Thursday, March 29, 2007

New arrivals

Arrived home last night to find that Skipper had just lambed, two nice big, lively "black" boys. Actually, I still haven't figured out what color they are! The "blue" pattern colored Lincoln Longwool heritage gives them an up-side-down chevron of white hairs across the face, and white "tear ducts" (actually a different sort of gland, below the eyes). Otherwise they look black at first glance, but the wool underneath is slightly lighter, typical of the Suffolk "fading gene" but darker than a typical Suffolk, and the under wool seems to be more silvery than creamy white as it is in a Suffolk. But then they have some CVM (California Variegated Mutant, a rare American colored breed) blood, too, and that breed actually can get darker during its first year. The only thing I can say with any assurance is that they will grow up to have black legs and hooves!

I'm surprised that there were only two, because Skipper has spent the last 3 weeks looking like she was carrying 3 or even 4 lambs, she was that huge. But, that's how it is with sheep--like with humans, every pregnancy is different, and you just can't tell until they're born (state-of-the-art technology notwithstanding).

Newborn lambs are so amazing to watch...within minutes, they are struggling to their feet and wobbling towards the udder for their first drink. They remind me of sawhorses when they are born--their sides are as flat as a 2x4 board! During the first couple days they sort of "inflate"--they don't get bigger, just fatter and rounder. Then when they are round, they start GROWING! Within a couple weeks, they are nibbling hay and grain.

There are some amusing milestones in a lamb's early life. One is when they learn to jump and caper. This happens when they are just a couple days old. I watched one once. It was just standing looking off into space, and suddenly its hind end just jumped. The lamb looked very surprised! A moment later, its front end jumped--and again the lamb looked surprised, as if these motions had happened without any foreknowledge or volition on the part of the lamb. A minute later, the hind end jumped again, and I could practically see the light bulb go on over the lamb's head. Suddenly it realized it could CHOOSE to jump. It gave a testing sort of jump...and then started jumping all over the pen, uncoordinated at first but rapidly getting the hang of it.

I've also watched lambs learning to chew cud for the first time. They are several weeks old when this happens. As newborns, when they are just drinking milk, they don't run their food through the whole rumen cycle. But when they start eating solid food, the rumen develops, and their bodies transition to the complex digestive system of ruminants. This involves wolfing down their food almost whole, fermenting it in a special part of their stomach and then regugitating it for a good thorough second chewing while they are just standing or laying around, relaxing. It appears to be a very contemplative occupation. But the very first time a lamb brings up a cud, it has the most amazed expression on its face, as though it TOTALLY wasn't expecting that to happen. Like, the lamb was just lying there and suddenly its mouth was full of something! What a shock! Sometimes the cud just goes flying right out of the lamb's mouth!

Now, just 16 more ewes to lamb.... Currently, there are 15 lambs "on the ground" from 7 ewes. With 9 more adult ewes to "lamb out" (probably mostly twins and triplets), and 7 ewe lambs who will probably have singles, we could end up with a total of nearly 40 lambs this season! That's a lot of lovely, lively lambikins leaping lightly and lounging lazily and looking ludicrous as they learn lots of lamb lore!

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