopped using the older fence and even bought $600 worth of new fence.  Still, 125 and 151 were out-of-bounds somehow.

So at weaning, I went nuclear.  We are fortunate to have a neighbor’s hard-fenced horse-pasture available.  We tightened up that fence and then deposited the weaned lambs in there.  After a hard day of lamb separation, we were keen to prevent the lambs from escaping and running off to find their mothers.  Every possible escape-route was blocked and bolstered.

Yet still, this morning, the lambs are loose.  They knocked down some of the fencing in the process of escaping – fortunately, the main group of lambs was well-behaved and did not try to escape.

So our new policy is that those lambs are just “out”.  They are out, at risk of being eaten by coyotes, but they are not putting the main flock at risk.  They’ll also be on the first trailer out of here.  I am so, so frustrated at being outsmarted by two five-month-old lambs!  Unbelievable.

Some images of our at-large delegation:

 

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They are quite a ways from home, so I drive if I am carrying something large.
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Good lambs to the left, naughties to the right.
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Trying not to show their faces.

 

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Summer Arrives

Summer arrives to find the bobolinks have fledged from our neighbor’s hayfield.   Three streaky brown birds making little plink calls were flitting and bouncing around the pasture I set up for the sheep.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide habitat to this struggling species.

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We are so close to weaning time.  I know the ewes are ready to send their lambs off on their own for a while.  Some have probably already weaned their babies without my help.  For others,  it’s adorable yet concerning to see lambs who are nearly the same size as their mothers still nursing.  The ewes need pedicures and a spa treatment (or hoof trimming and some Selenium supplementation, depending on your perspective).

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We have two especially naughty lambs who have figured out how to slip under the electric fence.  They taunt the other lambs by eating the grass I am saving for later meals.  Sadly, one is a ewe lamb that I would have considered keeping, but I don’t really need troublemakers.  Worse, in the process of slipping out, the lambs have occasionally knocked down the fence and allowed other sheep to escape.  We do not want loose sheep in roads and on neighbor’s land.

Our haying efforts have produced 75 round bales so far.  We have several more fields waiting for first-cutting, but Matt is struggling with equipment breaking down.  First, the round baler wasn’t operating smoothly, so he needed to adjust the tension on the belts that roll the hay into a snowball.  Then, one of the bearings on the new mower seized, causing extensive damage to a part that is no longer made.  Good thing Matt is a decent welder.  He’ll need to replace the gnawed-off metal with in-fill, and then use a lathe to make it smooth and round again.  Yeesh.

I have learned how to rake the hay into windrows that the baler then scoops up and rolls.  There is a satisfying rhythm to it, like mowing the lawn.  Would you like to know more about how hay is made?  I’ve been debating whether or not to write a post explaining hay, so let me know if an explainer would be useful for you.

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Waiting for Spring

It’s almost May.

The grass has been taking its time in growing, but the lambs haven’t.  It pains me to see my tired ewes nursing their enormous lambs.

We began vaccinating our flock for Clostridium C+D plus Tetanus last week.  Matt and I hauled in the scale he built us and weighed each lamb.   Our lambs ranged from 60 lbs to 20, with the smaller lambs being younger.  In order to have some data that’s more useful than strict weight, I made a spreadsheet comparing days in age to current weight.  I admit I omitted birthweight.  Aside from animals born clearly outside the norm (huge or tiny), birthweight hasn’t been that helpful as a general measurement for me.  In any case, the sheep ranged from .49 to .99 in growth rate.  Meaning some weigh a pound for every day of age, others a half-pound.  Even my non-standard metric shows us a little bit about who is thriving and who isn’t.  We’ve begun efforts to supplement all of the lambs on the low end.

To double down on my New Sheep Math, I’ve also gone through and added up the total lamb-growth for all moms.   It seems like a helpful way to look at which ewes are working the hardest, feeding up to 1.81 lbs of lamb growth/day in a way that controls for lamb age (vs total weight, which would make the oldest lambs look better than the youngest).  Have I mentioned how much I love a good spreadsheet?

While we wait for pasture, I am lucky enough to have my 2019 yarn back from the mill.  This year, we asked to have it unskeined, on cones.  So I have massive cones of yarn to skein, wash, dye and organize.  It’s good, clean fun while I agonize about our hay supply and the ewes yearning for fresh grass.  By the by, I need to shout out my friend Laini Fondiller, who connected me with a neighbor of hers with some extra hay.  It’s just enough to stave off starvation and rioting in the barn, so I am grateful for a good farmer friend.

And of course, for those wondering, Dad is going really well.  This week is a pile of appointments, but he is looking and feeling stronger.

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Patient Bethlehem wishes I’d just let her go outside
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Is it just me, or does Chloe look like a victim of cabin fever?
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This cute fella wants to romp and play- grow faster, grass!
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Triumph and Tribulation

We have 73 lambs on the ground and only one ewe left yet to lamb.  Lambing was a constant process of checking, evaluating, assisting, monitoring, feeding and collapsing.  For me, tiredness can be measured in my motivation to do regular daily activities.  Cleaning falls off first, then relaxation, then cooking.  When I didn’t feel like cooking, I knew I was pretty far down the line of being exhausted.

With bottle lambs starting off life in the house,  sleep was persistently interrupted by little baas in the night.  We keep bottle lambs in a crate next to the bed so we can wake up and bottle feed as needed.

As focused as I have become on the problem children, most of the lambs are doing well and growing rapidly.  While it feels overwhelming to have five lambs dependent on us for food, this shouldn’t really be surprising given that we have 68 lambs who are not dependent on us for food and we did lamb some older ewes who were unable to raise multiples.

As physically and mentally exhausted as I am, I try to be grateful each day that I’m lucky enough to have this as a job, lucky enough to have generally healthy animals, and lucky enough to have a nice warm bed to collapse into at 9:30 most nights.

Enjoy some photos from the barn:

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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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Checking the Flock

Cloverworks farm sheep grazing in field

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

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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