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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lambing drama continues

Almost exactly 148 days after the rams were released to impregnate the herd, the first birth occurred, on April 12. As per usual, it was a difficult one, with one of the twins stuck and needing help to get out. But they did well and a week later they are springing around the pen with a dozen cousins.

Over the past week, we have had an average of two lambs born per day. That would be easy but really it was six one day, none the next. One day I came home from work and went out to the barn and no less than four ewes in one large pen of about ten were in the process of giving birth.

One had just given birth, I think to twins, and one of her little ones was bobbing around under another mom who was cleaning him off while giving birth to her own. She seemed quite agitated, raising her eyes to the ceiling, moaning, lying down and bicycling her legs then struggling to her feet, walking around, squatting. Kind of like a human in labour.

I kept myself busy trying to read ewe ear tags, matching them with lambs and logging the sex and number of lambs born beside each mother's number in the record book. The big ewe kept up her labour exercises, baa-ing in a sort of rhythmic song or chant. Every once in a while she would knicker to one of the five other newborns in the pen, and help to lick them dry and clean. I moved the other new lambs and moms to smaller pens where they could bond and imprint on each other.

Then the big ewe turned around and I saw the lamb head protruding from her bottom. I was afraid she would break its neck if she flopped down again, so I quickly pulled on the shoulder-length plastic lambing gloves and muttered to myself as I climbed into the pen. The ewe wasn't very appreciative of my help, but after a few minutes she gave up trying to get away from me.

I gently pinned her shoulder to the wall with my knee and worked at her hind end until the head and one leg was born. I worried that the second front leg was bent back into the birth canal and didn't want to pull too hard and break it. The lamb was so slippery, it was very hard to get a good grip. Then I remembered something. When a sheep has her head stuck in a feeder, you gently twist her body and the head pops out. So I gently twisted this stuck lamb and he slid out onto the hay in a wet, slithery mess. He shook, raised his head, snorted and sneezed. I wiped his nose and mouth clean and his mother immediately started drying him off, knickering to him all the while.

I told her she was a very good mama, and left them alone. He is a very strong single. I have resisted the urge to name him and I am trying to forget which one he is because I don't want to get attached.

At the moment I have one lamb who seems to have no idea who his mother is or how to steal milk. Since his birth, I have fed him two bottles of milk replacer a day: one before dawn and one when I return from work around 5. Surprisingly, he is bigger and sturdier than some of his nursing cousins. Maybe he is stealing milk when I'm not around, and that's a good thing.

In any case, he only has to make it about six more weeks on the bottle and he will be outside on fresh, green grass. He 'baaas' for me when he hears my boots on the barn floor and bites at my sleeves as if he has imprinted on me now, but once he is outside he won't recognize me at all.

We have lost a couple of weak lambs, but the season is going pretty well overall. That being said, I'm pretty sure I'm missing a lamb because we had two in the aisle pen and now there is only one. It's possible that the lamb climbed out through the wooden pen slats and simply added himself to another family.

As long as everyone has a full belly, that's all that matters.

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