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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

35 and counting...down?


Where there is life, there is death. I know this. But I find it really frustrating when a lamb struggles to be born, and its mother just doesn’t care for it. Last week I went into the barn and a ewe had just given birth in the corner of the big room. I hauled a big gate over and wired it to the wall so that she and her lambs would be sheltered from the rest of the group.
One little lamb was already dried off and sitting curled up in the corner. The other was still in its birth bag, and I wasn’t sure if it was alive. I lifted the mother’s rump off the baby and ripped the bag open. He slid out onto the hay on a tidal wave and shook his head. I took the corner of my lumberjack shirt and cleared his nose and mouth of slime.
Meanwhile the mother got up and walked over to the corner where I had placed a bucket of water and some hay. Obviously the birth had left her hungry and thirsty. But when was she going to tend to her lamb? I placed the lamb in a pile of dry hay under his mother’s nose, and went about the rest of the farm chores. I checked him later and she still hadn’t dried him off so I got an old flannel sheet and rubbed him down myself. The stimulation revived him and he went off in search of food. Mama didn’t like that one bit, and kept circling so he couldn’t latch on. This is one of the saddest, most frustrating things we go through on the farm. A healthy lamb is born, you can steal colostrum from the mom and feed him bottles of milk replacer but sometimes they just don’t make it. In the week since lambing season began in earnest, we have gained about 35 and lost 5.
We do have some great success stories, including two sets of triplets who, although tiny, are strong and healthy. Their mothers are very smart, attentive and protective. One set was born out in the barnyard. The Farmer told me to wrap the babies in a blanket, put them on the flat wagon and pull them to the barn so the mother could follow. That wasn’t a good plan. First, the babies kept wiggling out of the blanket and falling off the wagon. Second, the mother kept circling me and trying to head-butt me in the leg. Sheep don’t have many defenses but when you are stealing their lambs they can get a bit ornery. And man, their skulls are hard as rocks.
Finally I grabbed two of the lambs and the Farmer took the third while holding the ewe off with a stick. I had to repeat this routine again later in the week when another ewe gave birth outside and didn’t trust me with the relocation of her baby. In this second instance I was alone (no Farmer in sight) and Rambo decided to assist the ewe in her attack. By the time I got into the barn (running backwards in rubber boots with a bleating lamb in my arms, whacking at two charging sheep with a stick), my heart was pounding and I was covered in sweat.
The next set of triplets was born in the big room of the barn, but the mother took it upon herself to climb over the gate into the lamb creep area before she gave birth. When I arrived, I just had to block the exit with a board and we had an instant pen. She’s one smart mama, choosing a safe place to have her babies.
Speaking of safe places, Mama Cat has decided the loft is not a good haven for her babies, and she has moved them. I have to search all corners of the barn with a flashlight in search of them. I don’t want them to get too big before I get my hands on them, or I’ll never tame them for adoption. I don’t need any more feral cats around here either, so Mama is next on the list to be spayed. Catching her may prove to be a bit difficult, however, particularly because I caught her once last year and now she is cage-smart.
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