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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rambo and Rambi in Waiting

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, we are in a sort of holding pattern. The feed on the pasture has turned brown for the most part, and in the morning it is covered in frost. The ewes stand at the fence, yelling at the farmhouse as if to say, “time to put out the hay!” But we aren’t willing to do that yet. We have to make our bales last through the winter, which might be cold and dry or mild and wet, but no doubt long.
I tell the sheep to go and find something else to do until noon, when the sun will have melted the frost to expose the remaining green shoots.
Rambo and Rambi have been in a pen since August, awaiting their turn in the spotlight. We got smart and locked them up early this year, knowing that our cool summer would send the ewes into season early enough to bring winter lambs. I hate winter lambing. Last year our lambs were born from New Year’s Day through to April 26. The staggered births left us staggering through the longest lambing season ever. But the bulk of them were born in January and February, during the deep freeze. At least half a dozen of the newborn lambsicles had to be bundled up in my coat and brought into the house to thaw out. I had lambs in the warmth of the guest bathroom for a week until the Farmer built me a lamb-pen infirmary under a heat lamp in the basement. Only half of those patients survived. It was heartbreaking.
This year we will set the rams loose at Christmas. 148 days later, around the long weekend in May, our lambs will be born. It will be warm enough to allow the lambs to wander in and out of the barn to the outside pen. Instead of trying to warm up the lambing room with blankets tucked around doors and windows and heat lamps in every corner, we will be letting the lambs spring around in the fresh air.
With fresh green grass to eat, the ewes’ milk will be better quality and the lambs will thrive on it. The live birth rate will be up and the fatality rate will be down. I will be a happy Farmwife.
As I am commuting to work in Ottawa fulltime now, I don’t have the opportunity to run home at lunchtime and bottle-feed lambs. I will have to get my newborns feeding themselves if their mothers are not able. That is the plan. Last year I had two very smart lambs self-feeding with a calf bottle that had been strapped to the side of their pen. They could just nibble on it whenever they felt a hunger pang, and I only had to refill the bottle every 12 hours. Hopefully this year’s lambs will be just as intelligent and resourceful.
I was also given a covered plastic bucket equipped with tubing and ringed with rubber nipples. This plastic ewe should keep a pen of newborns happy – but they have to be smart enough to crawl under the gate to the creep area where their mothers cannot access their food. Then they have to have the intuition to follow their nose, sniff out the source of the milk and figure out how to suck it through the rubber nipple. It might take some training. I imagine I will be spending a few hours sitting in amongst the lambs, holding their little mouths on the plastic feeders until they make the connection. But it will be worth the effort.
So come December, Rambo and Rambi will be set loose to run amok with the ewes. On Christmas morning, they will each get a box of crayon to strap to their chests. Rambo might wear green, while Rambi sports a seasonal red shade. The crayons will leave telltale marks on the rumps of the ewes that are mated. Hopefully we will see more red marks this year: Rambi was in training last year but if he doesn’t start pulling his weight soon he might get ousted. Rambo cannot mate all 45 ewes by himself. Well, he probably can, but shouldn’t have to. We don’t want to wear him out.
Until December, I will continue to trek out to the barn each morning before dawn, where the rams are happily ensconced in their boys-only hotel. They don’t “baa” at me when I climb in over the gate to feed them. They just stand up, shoulder to shoulder at the feeder, and grunt. I fill up their hay and water, top up their minerals and give them each a scratch behind the ears. Rambi tries to line me up for a head butting with his curly horns so I quickly shift out of his line of fire.
These two alpha males used to take each other on in a skull-bashing duel every once in a while, until one day the Farmer locked them in a small pen together. There wasn’t sufficient room in there to line each other up for a hit, so they learned to get along.
Now they seem to be quite content with no one but each other and the occasional visiting squirrel, raccoon or skunk for company.
I tell them to be patient, for soon they will be back out in the pasture, getting swarmed by the ladies. They should enjoy their quiet time in the man-cave while it lasts.

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