An ode to Spring

April 28, 2012

The 2012 lambs are full of energy, as you can see from this short video. Bringing up the rear, with gusto, is Cow.

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The secret meetings of lambs

Cow (standing) chats with Elsie, left, and Bossy about their names

April 27, 2012

We’re standing pat for now at 14 lambs for the season, with two ewes left to go. Each night we think, “This is the night for sure,” but in the morning, Tilly and Daisy are still standing in the middle of the shed, looking irritated.

In the meantime, the lambs have been getting along famously. There are nightly run races and daily King/Queen of the Mountain competitions, both of which are leaving their mothers exhausted. It’s good to be a lamb.

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And two make an even dozen of lambs

Mageroyal cleans up second lamb, while first lamb goes in search of milk

April 20, 2012

Lambs 11 and 12 dropped by this morning to convey their greetings. Their mother, Mageroyal, was among the first group of lambs born at our farm, back in 2009. So now we are on our third generation of sheep at Sun and Wind Farm.

Unlike the dark brown Shetlands we’ve had thus far this season, these new lambs share some of their mother’s silvery-gray colors. The three of them are comfortably dry in the lambing jug on this otherwise rainy April day.

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Lambs by the bushel

April 15, 2012

The lambs are arriving quickly now at the farm. Two sets of twins were recorded in the last 24 hours. First up, the ewe we call Other had her twins around 9:30 Saturday morning. We’re calling them Bossy and Elsie. They were followed 15 hours later by Wanda and her twins Romeo and Juliet. That makes 10 lambs from 6 dams so far, with 4 ewes yet to go.

“Other” with her newborn lambs Bossy and Elsie. 

 Wanda shows off Romeo (right) and Juliet.

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Life with Lucky

April 14, 2012

When last we posted, we were coming to grips with the challenge of saving Lucky, the bottle baby born one week ago today. Her mother was not interested in her, and in fact ran away when we brought Lucky to her attention. (“Um, Mom, we thought you might be interested in this? No? You hussy!”) We actually called her some worse names, though not in front of her. Disappointed though we were, we knew better than to upset the karmic order of the pasture.

We were happy, truth be told, to assume the role of lamb nurturers. But we were not going to throw in the towel just yet. Perhaps we could still negotiate detente between Lucky and her mother. We fed Lucky a potent brew of colostrum-enriched milk that first 24 hours. We set her up in a cat carrier in our house because it just wasn’t wise to have a 12-hour-old lamb fend for herself in a run-in shed full of larger sheep, some of whom clearly believed that if Lucky’s Mom rejected her, there was probably a good reason for it. These sheep (who, as fully functioning mothers themselves, really should know better) greeted each of Lucky’s shy introductions with a swift butt of the head. “Scram!”

The next morning, we noticed that Lucky’s mom, Willow, was standing near the spot where she gave birth, sniffing and generally looking like she had misgivings. She gently nickered, as ewes do to call their lambs to them. We grabbed Lucky and carried her out to the spot, placing her gently on the ground. “M-a-a!” Lucky cried, willing to forgive and forget their rocky start. “Meh,” Willow muttered and raced off.

Later that morning, Willow was in the shed, with Tilly, her neurotic lady-in-waiting, and Zorro, the ram and friend to all ewes. (Zorro has been having quite the week, with nearly daily new arrivals cementing his reputation as the man of the pasture.) We snuck Lucky into the shed and closed the gate. Once again, on cue, Lucky bleated, “M-a-a!” Zorro wandered over and sniffed. It was as if a light bulb went on over his head. This was the missing lamb! He returned to Willow and nudged her in Lucky’s direction. Clearly, Zorro knew what was up and in his role as Henry Kissinger urged the two great nations of Willow and Lucky to come together as one. But once again Willow spurned the lamb.

One of the ironies of this situation is the fact that for reasons known only to her, Lucky has assigned to me the role of surrogate mother. My wife Frances, who is devoted to the care of the sheep, would have been a more gender-appropriate choice. Lucky spends a lot of time nuzzling the folds of my blue jeans looking for the nipple that she knows by instinct must be close by. When Blue Jeans stand up and walk, Lucky scoots along obediently. When Blue Jeans run, Lucky scampers. One day mid-week I ran out of jeans and wore khaki slacks, confusing Lucky and setting back the state of sheep-person relations by several decades.

With each passing day, we have been integrating Lucky into the flock. Her fellow newborn lambs have treated her as one of the gang, but their mothers see Lucky as an evil force best to be shunned. They call to their lambs when Lucky arrives, but more and more the lambs are ignoring these cautionary cries. She’s a week old today so we think she’s big enough to stay out with the flock overnight. But no rush. If she prefers to continue hanging with us, well that’s ok too. Perhaps we’ll wait one more day — or two — until after the  forecasted Sunday storms pass through the area. She belongs with the flock but she’ll always carry a piece of our hearts with her.

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Back on schedule

Sunrise and her lamb

April 9, 2012

For those of you following our story, we were thrown for a loop on Saturday when one of the Icelandics delivered what at first appeared to be a dead lamb. The ewe promptly rejected it when it sprang back to life moments later. So we were naturally a little edgy tonight when the other Icelandic let everyone in the three-state region know that she was ready to deliver. (I thought sheep were supposed to be stoic!)

Thanks in part to our Saturday experience, we were a bit more patient this time. At 7:15 p.m., it was clear the lamb was on the way, but there were no contractions and the Icelandic was showing no signs of pushing. We returned to the house for a nice dinner (featuring some of the romaine from the garden). At 8 p.m. Frances went back to the run-in shed and found the ewe dutifully cleaning off her new lamb. That makes five lambs from the first four ewes, with six ewes yet to go.

10 p.m.

This just in. Sunrise actually had twins! We thought the fireworks show was done at 8 p.m. when she had her first lamb. Frances decided to take “one last look” before we hit the sack for the night. But instead of finding Mom and Lamb in the lambing jug, she found Mom and two Lambs.  Everyone looked healthy and hungry. And Mom looked ready for a good long night’s rest.

When we returned to the shed, Sunrise surprised us with a second lamb

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How Lucky got her name

Lucky, a young lamb with a great story

April 7, 2012

With an amazing degree of dependability, the first lambs of spring arrived this week, just as Frances’ book of breeding notes predicted they would months ago. Griffin gave birth to twin Shetland girls – one jet black (as is characteristic for the breed) — on Tuesday, and Notchie followed up with a black Shetland ewe of her own on Wednesday. From her physical symptoms, we could tell that Willow, one of the Icelandics, would be up next. Her udder was full, she was grinding her teeth and she was starting to separate herself from the others. The Icelandics are an independent group, easily the flightiest of our flock. We did not look forward to managing this part of the lambing process.

This morning Frances awoke to overcast skies and went right out to check on the sheep. Willow was lying down by herself near the stock pond. This would be the day. Frances was startled to see the tips of two hooves and a little nose already emerging from the birth canal. All the parts were aligned correctly and yet there did not seem to be progress. Every now and then Willow would push, almost half-heartedly, unlike the Shetlands whose contractions earlier in the week were accompanied by energetic pushes. Frances watched for 15 minutes and Willow pushed a bit more, but still no progress. Time for more active intervention. Frances reached her hand inside to see if she could detect an obstruction. Everything seemed smooth, but tight. But Frances could feel the lamb’s mouth and teeth, so she knew the amniotic sac had been breached. Time was now of the essence. Willow stood up and started walking. Frances telephoned me back at the house; I grabbed the emergency basket and my camera and drove out to the pasture. Willow’s two attendants – the equally flighty Shetland-Barbados cross Tilly and a second Icelandic, Sunrise – were nearby but vanished when the car arrived.

Together we followed Willow as she wandered further back. Her independent streak, in the best of times a hindrance to orderly herd management, now was downright infuriating. Clearly she was laboring. Possibly she needed help. But under no circumstances would she lie still and let us help. Onward she walked and we followed, faced with the sight of an emerging lamb just showing from her uterus. She turned east toward the dried-up stream bed, and then north along the bed to an area of rocks and stream bank erosion, where we believe snakes lie in waiting for us. I dropped down into the bed of the stream and inched closer to Willow. I waited for a labor contraction to distract her and then moved forward to drape a halter around her head. Contraction or no contraction, Willow evaded the halter and moved up onto the tall grass next to the stream. Now she was heading in the “right” direction, as far as we were concerned, toward the run-in shed where we could keep ewe and lamb controlled and under surveillance. Willow stopped in her tracks and Frances approached from behind, whispering softly, then reassuringly stroking the sheep’s backbone. She was able to reach up and inside the uterus again, lifting the lamb even as she pulled gently on it. Still there was no progress. Willow stretched out on the ground and Frances tried again. This time the head and front legs emerged. The lamb was taking breaths, but its eyes were still closed and it did not appear to be moving with any vigor.

Then, it seemed, the lamb stopped breathing. “She’s dead,” Frances told me, about 10 yards away. With that immense disappointment, Frances decided she had been just too gentle in trying to ease the lamb out. With nothing now to lose, she decided “to hell with it, I’ve got to get this body out.” Willow was not pushing in any appreciable way. Frances reached in again with one hand, simultaneously pulling down and out. The time for gentle, tentative tugs was past. She reached in more aggressively and pulled harder. The lamb now came out quickly, just as the lambs had done earlier in the week when two of the Shetlands gave birth. We now could see this was another black lamb, and a large one at that. Such a shame.

And then, lying on the ground, the lamb gasped for breath. It was 8:50 a.m. “Well I’ll be go to hell,” Frances said under her breath. The lamb was still alive. We looked expectantly at Willow to start cleaning her lamb as the other mothers had. But she did not even look back. Frances started brushing amniotic fluid from the lamb’s wool. Again she breathed, then again. We tried once more to get Willow’s attention but the ewe would not even acknowledge the lamb. Finally, we lifted the still-weak lamb and placed her in front of her mother. Willow stood and raced off, making the rejection complete.

We studied the lamb once more to gauge its chances for survival. It was much larger than the Shetland lambs from earlier in the week. It was not actively moving, deprived as it was of the strengthening massage of its mother’s tongue during the usual clean-up phase. We wrapped her in a towel and carried her to the run-in shed. Frances ran to the house to warm up a formula of colostrum and rich milk that she had prepared earlier in the week just in case. I sat with the baby in my arms, the towel wrapped snugly around it. I pressed my body against it to keep it as warm as possible. This lamb was all legs. Try though I might to cradle it, fore legs and hind legs kept springing out of the cocoon. I had the very real sensation that the lamb was growing even as I held it.

Frances returned, armed with a potent elixir of whole milk, cream, butter milk and colostrum powder. The lamb gnawed on the teat, although she seemed to be teething on it more than drinking from it. A few drops tickled her tongue and she begun sucking harder. After an ounce or two, Frances set her upon the ground and the lamb stretched her muscles again. She was on her way. Her name would be Lucky.

Lucky, enjoying a colostrum cocktail

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