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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.

 

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The Groaning Time

I feed the sheep at 6:15 each morning before I leave for work.  Though the dawn encroaches at that time of day, I still must turn on my truck headlights each morning to illuminate the barn.  Groggy sheep blink back at me.

Now, when I reach the barn in the smokey pre-dawn light, the first thing that catches my attention is a subtle chorus of groaning.  My sheep are groaningGroaning, I suppose, because two or three lambs are persistently poking them in the rumen, or pinching the nerves in their hips.  Groaning because getting up is almost a full-time job at the moment.  And groaning because ewes experienced in lambing are surely aware that they have a few weeks yet to go before their relieved of pregnancy and burdened with newborns, instead.  Whenter they can impart that knowledge to their first-time lambing sisters is unknown.

Dalek gets up gingerly.  Back legs hoist her rear into the air with a flourishing stretch.  A redoubling of her focus gets her two front legs under her, and one more forward lean and a little tail wag have her ready for action.  Or ready to waddle around the barn, as it happens.  She sees the hay and that prompts more whiney groaning.  “Eehhhhh”  “Mrmnnnh”

I feel guilt because I am relieved from pregnancy’s burden.  My health condition, while under control, would make getting pregnant possibly challenging and likely would increase my risk of complications to my overall health.  So I will probably never bear a child, and yet I ask these ewes to do so every year.  That said, I have to suppose that absent a greater guiding philosophy, sheep are Darwinists who believe in propagating their species and spreading their genes.  Doubtlessly, though, Tardis and Dalek are questioning right now whether having triplets is working too hard towards that goal.

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Pregnancy Scanning

I was on the fence about having the vet come out to ultrasound the ewes to check for pregnancy.  It’s a significant expense, and I’m already needing to buy extra hay.  It also was tricky to schedule a time when I could be home, given that I just got a paycheck for 120 hours over two weeks!

But still, I knew I could manage some extra feed for ewes with twins while avoiding overfeeding ewes with singles, and I could make decisions about keeping or selling open ewes as appropriate.  So I kept the appointment, having warned the vet that I didn’t have a chute or other close-holding facility to make grabbing ewes easy.  They didn’t mind.

The thaw we had two days ago gave me a chance to loosen and move the outer paddock.  I was thus able to restrict the sheep to the barn only, saving us a lot of running around!

My first priority was to see if the Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs were pregnant, and if so, how many lambs they might have.  A ewe lamb with a single needs less food than one with twins.  Overfeeding a ewe lamb with a single lamb in utero could potentially stimulate too much fetal growth, leading to a situation where you have a large lamb in a fat mother with little room to maneuver.

Then we checked Bobolink and Meadowlark.  Both had disappointed me with single lambs last year, and I’m keen to see better performance from them as I contemplate whether or not to keep the Cormo cross project going.

We checked Phoebe, my only CormoX ewe lamb, followed by her mom Peggy, and then we grabbed Tardis and Dalek, whom I was sure were pregnant but wanted to confirm.  We left Valentine well enough alone, as she would not have cooperated with being held still with a want on her flank.

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Checking Marianne.  She was the only ewe who wouldn’t stand for us, so she got to lie down.  The vet uses the ultrasound want on a wool-less area near her udder.
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The blackness is amniotic fluid, the white glob is a lamb, and the roundish-swirlish structures are the cotyledons connect the placenta to the uterus.

I bet you want to know what the results were!

Little Moose and Eleanor, the two white Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs, each have at least twins, and possibly triplets.  The fetuses were too big to count with certainty, but it could have easily been triplets in each.

Marianne, the black Bluefaced Leicester ewe lamb, appears to have twins.

Bobolink and Meadowlark each have twins, which is a huge improvement over previous years where each has had a single lamb.

Sadly, Phoebe does not appear to be pregnant.  Disappointing.

Peggy is pregnant and “quite far along” in the words of the vet.  Could she have gotten pregnant before the rams left the flock in late July?  I’m glad that I now know that she could lamb in a matter of weeks!

Tardis and Dalek, the two adult Bluefaced ewes, are definitely pregnant with a minimum of twins.  Both have histories of triplets, so I’m guessing we’ll see at least a set of triplets there.

I’m very, very glad to have this information.  We can keep a close eye on Peggy, I can consider selling Phoebe, and I’m glad to know that almost everyone else is carrying lambs.

Most importantly, though, if I am going to have potential triplets, Matt and I will prepare intensely for bottle lambs.  I would certainly never plan on a first-time lambing mom raising triplets unassisted, so we will be ready to raise a few lambs on our own if Moose or Eleanor have triplets, or if Tardis or Dalek have triplets and reject one or more.  We are already considering where the pen for bottle lambs should go.

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Bobolink just had to see what her lambs look like in utero.
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End of the Summer

 

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The ram lambs left on the 12th of the month, so the flock is down to the girls all dining in the Donkey Pasture, and the boys, banished to mow the lawn and subsist on shrubs in the periphery of the fields.   The guys were quite large when they left, and I’m looking forward to a goodly amount of Chorizo sausage in the near future.  You should be, too – let me know if you’d like some!

We sheared Fred and the ewe lambs on the 21st.  I am gradually getting better at shearing, though I’ve only done it assisted by some sheep-holder-downers.  With Phoebe, Matt and my parents involved, we were still not actually overstaffed for the project.  The first two sheep looked a little gnawed-on, but the second two looked great.  Now that I feel comfortable with the blade, I’ll work my way up to doing it mostly on my own!

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We had a good scare from little Fred.  We FAMACHA’ed all of the lambs, and his lower eyelids were WHITE.  I’m not sure if the recent rains gave him an extra large dose of worms or if he has lower innate resistance, but some giant doses of dewormer and some NutriDrench seem to have straightened him out.  I was pretty worried for the first day or so until he really brightened up.

While I’m going to start flushing the ewes (feeding increased nutrition to help stimulate large lambing rates), I am also starting my preparation for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.  Because Michael is having knee surgery, it seems uncertain as to whether I’ll have raw wool or yarn to sell from the Cormos, but I’ll have some gorgeous, cuddle-able BFL on offer at the show in any case (unless it vanishes first- I sold a pound of it today!)

Even though having only three ram lambs for meat sales means that this year will be a wash financially, I’m still really thrilled to be poised for good lambing and a better showing next year.

 

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Lamb Updates

How are our fuzzy friends progressing?  Overall, I’d say that they’re all benefiting from a having their mothers’ milk all to themselves, as they’re mostly growing like weeds.  BadHorse and Todd are approaching weaning weight already and will be separated by early May.  Crazy.

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BadHorse

BadHorse is incredibly handsome guy. I am in love with his straight back and meaty structure.  I want to use him in the fall, but I’m realizing that I would be using him on three unrelated ewes, four fairly closely-related ewes (three half siblings, a half-aunt) and his own mother (who would need to meet up with a different ram).  I don’t think that the little BFL I’ve chosen can handle 8 ewes his first time, so I’m trying to think of another plan.

 

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Todd Chavez

Todd.  He’s a charmer, and he’s as soft as can be.  This guy can’t get enough attention.  He’s adorable for the moment, but the sad part about bold, intact rams is that he’s likely to be a dangerous adult.  We’re keeping that well in mind.  Todd and his sister, Swift (born last year) give me complete confidence in Bobolink as a brood ewe.

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Mr. PeanutButter

In contrast to Todd, Mr. PeanutButter is, well, another argument in favor of letting Timberdoodle move on from the flock.  He has amazing, impossibly fine wool that simply will not endure this climate (too much moisture will lead to fleece rot).  He is lean and scrawny, and his growth has been overtaken by two lambs who are significantly younger.   He also has a hunchy, arched appearance that he shares with Fake Thomas Jefferson, below.  They are bouncing and pooping normally and aren’t cold, so I think they just have weird legs.   His characteristics are a reminder that I need to calm my search for fine wool in favor of meat and production characteristics, sometimes.

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Fake Thomas Jefferson

And this guy.  This guy is the go-to lamb for handing off to visitors.  He will come and sit on your lap.  He will tolerate being held for quite a while.  But he is hilariously and impractically tiny and growing only incrementally.  As Matt puts it, “he is his grandfather’s son” (Cinder is his sire and grandsire because I didn’t have another option at the time), so I’m just glad that his mom is getting practice mothering.

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Phoebe

Phoebe is that wild, sassy, daredevil friend you had who didn’t mind if she got in trouble. She’s very shy around people, but will probably get gradually friendlier.  When I take the flock for a walk on the newly growing pasture, she seems to be challenging all of the other lambs to races and boinging competitions.  Though her fleece is a little rougher and coarser, she’s nearly perfect in all other respects.  I’m leaning strongly towards keeping her, and making peace with a wider variety of fleeces in my flock.

And with apologies for the blurry picture, Chickadee wins the cuteness contest, hooves down.  She’s friendly and wonderfully soft.  As awkward as it is to say as a devoted non-sentimentalist, I feel a little bit of Agnes in Chickadee.  Her friendly curiosity and appearance both remind me of my dear friend.  I’m really excited about this attractive little gal.

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Chickadee
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Several Lambs Later

My usual pattern is to write a little lamb story, and then maybe a post about shearing.

I’ve done that before, so I’ll give you a brief synopsis of each:

The sheep were shorn on February 21st, which is about a month and a half early relative to normal shearing times.   We’ve had mostly good weather for naked sheep since then, with a couple nights were I felt very guilty for leaving them wool-less.   Joe St. Marie did a great job, as always.  The wool clip was decent, but with a few problems.  The sheep need to be cleaner.  Not massively cleaner- very little fleece was ruined by the presence of VM, but a lot wasn’t hand-spinner-worthy due to VM.  Cinder, especially, attracts dirt like a magnet.   I plan to coat Meadowlark and Bobolink, at least, and perhaps Chimney Swift as well.   Swift made a splendid fleece with beautiful crimp.  I am pretty set on keeping another Cinder daughter this year…that is, if I have one.

The lambs.  There have been four single rams and one single ewe this year.  Non-pregnant sheep would be a disaster, but all singles qualifies as a setback all the same.  I had requests for a total of NINE ewe lambs this year, and I won’t be able to supply any, at all.  Meadowlark looks pregnant but fairly trim.  She may lamb late.  Swift is bred to her own sire (she doesn’t mind) so her lamb will meet a freezer in the fall no matter what.

I will admit that I feel some panic about the financial implications of a second poor lambing in two years.   Most shepherding books agree that a healthy single lamb is a break-even proposition at best.  With all of the labor and capital I’ve put into the sheep, I’d really like to do a little better than breaking even and going unpaid.

My first thought was genetics- had I messed up my flock by using too much Cormo input?  Cormos are known for producing fine fleece, and secondarily, for twinning a little more than half the time.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get much information about two of my rams, so I don’t know their twinning backgrounds.  I blamed myself and my focus on fine wool.  Should I get a Finnsheep (A breed of sheep known for having numerous lambs and for increasing lambing percentages in its offspring) to mix into the flock?   Finnsheep have a very different kind of wool and are generally smaller than mine, so adding Finn genetics would bring big changes to the flock.

Picture now the ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme from WWII Britain.  Substitute “Call UVM Extension Agent Joe Emenheiser” for “Carry On” and you’ve got my calmer response to the issue.  I really admire Joe’s dedication to profitable shepherding, and his extensive knowledge can only impress.  Joe pointed out that Vermont is very selenium deficient.  Not only could selenium deficiency be to blame for the tough amniotic sacs that have caused a few stillbirths in my flock in past years, but it might also have diminished the fertility of my later generations.  Perhaps my original sheep were well able to cope with low selenium, but offspring of the Cormos and Corriedales I’ve since added might have increased need for selenium that I’m not meeting.  So I haven’t destroyed my gene pool.  I simply need to better meet their needs.

With relief that the problem is fixable.  I began supplementing selenium last fall, and intend to continue adding selenium as much as is safe to do so.