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.