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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leapin' Lambs

Lambing season usually sneaks up and takes us by surprise every year. If the first ewe to go has been through it before, she is usually smart enough to find the deepest corner of the barn, out of the wind, in which to give birth. If it’s the first lambing season for the ewe, however, sometimes the birth catches her by surprise as well, and it happens out in the snow. This can have disastrous results if we don’t discover the lamb right away.
When we find the new family, we scoop up the lamb and walk backwards away from the ewe, into the barn’s lambing area. Hopefully the lamb is a bleater; the sound attracts the mama. Sometimes the ewe panics and goes running back to the site of the birth, looking for her lamb. She cries, drowning out the cries of her lamb, and runs in circles around the hay feeder and the barn yard, like a frantic idiot. If this happens you just have to wait until she calms down. Then you have to go back to the birthing site and start again. Scoop up the lamb and hold it just in front of mama’s nose so she can smell it. Back up. All the way into the barn.
It’s much easier if you guess by the bulging udder that the ewe is about to give birth. Then you can bring her into the lambing room, hopefully with some of her sister ewes, because no ewe likes to be alone. Plus, if there are more ewes in the lambing room, it will be warmer in there. Toasty, even. The lambing can then happen in the safe, warm and dry confines of the barn.
It takes a few days for all ewes to give birth (because it took the ram a few days to get through his dance card, 148 days ago). Then you have to ensure the ewe is giving milk, and the lambs know where to find it. Some of the lambs get confused, even with just one other ewe in the pen. So you have to make sure they know the sound and smell of their mother before you move them again.
Right in the middle of the barn is this long room I call the kindergarten. When the lambs and ewes have bonded, it is safe to move them into this area. They are almost a month old.
It’s a bit of a rodeo getting everyone into the kindergarten. The cows are first ushered out of the room in-between. They press their faces up to the gap in the wall in attempt to see what activity they are being left out of. They are pretty sure there is sweet, dry hay involved. They can smell it. They start to bawl.
The Farmer and I scoop up arms-full of lambs and start leading the ewes through the barn to the kindergarten. The ewes freak out for a few seconds at the kidnapping of the lambs and then they get distracted by the hay piled in the middle of the room and totally forget about the lambs. It takes us a few minutes to round everyone up and into the kindergarten.
We spend some time stretching tarp and fixing a gate across the doorway to the outdoor part of the pen. They can use that later when it gets warm outside and all the snow melts. We staple-gun feed bags across the gaps in the barn board, closing out the peeping eyes of the cows. All of this is done to the soundtrack of a dozen cows, a dozen ewes and a dozen lambs. It is a cacophony of noise. We watch as the lambs try one ewe and then another until they finally find the mother that belongs to them. The bawling slowly subsides. Soft knickering takes over. After a feed, the lambs start springing around the pen, taking long runs and jumping straight up into the air, twisting their bodies to the side and kicking. I’m going to miss this part.
Next week we will put sweet grain into the “creep” are of the barn that the lambs can wriggle into but he ewes cannot access. This will fatten them up.
In April, we will sell this last crop of lambs and their mothers. No word yet on whether we will be keeping Gracie as a lamb-dog. I’m sure it isn’t practical, but neither is our 1800-lb untrained Belgian horse, and we’re keeping her. I say Gracie stays. Wish me luck.

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