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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Taking Stock of the Flock and Battening Down the Hatches

The chill before the snow, with the North-west wind whipping up the pasture, is quite a nasty thing to bear. Our cows are in their own section of the barnyard at the moment, because they were constantly breaking out of the fencing all summer. Their area is surrounded by an electric fence now, and there they will stay until snow covers the ground, discouraging them from venturing away from the barn. A few weeks ago, they broke into the hay storage and made a messy nest for themselves in there. They are obviously starting to look for winter cover.
Tyson and Mocha, the calves, have discovered that the chicken coop is not very comfortable with its concrete floor. One calf tiptoed up the steps into the coop last week, only to be trapped inside. He consequently broke out through the lower window.
Our cows Ginger and Betty did some further investigating, and discovered a way into the old log barn. We will clean it up for them and allow them to stay. It even has a manger. I half expect Joseph and Mary to show up soon, on Donkey’s back. All the barn needs is a star above it.
Some of our sheep – Rambo’s various dance partners from August – are heavy with lambs now. If our estimation is correct, we should have babies arriving between Christmas and New Year’s. Good timing. I will have to stock up on milk replacer powder so that I can bottle-feed. I guess I know how I will be spending my holidays…
We will be sending many of our male lambs to Leo’s sale barn in Greely later this month, and keeping the females to regenerate the herd. It will be difficult to say goodbye to some of them. Unfortunately, despite my inability to remember my own phone number at times, the identification of each lamb that I fed is clearly engraved in my mind.
We brought lamb 921 back to life with tube feeding after he gorged himself on grain, paralyzing his legs. He later succumbed to a virus and passed. The quadruplets, numbered 905 to 908, were some of the neediest lambs at birth. They are running around the pasture now, plump and fluffy. They still remember me, and come to bump noses with me when I nicker at them. The Farmer delivered Buddy, another one of our greedy little pigs who always cried for the bottle when he saw me coming. And then there was Lily. I will never forget that little lamb. She is the one I am feeding in my Farmwife photo.
Lily was born to an irresponsible teenaged mother who possessed not an ounce of maternal instinct. Basically this one-year-old ewe gave birth and then totally abandoned her young. If Lily tried to nurse, her mother would lie down or head-butt her away. When I left the house to feed in the morning, I could hear Lily bellowing all the way from the barn. That little girl had a set of pipes. Despite the advice on the milk replacer label advising feedings of 50 to 100 mls at a time, Lily enthusiastically downed 400 mls at once. I was her main source of food for the first few weeks of her life. After we released the sheep to the pasture in the spring, Lily would come running every time she saw me, bleating at the top of her lungs the whole way. I loved that little lamb.
One weekend, the Farmer and I had to go out of town. Donkey had discovered a new game of chasing Lily, probably because he liked the way she yelled. My daughter had reported this to me, as she watched from the window. “That Donkey is going to give your little lamb a heart attack, Mom.” Sure enough, when we returned from our trip, Lily was lying in the barnyard, dead. There wasn’t a mark on her. We’ve lost other lambs, but this is the first one that made me cry. I’m not blaming Donkey, but he probably knows what happened. Sometimes I wonder if I fed her too much or gave her too much preventative medicine against the virus that was taking some of the other lambs. I probably should have separated Donkey from the lambs when Paulina told me he was chasing them. I blame myself for not protecting Lily.
I had hoped that Lily would be one of the lambs that would grow up to have her own babies and stay with us for a decade or more. We have some ewes that old in our herd. Because of the weeks that I spent feeding her, I also harboured hopes that she would remember the sound of my voice. Normally the males tend to be the friendlier newborn lambs. I don’t know why this is. But Lily was different. She had a friendly, trusting nature.
Perhaps there will be another Lily in this next batch of newborn lambs. With any luck.

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