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.