Sunday, April 15, 2018

Now, Just Ewe Chicks

Maybe counting 28 lambs was too taxing.

Or maybe he saw snow in the forecast yet again, and thought spring would never come.

Or maybe, at 18 years, he'd lived the lifespan of a llama.

But this weekend, Llambert the Llama checked out, leaving the farm llamaless for the first time in 12 years.

Llambert arrived on our farm shortly after the sheep. At the time, llamas were the choice guard animals for sheep. And, he was our choice at the llama farm because he, a big brown llama, was cheaper than the silver, white and black llamas.

Nobody wants a brown sweater.

The llama owner loved him, though, and spent much of her time cooing at him, blowing him kisses and rubbing her hands over his body.

"So do llamas have a spot where they like to be rubbed?" my husband asked the woman's husband when the woman left the barn.

"Llamas don't like to be touched," he said.

But Llambert liked the sheep and oversaw the births of hundreds of lambs. In the spring, we delighted in watching the lambs climb on him and nestle up with him.

When we had the occasional bottle lamb, he'd be its snuggle partner at night.

He, tolerated the chickens, too, allowing them to climb on his back and perch.

 The cat, too, found there was nothing like nestling in llama fur on cold winter nights.

For the most part, I let him be a llama and revel in his llamaness.

Once a year, though, I had to get out the halter, so the vet and I could tend to his health needs: vaccinations, hoof trimming, deworming and shearing.

"You should have got a donkey," the vet said the first year that he saw the llama.

In those early years, the annual vet visit usually involved some kicking, cursing and flying syringes.

We got better at it, though, and by year 10 seemed to have a system down.

I got better at the llama hair cuts too. During my first attempts, he looked like he'd been attacked by a kindergartner with safety scissors.

Last year, when I finished his haircut, I declared it as "not that bad."

Maybe that's why he left. Shearing season was coming.

Rest in peace big guy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

When Optimism Feels Like Work...

It was definitely our prettiest snow of spring--and had it happened in winter, it would have been the prettiest winter snow.

For 12 hours, the wind seemed to stop and allow the snow to fall in big, loose flakes. It clung to gates, fences, tree branches.

And, the spring bird song made the event surreal. How can there be so much bird song in the calm after a snowfall?

The best part about it? It was April 2, when the sun is higher in the sky, and the ground is not frozen, and the temperatures would rise above freezing. So, by afternoon, it would be gone.

I try to enjoy it's loveliness, but instead, I find myself scanning blogs from early April in years past. Was the grass green? How green was it? Surely, the daffodils will bloom, the dandelions will come to life, and spring will be here to stay.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Starting Spring with Creative Stall Building

Lambs and ewes hang out under the lean-to after the storm.

Usually I don't worry about sub-freezing weather or a little snow and rain.

But when the winds blow from the east at 30 mph, and right into the sheep's lean-to, and promise to deliver 5 inches of snow, I take action.

Lambs are pretty hardy creatures, but dampness, wind and freezing temperatures will chill them. So, I had to find some way to bring them into the barn and out of the wind and snow.

Our barn was originally designed for horses. When the sheep came along, we built a lean-to on the east end. It provides shade in the summer, and protection from the west wind. It was offering them no protection on Monday night.

So I spent the evening looking at the horse/sheep barn and tryng to figure out where I could fit the sheep. I didn't want to sort and divide the flock and place different groups in different horse stalls. The odds of getting the wrong ewe with the wrong lamb were pretty high.

So, I did some creative stall building. And in 30 minutes I had a labyrinth in the barn that allowed the sheep to get inside and out of the wind.

Of course, it left me with no aisle ways--and I'm getting better at climbing over gates.

But it seemed to work.

New friends were made overnight.

The winds are supposed to die down tonight--so the sheep can return to the lean-to, and I can reclaim the barn.

Sidenote: I bought the smaller sheep pipe panels last year, and have added them to my While-Didn't-I-Do-it-Sooner List. They're easy to move and configure into all kinds of pens and corrals.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lambing Season: Sunshine to Snow in 15 Days

Triplet ram lambs not quite a day old.

Lambing season started with triplets born under a nearly full moon and ended 15 days later with triplets born under a moon sliver.

The weather was typical for March: sunny, windy, muddy, cold, snowy, grey and more grey.

But in the end, we had one of our best lambing seasons yet: 28 lambs from 14 ewes, and very little drama.

Not bad for early March.

I don't usually lamb this early, but I had a sheepdog trial scheduled for the third week of March, and wanted lambing season wrapped up before I hit the road.

The sheepdog trial was postponed.

Lambing season went on.

Now that it is over, I'll be cleaning out the barn and enjoying hours of lamb TV--and hopefully taking lots of photos and videos, because that's one of the best parts of lambing season.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Conversations in the Lamb Pen

We were breezing through lambing season until Ewe #11 gave birth to twins.

The black ewe bellowed in the paddock while her newborn twin lambs shivered in the afternoon breeze. I scooped them up and brought them into the barn and out of the wind.

Unlike the other ewes, she did not follow me and her babies.

She did, though, seem happy to follow a flake of alfalfa hay into the barn--until I shut the door, and she found herself locked in a stall with her two lambs.

Why are you leaving me with them? she screamed.

Sometimes ewes reject their lambs. A ewe with triplets may push one aside. A ewe disturbed during birthing and not given time to bond may reject a lamb. And, as was in the case with this ewe, a first-time mom might just be beyond nervous.

I'm a fan of no-fuss plants and animals. I don't grow roses. My Halfinger horses seem to get fat on air. My Katahdin and Dorper sheep thrive on grass and rarely need assistance with lambing or living.

But I wasn't going to give up on two healthy lambs. I'd first make sure they got antibody-rich colostrum from their mother. To do that, I caught and haltered the ewe, then confirmed that she was making milk. I next directed the lambs to the udder.

She gave me a wild-eyed look.

"You'll warm up to them," I told her.

The few times I've had a ewe reject a lamb, I've had success holding the ewe and allowing the lamb to nurse frequently for the first 24-48 hours. After that, the lamb smells like her mom, and the two bond. It's time consuming, but less so than raising lambs on bottles.

"I'm not sure I'd be wild about taking on twins," I tell the ewe. "But you only have to do this for 90 days, and then you can join the Working Group (the sheep I use for dog training)."

She responds by leaping into me.

When I return to her pen two hours later, I bring a stool. She brings an attitude. After catching and haltering her, I sit on the stool as the lambs nurse.

"You only have to do this for 60 days," I say. "You'll get the best food. You can probably talk some SuperMom into watching them while you nap."

She struggles to escape--and I hold on, and listen to song after song on the radio as the minutes tick by.

During my third visit, it is dark and cold. I bring a stool and my phone. Might as well catch up on the news while I'm holding the ewe. Instead, I get sucked into Facebook and all the photos of lambs nursing from their patient moms.

"Why can't you be like them," I say, showing her the photos.

Sometime after my third visit, another ewe gives birth to twins. After settling them into an adjoining stall, I resume my position on the stool.

"Look at them," I tell the black ewe. "She's standing so quietly while her babies nurse." The ewe still struggles to escape. I am getting better at hanging on.

The ewe is less cantankerous in the morning--but still is not going to stand and allow her babies to nurse.

"Never have I dreamed of spending the pre-dawn hours in a freezing sheep stall," I tell the ewe. Though it's really quite pleasant. The other ewes and horses are munching hay; the cat is perched above me; and snow is falling outside. When I scratch the lambs rumps, they wag their tails and nurse more enthusiastically.

"You have really bad breath," I say while holding her during the dawn feeding. She happily chews her cud.

When I return in the afternoon, she looks at me and stands still, allowing her babies to nurse. Apparently she's accepted them--or decided she'd rather nurse them than chat with me. And I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Forget the Groundhog, Listen to the Trees

February's the month when many Northerners, tired of cold and gray days, flee to the South, for a weekend, a week, a month or longer.

Those left behind gripe about the seemingly endless cycle of freeze, thaw, mud and more mud. Or, they look for any signs of spring: a few loose hairs on the horses, a yellow dandelion, bird song, a groundhog who doesn't see his shadow.

I slog out the late winter months in Ohio, griping and searching--and also heading to the woods to visit the maple trees.

A local park taps about 40 maple trees each year and relies on volunteers to collect the sap. The sap runs for about six weeks in late winter when nights are cold and days warm above freezing.

This year's cold weather means maple syrup season is getting off to a slow start.

During my first two visits, temperatures remained near freezing and there was no sap to collect.

The woods are quiet at this time of year. Few people visit the park in winter; the leaves have lost their crunch, and gray days do not entice the birds to sing.

Today, though, I heard another sound that lifted my spirits.

Drip, long pause, drip, pause, drip. The sap was flowing.

The ice on the river was melting.

The wild flowers are awakening.

In the coming weeks, I expect the dripping of the maple sap will increase, until one day, when the sap turns a yellow or cloudy hue.

Those colors indicate the trees are ready to bud--and spring is finally here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Discovery at the IGA

As a child, my grandparents took me to Young's Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio, for pony rides, ice cream and milk.

For me, riding a pony and looking at the fawn-colored cows with the huge soft eyes and brown muzzles were the highlights of the visit. For them, it was probably the milk, non-homogenized and with cream on top.

It's hard to find milk like that today.

Most milk comes from Holstein cows and is homogenized, with the cream removed.

But, on a trip to the local IGA, I found something that stopped me in my tracks: organic milk from grass-fed Jersey cows, with the cream on top.

So, I'm now making a weekly stop to the IGA--and I don't need the promise of a pony ride to entice me.