Everyone on the farm is waiting for grass right now.
Every time we step outside, a sheep in the barnyard notices and starts to baa. Soon, a resounding chorus of baaing joins her, and I endure a jeering crowd as I walk to the garden. They can see that the grass has emerged and that it’s green. What they can’t see is that it is so short that it would last them half an hour, max. So we wait for the grass to grow without being able to tell the sheep why. And they resent us, slightly.
Most ewes lambed in February and early March. The stragglers were about done by mid March and we were grateful to return to a normal sleep schedule at that point. Just today, though, one of our yearling ewes dropped a sweet little ram lamb who reminds us that the sassy, leaping lambs were once tender baby lambs.
I’ve started a garden for the first time in years. I’m not immune to the gentle surge of our culture back towards self-sufficiency. We’ll have peas, potatoes, lettuce and cilantro of our own to enjoy. I did go straight to the things we eat the most- the garden is only 15x15ft. Matt admonished me not to bite off more than I could chew, as is my tendency, so my huge garden bed got whittled down to something we are sure we can manage.
We have a whole passel of bottle lambs in 2020. We have the two remaining ewe lambs from the quadruplet situation. We have a BFL ram lamb who never caught on to nursing his mother. We have a Border ram lamb who was rejected due to having sharp teeth (we fixed the teeth but couldn’t repair the relationship. Then, we have triplet BFLs whose mother just can’t keep up with their needs.
Almost all bottle lambs start out in the house. Because we can’t feed them as frequently as a real sheep mom, we choose to keep them indoors where they will be warm enough to not suffer chilling and hypothermia. Hypothermia causes most needless deaths of young lambs – lambs who are too cold won’t nurse or digest milk, resulting in a downward metabolic spiral. We try to give the lambs motherly attentions that they would receive from a real mom – ewes don’t hold their lambs, but they mutter to them and nuzzle and groom them. Petting and stroking the lambs meets their need for attention.
Of course, bottle lambs in the house are adorable. We show you the cute pictures of a lamb snoozing in a corner, but we don’t show you the mess they make. Lambs do not potty-train, so we do upwards of two large laundry loads of towels each day just trying to prevent indoor lambs from destroying our floors and furniture. Diapers aren’t really in the lamb’s best interest as we don’t want to leave manure in contact with their wool for any length of time. Finally, scampering lambs need space which is best found outdoors in the barn. They need playmates and guidance from ewes, too, so they learn to be good flockmembers and not frustrated wannabe-humans.
We gradually introduce houselambs to life outdoors by sending them out to the barn for short periods and then not bringing them back into the house eventually. We then must train these lambs to use the nursing bucket instead of the bottle. We use a Pritchard teat initially to facilitate nursing initially to facilitate nursing. Once the lambs are larger, however, they are too strong for small rubber teats. At that point, teat-bucket feeding becomes more practical.
The bucket is a competitive space, but we work to ensure that all lambs get the milk they need without overfeeding the aggressive ones.
We have set up a lamb creep as well. A creep is an area of the barn only accessible to lambs through a gate that admits only small sheep. In the creep, we offer grain, nice hay to nibble on and a sunny, dry floor. It takes the lambs a few days to discover the space, but once they do they really take to having a clubhouse just for them. We do feed some grain at this stage to help out the many triplets we have. Not all ewes can provide enough milk for fast-growing triplets, so this is our most practical option to grow them out effectively without overtaxing Mom.
So that’s the news from the lamb barn. We have 71 lambs bouncing about and only a few more ewes expecting. We are tired but finally beginning to catch up on sleep.