Winter with sheep. A quiet time of eating and growing babies. 16 ewes bred. I am suspecting 15 are pregnant. Lambing first due date April 8th. Lambing last due date April 20th. That sounds to me like about two straight weeks of espresso .
How many babies are in each ewe you ask? I believe we should start a guessing game. Check out the white dorset looking at you....how many babies can you count?
This winter the border collies have enjoyed the responsibility of encouraging "sheepercise", exercise with winter walks of sheep around the farm.
Winter 2016 has been an easy winter with not too much snow, no long periods of cold weather and improvements in the barn and handling systems. Two creative carpenters that I hired took an idea for improving handling of water and turned it into reality. The result is 2 large tanks of water standing three feet above the ground in an insulated box. This has allowed easy filling of water buckets twice a day. That improvement was coupled with using history from days gone by. Do you remember stories about your great-grandparents heating their beds with large hot beachstones warmed on their kitchen cooking stove? Fast forward to 2016. I heated rocks on the woodstove at the house, transported them in an LL Bean canvas bag each evening and then dropped them, steaming, into the water buckets in each stall to keep the water above freezing overnight. Worked like a charm. These 2 changes to water, which can be a farmer's wintertime menace, meant successfully making it through the winter without frozen water in the barn.
And so winter progressed and the ewes got larger. Nearly 60 large round bales of Blair Zinck's top quality hay,
of which many people said I ordered an awful lot, have now mostly been consumed and turned into sheep babies with the "leftovers" destined for mulch around my husband's grapevines in his vineyard.
So, after an easy winter, here we are 2 days before the first ewes are due to lamb. With thanks for today's technology and a very smart technology guy in our family, Jeff, I have installed a video monitor in the barn that can allow me to see the sheep via internet. I hope this will help a bit with my worrying that a ewe might begin the fun without the shepherd .
I've been told that it is best that ewes be given a few days alone with their new babies to bond . Otherwise, too often , a mom says "Are you sure you're my baby? I don't think you're my baby, so get out of here." Or another mom says to the ewe "That's not your baby, that's my baby , give it to me." So to prevent all that, it is a good idea, say people that know (that's not me), to remove the mom and newborn(s) right after birth and put them in a lambing jug to bond for a few days. A lambing jug is a 4ft x 4ft pen that is put up on a temporary basis, just for lambing season. After lambing is complete and the flock goes back together, the parts of the lambing jugs are taken down and stored for the next year's event.
I want to learn from my mistakes.
Last year I lost a triplet lamb because mommy ewe laid on the baby. My winter research tells me this is, in part, due to having large moms with triplets in standard size , 4 ft x 4 ft lambing jugs (pens). So, this winter I made a few larger lambing jugs , 5ft x 6 ft, for "plus size" moms with triplets. Here are the over-sized bed and breakfast rooms, complete with pink water buckets, just waiting for the fun to begin.
Another lesson learned from last year is that drying lambs with a hair dryer when they are cold, to prevent hypothermia is like, well, blow drying a wool coat....it takes forever. Since this year I have almost twice as many ewes lambing as last year I looked for something a bit more efficient to deal with emergencies. Upon seeing some European suggestions to warm multiple lambs in difficult situations, I thought glibly, gosh, I can make a lamb warming box. Well, gosh, I couldn't. I can build lots of lambing jugs, fences and such, that just need to be flat or square, however, when it comes to building a three dimensional thing like a box, I am hopeless. Just as I was pondering what to do, the grape grower who wants my,...mulch..., came to the rescue and did an incredible job of building a box that, with the help of a plug in household heater, can warm from -5 C to 90 C in less than 15 mins. It blows hot air into the box under the lamb which is lying on a wire mesh, soaking up the heat. The lamb warming box has enough space to warm 4 lambs at a time. Here's hoping I don't have four lambing emergencies at one time, however, it's reassuring to know it's there.
outside of lamb warming box with viewing window to watch lambs and heater to blow in hot air
inside of lamb warming box, removable separators and a thermometer to see the temperature
One month before lambing , March 12th, I enjoyed a visit from the sheep's special guy, Lukas Lange. Lukas is a very efficient sheep shearer who treats the very pregnant ewes with great care when he handles them. Lukas gave all the sheep a beautiful new "do". A shorn sheep makes the whole birthing situation tidier. Possibly even more important is the fact that little lambs when they finally get on their feet and decide they would like a drink from their mom, often confuse a tuft of unshorn wool dangling from a ewe's underside with a fresh teat of milk. Very frustrating for a new resident in a new world that requires he/she get milk within 30 minutes of birth. Lukas's great work will help the lambs find the much needed warm milk.
the hairdresser's waiting room
Lukas Lange shearing sheep
lots of fleece from a single shearing
A few trips to the local co-op and vet clinic for emergency medical supplies started building the lamb readiness cupboard. A final order of important lambing supplies from the Canadian Wool Growers Co-op for special things has just arrived today, at the eleventh hour. The order contains tubes for putting warm colostrum (important 1st milk) into tummies of cold newborns that need a boost and a rubber gadget to keep slippery hooves from slipping back inside mommy should baby not really want to come out in the cold. This completes the "to do" list....I think.
Now, it is two days before lambing is destined to begin. Is it time yet? The ewes are lying around in the sunshine, not wanting to venture too far from their comfy stall. The temperature during morning barn chores this morning was a chilling - 10 C. If the temperature does not increase significantly, soon, there will need to be lots of use of gadgets to get newborn lambs up and nursing ... hairdryers, hot water bottles, straw, the warming box and even any visitors' body heat inside a coat. Visitors that want to help are always welcome at lambing time. No appointment necessary, just show up ready to get dirty or feed a bottle to a lamb that needs some extra help.
So, in answer to the ewes' question, "Is it time yet?", yes, it's time to get this no sleeping,two week party, started. See you on the other side.