All of these forceful winter storms have given me some great opportunities for taking photos of our sheep. Man, sheep in the snow - what could be prettier I ask? But I don't want to let you all think that this farm life is all just cute sheep photos all the time. That would be me telling you all a virtual lie. One thing I don't want to do is sugar-coat this farming thing, further adding to the wool-obsessed knitter's myth of getting a few sheep and living happily ever after. Don't get me wrong - I love sharing the photos of the sheep with all of you, knowing that many of you are knitters or crocheters who really have the sheep and wool love going on. I am so thankful to all of you for reading and spurring me on to keep learning about photography.
Our lambing barn is five miles from our house on the farm that The Farmer grew up on. The greenhouse barn lays about 1/4 mile down a dirt road. There we keep all The Farmer's large equipment in some equipment sheds that also do double duty as sheep barns when needed. The equipment includes two tractors, two trailers to move hay and sheep, mowing and baling machines, large hay making accessories, and lots of round bales of hay weighing about 800 pounds each. I am really not interested in the machines nor do I have the talent to operate them. The time I become interested is when something breaks, work can't get done, and it costs a fortune and takes forever to fix one of these big machines. We both have to drive four wheel drive vehicles that are high off the ground. If we didn't, we would never get anywhere. The Farmers starts his day early, heading off to the barns before Julia heads to school.
All this snow has just totally complicated our busiest time of year. It is hard to get into the barn because we don't have a plow. We just push our trucks through the snow, hoping not to get stuck. If we do, one of the tractors is used to get us out. It's actually all rather comical. I usually head down to the barn after Julia goes to school to check in and see if my help is needed. I don't have the natural talent of working with the animals that The Farmer does but I do my best. When I arrive, I get the low-down on how many lambs are born and what's going on. Often we are faced with lambs that are very weak, a mother that may be down or unable to produce milk to feed her lambs. Sometimes the lambs are almost gone - chilled and near death. Over the years, The Farmer has learned how to deal with these common problems and is quite good at assessing the situation. There are different things you can do to get a lamb going again and if I get a chance, I'll tell you about them another day.
One thing The Farmer frequently does is use a tool called a stomach tube. He passes a rubber tube down the throat of the weak lamb into the stomach. He can then give the weak lamb who has no sucking reflex milk. This thing has got to be one of the greatest inventions for sheep farmers. We have saved so many lambs with it, I can't even count them all. During lambing season, there is always one on the counter, one in the truck, and one at the barn.
One of the most important things with a weak lamb is to get the lamb warm again. The Farmer keeps his truck running and tucks the chilled lambs on an old jacket near the heating vents. If he has to go somewhere, they ride with him. It is easy to tell if a lamb is cold - you stick your finger in their mouth and if it feels like an ice cube, we know we have trouble. Sometimes we are lucky and the heater in the truck does the trick and the Mama Sheep accepts her lambs that we had to warm up.
Sometimes that is not the case. Either the mother has died or she is not capable of producing enough milk to sustain her babies. Sometimes the lambs are just too cold and by the time we get them warm, the Mama won't accept the babies. That is when we have to step in. And those are the lambs that end up in our house. We keep the woodstove going and set the lambs beside it. Sometimes they are injected with glucose to bring them back to life. Sometimes we give them a warm bath in the sink. It's all a learning process, even thirty years in. There are many sheep farmer tricks -- just as many as knitting patterns I would say. Lots of them are available on great websites operated by many land grant state universities.
I'm letting you in on these things because I have been getting comments from readers about how cute the lambs are in the house and "isn't it sweet that we keep the lambs in the house?" I really wanted to dispel these myths and tell you that the lambs that end up in the house are there because they have to be.
There is no longer a Mama available to take care of them and so they become "bottle lambs." We step in and become their mamas. We feed them "lamb milk replacer" in recycled water bottles using a special tip called a lamb and goat nipple. I swear the milk replacer smells exactly the same as the formula I used to feed Julia. When the lambs are old enough, we can wean them off the milk and they will then eat hay and a little sweet grain. As soon as we feel they are capable of surviving in the barn, we take them back and put them in a separate pen to acclimate them. In a couple days, we let them out of the pen and they blend in with the rest of the sheep. I say that lightly because bottle lambs usually don't blend in totally. They are always a little more friendly and when they are little they are very noisy - running up to us begging for a hit of milk - just like an infant.
Yesterday, Coco and Chanel moved down to the barn. I can't say they are very happy there but in a few days, they will be used to it. We still have a set of twins here sharing the study with us who are a bit too small to move back to the barn.
If you are local and have a chance tomorrow, stop on over at Greenfield High School between 10 and 2. We'll be setting up shop at Winter Fare - Greenfield's once a winter farmers market. Good weekend everyone!
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