Friday, January 04, 2008

Joie de Vive

So my efforts to get lambs out-of-season have proved fruitful, so far. Since December 21st fourteen lambs have been born, 8 ewe-lambs and 6 ram-lambs, to 8 ewes. There are another 20+ ewes in the "maternity ward" shed that should be due anytime in the next month. The remaining ewes out on pasture will be lambing in early spring, although I was surprised to look out in the field yesterday and see a slick white lamb's head come sliding out of one of the ewes I hadn't realized was that pregnant. At least half of the ewes were marked by a ram [the ram wears a harness with a wax crayon on his chest so that he leaves a mark on the ewe's rump when he mounts her] so I have a good idea of when they are due. However, there are a good share that were bred to the ram that wasn't wearing a marking harness so I am just going by belly size and udder development to gauge their stage of pregnancy. The "maternity ward" is full of ewes that have become rather spherical in shape, almost as wide as they are long. When I get up at night to check on them when they are all bedded down there is a chorus of soft complaining grunts coming from the overstuffed ewes, who look like wool-covered bean bag chairs.

To date, all of the ewes have delivered their lambs without difficulty and all but two had twins. [Fortunately, both singlets have been females, which I is what I want to increase my milking flock!] Lately, I've been sleeping lightly listening for strange sheep noises or sounds of distress in the middle of the night, but really I've been kind of flattering myself to think that the sheep really needed me to be there while they lamb. They pretty much know what to do better than I do. I've given a fews ewes a hand pulling out halfway delivered lambs as it was too hard for me to sit and watch them straining and pushing with the head and front feet poking out. However, I think the most use I've been to the moms and new lambs has been to pen them up as they deliver and keep all of the other ewes from nosing around and to get the lambs on clean hay and out of the dirt. I also trim the dangling cords and dip them in iodine and watch to make sure the lambs figure out how to nurse--and the ewes stand still to let them. I've been weighing the newborn lambs as well, with most of them averaging about 8 to 10 lbs, which is quite a nice size. One hardy ewe delivered two ram lambs at 13 lbs. and 14 lbs. without a hitch. I had to borrow a scale from Jean to double check their weights because it seemed hard to believe they were that heavy. Looking the lambs over though I realized that they were mostly legs and that those legs were almost as thick as a full-grown ewe's!

Newborn lambs truly are one of the cutest damn things you ever did see. I recently let the first batch of lambs and their moms out of their individual lambing pens and put them in a "nursery" area. The initial fifteen minutes was TOTAL SHEEP FREAK OUT, with ewes pacing around trying to find their lambs, and lambs calling out to their moms, all "baaing" at the top of their lungs. Everyone settled down quickly, though, and the lambs were soon a pack of white fuzz and gangly legs running back and forth across the pen en masse. I particularly enjoyed watching the sassy ones that choose to run diagonally or sideways instead of straight ahead, showing off their newfound ability to scamper. After much contemplation, my New Year's resolution is to try to be as happy to be alive as a newborn lamb, at least once a day.


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