Last night, I kept waking up. It was the wind that was interrupting my sleep. It was howling away bringing in some very cold air after a day yesterday when it hit 45 degrees. I kept thinking about the sheep and the lambs knowing that cold, windy air and birth are not the best combination. After Julia left for school on the bus, I headed down to the barn to help out with the lambing chores. This lambing season, we are expecting at least 300 lambs. We are living and breathing lambing season at this old farmhouse. So far, there must be 125 lambs so things have been busy. And to be honest, we have pretty much lost count.
Upon arrival, I checked in with The Boss (that would be The Farmer) to see what kind of help was needed. He said there were 3 sets of twins already. He was expecting a shipment of grain so I started tending to the twins who he had just found outside in the snow.
The mama was attentive but these guys were definitely in need of some help. They were both trembling but when I put my finger in each of their mouths, there was a bit of warmth. All was not lost. We keep a supply of old towels rotating through the barn so I sat down with the lamb that looked the worst and used the towel to massage her legs and dry her off. She seemed to respond which made me feel encouraged. A little more massage and her head lifted off the barn floor. We decided to move the mama and these twins to a pen with a heat lamp and just watch.
So much of lambing season is watching. Watching and waiting. Trying to guess who will be next. When a ewe is close to lambing she will "bag up" which means her udder swells and looks like this.
After I finished with the one weak set, I took a walk outside to see what was going on. Lots of the little lambs like to hang out in the hay feeders sunning themselves when they aren't nursing from their Mamas. They are safe in the feeders away from the large sheep and can just snooze away uninterrupted. Little lambs need lots of sleep - just like infants.
Further on down the hill, I found a brand new lamb. I must have missed its birth by seconds. The lamb had a bit of blood on her head which sometimes happens. The mama was attentive so I left it out in the sun and went back in the barn to do today's chores.
When a lamb is just born and its umbilical cord is still moist, we dip it in iodine to prevent disease. We try to pen each set of twins and their mama so they can bond nicely. With the number of lambs we have had so far, we are running out of pens. Before the day old lambs can be released, their tails need to be docked and they need to be numbered with paint and an eartag. I'll show you this process tomorrow. After I finished yesterday's lambs' tails and marking, I started to release them to make room for today's crop. But before that, I had to check on the Mama outside who had just given birth. Yup, she had twinned. I picked both of them up by the front legs and slowly walked backwards into the barn. The mama followed nicely - I was lucky. She needed to be brought inside because it was really windy and cold - what we refer to as "lamb killing weather." The barn is a modified greenhouse designed for sheep and we put it up over 20 years ago. It functions well and helps the lambs live and thrive. This is one place that I let my love for aesthetics and beautiful things go - the barn is for lamb survival, that's it. It sure is nothing fancy but sheep don't care.
The first set of chilled lambs was looking better - in fact they were both up and trying to nurse. They are smallish but seemed to be doing well.
In the middle of all of this, the grain truck arrived to deliver the grain for the mamas. Our sheep eat primarily farm-raised hay but when the mothers are milking, they need a little more protein and energy which the grain supplies. Some people think sheep are stupid but I'm here to tell you differently. The adults all knew that the truck was there with the grain. They could hear it being blown into the bins and the combined baaaahhing was deafening. The trucker stopped in to see the lambs and have a quick chat with The Farmer. He was curious about the greenhouse and how warm it was inside. He then headed out and promptly got stuck in the snow. The Farmer helped dig him out and finally he was on his way.
In the meantime way down the field, two more ewes had just twinned. The Farmer put me in charge. I was in over my head. I couldn't tell which lamb belonged to which sheep and neither could the ewes. I had to get the lambs inside so I played lamb leapfrog - I picked up two lambs and moved them down the field about 10 feet. In the meantime, the mothers were tending to the other two. I picked them up and the mothers followed stopping at the first pair. I set the second set down 10 feet closer to the barn and kept repeating the process until the 4 lambs and 2 ewes were safely inside the warm barn. I watched and watched but couldn't tell who belonged to who. Can you tell?
We decided to pen them all together and hopefully by this evening the Mamas will sort out who belongs to whom.
After I got all the babies taken care of, I fed and watered each pen full of new life. I filled up the water tank outside for the second time in the day (nursing mamas drink a lot of water!) and came home to write this blog post. I'm waiting for the bus again and then Julia and I will head on down the barn to see what else is going on and if The Farmer needs our help.
That's the way it goes around here during lambing season. A lot of the same thing, over and over again with little bits of lamb life and death drama thrown in. It's not for everyone, for sure. Julia keeps threatening to move to "the city." We tell her, "that's fine" but this is where she is living now. I'm thankful that we can share lambing season with her and all of you. Good day everyone.