Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Barn Chores

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.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the life of your farm. Julia may not realize it now, but you are providing her with the things of life and she is learning about two people working together and doing what they love! She is also learning about life and death - not easy when you are young, but necessary so that she can enjoy the joy of just living. She will appreciate it all the more she gets some distance from it, but that has ever been the way of our lives.
Thanks also for the videos. Peg on Vancouver Island

kingshearte said...

You know, I'm under no illusions about the fact that this is not just frolicking all day with baby animals, and that it's insanely hard work, but... hot damn are lambs adorable!

Candylei said...

I hope you are getting some rest! If I lived closer I would be offering to help! Do you give them anything by mouth right after they are born? I know of someone who swears by this vitamin and sugar syrup. Right now I can't remember the exact name but you can get it at any sheep supply store.
Thank you for sharing the pictures!

Hugs,
Candylei

Auntie Shan said...

Do you guys have any 4-H clubs nearby? Might be a good place to grab a few volunteers... Have the odd sleep-over field-trip in the craft-room...

Sharon said...

Incredible, how many lambs are coming this season. That is a lot of wool to knit. The process is fastinating. Thank you for sharing with us.

Anna said...

I just loved reading this post Kristin! Thank you so much for blogging about the lambing.
THank you for being you!

Kathy said...

Thanks so much for taking time to share this part of your life with us all. I really enjoy reading all the details and the pictures are wonderful.

marit said...

Lambing is a lot of hard work, worries and disappointments- but also lots of joy and satisfaction when things work out the way they should! Thank you for sharing all of it (and not only the cute parts!)

Sarah said...

I am so happy that you share your life with us. It makes my day. Thank you!

jewelann said...

Love reading your stories! Your way of life is so foreign to me and incredibly fascinating. And to think those lambs will produce the most beautiful yarns . . .

Heather L. said...

Thanks so much for photographing and sharing lambing season with us all. It is amazing and beautiful and I'm sure way too much work for you all, but we are enjoying the photos!!!

Beth Brown-Reinsel said...

Kristin, I so admire you and The Farmer. What hard work you do! I hope you can take a well deserved rest soon.
Beth

Jenn said...

I have found memories of calving season from the few years we lived on a ranch in the sandhills of Nebraska when I was a kid. Julia will someday look back and appreciate this experience, even it's not really here "thing". I wish I lived closer, I'd be happy to come chore with you for a day and bask in the glow of the wonders of new life :)

Michele in Maine said...

Thank you so much for sharing your day to day life with us Kristin! You are working so hard! The lambs and their mamas are grateful, I'm sure of it! Good luck!

Heather said...

Thank you for documenting this lambing season, I'm really enjoying learning about how a sheep farm works. The cute lamb pictures certainly don't hurt either! And wow, I didn't realize how common twinning was in sheep!

penelope10 said...

I enjoyed your story. Quite enlightening! So sweet the little lambies.

mascanlon said...

Such hard work but I love looking at the little lambs. You and the Farmer are such an inspirational story of working together....and I could just hear Julia in that almost teen voice!

Anonymous said...

I, too, just love reading your farming stories! Sure does give the rest of us pause to think about all that goes into farming! Thank you and PLEASE continue the stories!!!

M Griffin said...

Thank you for sharing your world. You work so hard! I hope The Farmer is grateful for you.

Tammy White said...

those full days are hard work and worth writing about - thank you for the great diary!