Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 25, 2013

This was the day I officially tired of winter.

The day was marked by:
Eight inches of snow on the ground.
Fourteen lambs in the barn awaiting pasture time.
Twenty bales of hay left in the mow.
A dwindling stack of firewood.
An inability to see beauty in yet another snowfall.

The Black-Faced Ewe

As I admire the Black-Faced Ewe, I marvel at how motherhood has changed her.

She is no longer the teen-aged girl, who, when I opened the stall door, charged toward me and jumped, head-down, into the air.

Her head hitting my sternum took my breath away.

Yet, I kept her.

Last night, she had her first set of lambs -- twin ewe lambs.

When I look at them, I feel a twinge in my chest.

(Lambs are about 18 hours old in these photos).

Monday, March 25, 2013


Want to entertain a kid? Give her a refrigerator box.

A cat? Give him a paper grocery bag.

A lamb? A black, feed tub.

It takes lambs about two days to figure out that the feed tub is prime real estate.

When the ewes step away from the hay, the lambs jump in. The oldest lamb, the white single ram, grabs a spot first.

A game of musical tub ensues, with the other lambs jumping in and out, until finally, a few more lambs settle in.

When the lambs finally go outside (I'm sure our 8 inches of snow will melt soon), they will repeat this game with the big hay feeder, until, sometime this summer, when they weigh 70 pounds, they realize Rub-A-Dub-Dub is a kids' game.

No Moochin' at the Milk Bar

For the first few days, lambs and their mom spend time alone in a small pen.

Then, they go to a larger stall with one or two other ewes and lambs.

That's when life gets interesting. Up until then, the lamb could just approach a big, warm furry creature and root for milk. Now, they have to go to the correct furry, creature.

Ewes identify their offspring by their smell. When an intruder lamb comes into their zone, they let it know with a head butt.

In this video, two ewes and their lambs were put together in a stall. Notice how the ewes sniff each lamb to ensure it belongs to her.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

You Might Be a Farmer if....

The top shelf of your refrigerator looks like this.

Muck boots are your favorite foot apparel. (Thought I'm getting pretty tired of them. Is winter ever going to end?)

You find your hairdryer in the barn. (Now, both of my hair dryers are in the barn. My small one became a permanent barn resident years ago because it was the perfect size for defrosting the horse waterers. The large one came in handy for drying off a shivering lamb this week.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Year Ago

As I break ice from the water buckets and watch the snow fall, I am reminded of how it was a year ago.

Last year we had an early spring and a hot, dry summer.

Spring is not early this year. Today it is not supposed to get above freezing, and the winds are expected to continue blowing hard. The lambs will spend another day in the barn.

And I will look at this photo instead of the weather forecast that calls for more unseasonably cool temperatures.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lambing Questions and Answers

I've had lots of people ask questions about lambing season, so I'm doing Q and A today.

Do you keep the ewes in the barn until they lamb?
We allow the ewes to go out to pasture and graze until they give birth. I believe this leads to less birthing problems because the ewe retains her muscle tone. Once the ewe lambs, I bring the ewe and lamb inside the barn, dip the lambs' umbilical cords in iodine, and keep an eye on them to ensure the lambs are nursing and that the ewe is okay.

How long do the lambs stay in the barn?
Usually I let them rejoin the flock when they're about three days old. However, because of the cold temperatures, wind and mud, I've kept them in a little longer.

How many lambs does a ewe usually have?
In the Katahdin breed, twins are common. Sometimes a first-time mom will have a single. The lamb with its tail to the camera is a single born 11 days ago. The lamb in the background is a twin born six days ago. Triplets aren't that unusual. However, triplets can be worrisome if the ewe cannot produce enough milk to feed all three. The ewe pictured below actually had four lambs, but the last one died. We're hoping she'll be able to nurse all three.

At what time of day do the lambs give birth?
Most birth overnight, but I've had some birth in the morning and a few in the afternoon.

How long does the birthing process take?
Not long. It's very common for a ewe to deliver twins and have them cleaned up within 30 or 40 minutes. Ewes birth standing up, and very seldom do they need assistance.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Observations about Lambing Season

1. Want to induce lambing? Put on a clean pair of jeans.

2. There is something worse than having a ram lamb go for your knees. That's having a full-grown ewe attacking you because she thinks you're stealing her babies.

3. Older pregnant ewes try to steal younger ewes' lambs. When you try to set them straight, they go for your knees.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Lamb's Life

Whether in the barn or out on pastures, lambs spend most of their time sleeping.

However, they wake every hour or so for a quick snack. When they do, I always watch for wagging lamb tails. That's an indication that they're getting milk.

After eating, they have a burst of energy. I call these the "lambie zoomies."

Minutes later, it's nap time again.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Newborn and Ready to Take on the World

While driving up the lane, I notice the ewe first. She is standing away from the flock that is grazing a hundred yards away.

Then, I notice the llama, hanging out with the ewe.

As I get closer, I see a white spot.

I forget about my dress shoes and clothes.

After parking the car, I walk across the yard to the edge of the pasture to see the ewe and her newborn lambs. They are only a few hours old, but already they're practicing their moves.

If I don't catch the lambs within 12 hours of birth, I usually can't catch them.

So, I change into my barn clothes and catch a lamb who squirms and calls for her mother.

Although only a few hours old, they are ready to run and take on the world.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Not to Do When You Hear Squawking

Upon returning from my walk with dogs, I hear squawking near the chicken house.

I count dogs.

I am missing Caeli, my Coyote Girl.

I sprint toward the barn and join the chicken squawking chorus.

Two roosters had flown into the yard, and Caeli is determined to put them back into the chicken yard.

The problem is that roosters cannot fit through wire mesh fence, no matter how hard they try.

Believe me, they are trying. Feathers are flying; they are squawking; I am squawking; Caeli is grabbing feathers.

This is not going to end pretty.

Then, I come to my senses, take a big breath and say, "Caeli, lie down."

Caeli is trained as a herding dog. She knows that command.

Ears pricked forward, she lies down about three feet from the roosters.

That gives me enough time to walk toward her, turn my body toward the house, and tell her, "That'll do."

She stands up, spits out a few feathers, and trots toward me, quite proud of herself for doing her job.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What I Knew about Lambing Season

For years, I steered clear of sheep.

Who wants to spend winter nights in the barn, playing midwife, and bringing lambs into the mudroom to warm and to bottle feed?

But I learned it didn't have to be that way.

Much of the work can be avoided if you select hardy stock that births unassisted and breed for spring lambs.

Yet, at midnight, I found myself walking to the barn.

The Neck Roll Ewe had already delivered, dried and nursed twin lambs.

All I had to do was bring them into the barn, dip the lambs' umbilical cords in iodine, and put them in a stall away from the flock.

Then, I sat in the cold barn, as the March snow fell, and watched and watched and watched.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Welcome Spring

When I walked into the barn and saw the patch of bright, white fur, I knew it was a lamb.

For the ewes are wearing coats stained and dirtied from six months of fall and winter.

The ram lamb was dry, warm and dozing.

The ewe, a first-time mom, stomped at me.

All was right with the world.

Friday, March 8, 2013

How to Shear a Llama

Start with sedation.

"How did we do this last year?" the vet asks. Llambert the Llama is our equine vet's only llama.

"I attempt to hold him. He attempts to kick you. You say some bad words. The needle goes flying," I say. That's what happened last year.

He held onto the needle this year.

Then, he opted to give the shot in the shoulder muscle. Within 15 minutes the llama is lying flat in the straw.

The vet trims his hooves and vaccinates and deworms him.

I pay the bill.

"Better get started on the shearing," he says as he leaves.

I turn up the tunes. M.C. Hammer sings, "Can't touch this."

I clip and clip and clip.

I am sweating. Llambert is snoring. The horses are looking over the stall door, snickering. They say I'm a better horse trimmer.

I am a quarter way done.

The tools of the trade are basic: a pair of leather gloves and a set of hand shears.

I fall into a rhythm. Grab clump of hair, clip, discard hair.

I am halfway done.

I now must flip Llambert over and work on the other side.

If the husband were home, he'd take the front legs and neck, and I'd take the back legs.

He is not home.

The llama weighs 340 pounds. I weigh considerably less.

I don't get a complete 180-degree rotation.

It is good enough.

He is still sedated, but showing signs of waking.

I am sweating. My hands are tired. My muck bucket is full of llama hair.

Llambert is stirring.

It is better than some years.

He doesn't look like a kindergartener attacked him with school scissors.

My artistic llama talents have now reached first grade.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Call of Peeps

When I hear the call of peeps, I veer from the dog food aisle.

I forget about the salt block for the sheep.

Instead, I push my cart toward the sound of peeps.

There, in livestock tanks, are yellow chicks and red chicks. I watch as they practice wing flapping, running, drinking, pecking, and, of course, cheeping.

"May I help you?" asks the woman in the Tractor Supply vest.

Startled, I look up.

"Just looking," I say, moving around to another tank full of chicks.

Black chicks. Barred Rocks.

I've always liked the looks of the Barred Rocks. We have an empty hen house. Maybe we could have two breeds of chickens.

But I must move on. I am on my lunch hour, and I hadn't planned to be distracted by the peeps at TSC.