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Friday, May 7, 2010

Mass confusion

We are getting an average of four new lambs a day at the high point of our lambing season. We must have over forty newborns by now. I think we are more than halfway through. I’ll be happy when we’re finished; it’s mass confusion in that lambing pen.
The order of the day now is shuffling sheep. We move the older lambs and their mothers out to the big kindergarten pen, and then finally out to pasture. The newest lambs get put in individual pens where they don’t have to compete and they can easily find their mother.
I haven’t had to bottle-feed much this year. I think that is largely due to the warmer weather. The lambs aren’t fighting the cold so they have more energy to get up and look for milk. Spring lambing is definitely the way to go. It beats winter lambing any day. Translation: sorry Rambo and Rambi – you are getting locked up from September to December again this year.
The other day I came home from work to find the Farmer on the new roof of my porch, where he was laying shingles.
“Hey – two of your lambs escaped,” he remarked, rather nonchalantly I thought.
Funny how the animals are always “mine” when they misbehave. I donned farm boots and ran out to the barnyard, in the direction of the bleating. Sure enough, two little lambs were being chased around the water trough and hay feeders by Donkey and Misty. Several ewes were in hot pursuit.
I got in between the chasers and the chasees and herded the sheep into the barn. I pushed open the door to the lambing pen and watched as two lambs and four ewes jostled their way in. Then I let myself in and surveyed the group, which was now quiet. The lambs that had been running sniffed one hind end after another until they found mothers who would let them nurse. The other two ewes went straight for the feeders to nibble on green hay laced with molasses sweet feed.
“Hey – you don’t belong in here!” I declared, tapping their fat sides with my shepherdess hook. I opened the door and pushed them out. They bleated obscenities at me in passing.
I shored up the door so that no one else could escape, and let myself back out into the main barn. Just then, a snuffling and knickering in the corner caught my attention.
One of the more mature ewes had retreated to the darkest corner of the barn before giving birth to triplets. She was busily cleaning two of the babies with her tongue, darting from one to the other. Sadly, I noticed a third baby still in its birth sack on the ground. With gloved hands I pulled at the sack to free it but it had likely been born dead. The mother had already cleared its breathing passages. She had probably sensed that it was a still birth, and moved on to the live ones. But she kept returning to her third lamb, and licked and knickered at it in an attempt to rouse it back to life. I decided to barricade the little family in the corner with a fence for privacy. I put hay and water in there, and left them for an hour.
Eventually she followed me as I moved her two live lambs into the lambing pen. You can’t tell me that sheep don’t understand loss. The ewe knickered a farewell to her stillborn lamb and looked me right in the eye as I led her away from the birth site and into the pen with her two healthy babies.
Tomorrow we will leave the door to the large pen open, to allow the biggest lambs and their mothers to graze in the front field. The Farmer has already moved the cows out to the second field. They had to duck under the electric fence to get in there. How he convinced Big Betty to do that, I’ll never know. The man has secret powers.
All in all, things are looking pretty good by May 1 on the Fisher Farm.
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