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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Farmwife-in-waiting


The lambing pens are lined with hay, waiting for our Christmas babies to arrive. The rams obviously did some work before we locked them up in August, because there is a ewe or two with a distinctly swelling udder. They are “bagging up”, as the Farmer says. That is a rather indelicate way to describe the situation. Most of our ewes are due to lamb in April.
Our cows are also due to give birth any day now. Ginger, Betty, Julie and Mocha each took turns dancing with Young Angus when he arrived last spring. However, according to the Farmer, they are not bagging up. But that doesn’t mean anything. Betty didn’t bag up the last time she gave birth to a huge calf either. She just let out a long, low mooo one morning and twenty minutes later she was licking her newborn clean.
In order to make things as comfortable as possible for our four bovine mothers-to-be, the Farmer has closed them off in their own field on the far side of the barn, There they have their own water supply, an open pasture and part of the barn for shelter.
This weekend the Farmer decided to cut the huge beams that make up the half-wall in the turkey pen. This large, open room is ideal for the cows, and now they can get in. Within half an hour of the Farmer’s renovations, Ginger and Julie had moved in to the new space. They are the smart ones, I think.
The cows are feeding now on wrapped hay that smells like whiskey. The fermentation process has left the silage rich and scented. They chew slowly, savouring the flavour.
So we will go out in the morning and evening now to check on the animals. I hope they don’t all give birth at once. I hope things go without complications, as planned. We selected a bull that would produce smaller calves that grow quickly after birth. I don’t want to deal with any calves getting stuck during birth when I’m the only one at home. It would be just my luck to have this sort of thing happen.
Misty is supposed to be pregnant, but we still don’t have that confirmed. Perhaps when we have the vet in to assist with the cow births, we will get him to do a preg check on Misty at the same time.
I have to go to Rooney’s to stock up on calf bottles and milk replacer. I keep this at the ready in case a ewe gives birth to multiples. Inevitably there will be a runt lacking the rooting instinct, and I will have to feed it with the bottle. During the first 24 hours, that milk must be colostrum straight from the mother, or the chance of survival is very slim. As much as I try, however, I cannot get enough milk from a ewe to fill an eye-dropper. The Farmer has to climb into the pen, tackle the mother and steal her milk. He can get an inch or two of colostrum in no time, and then I fill the big syringe to feed the baby.
Ideally, after a week or so, the runt will regain his strength and catch on to the routine of feeding from his own mother. If he doesn’t, I have to train him to feed from the bottle that I strap to the side of the pen. This method has worked, in the past. We are in the business of growing healthy sheep here.  
If the cows need help feeding their babies, we will supplement their feedings also. I will buy my supplies, and wait. They can come now – I am ready.

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