Sunday, March 30, 2008
Nope. Twice in two days while out walking in the wilderness area with friends, I've encountered 2 1/2 foot long garter snakes. Since it's been cool, they've been fairly sluggish and not as feisty as they often are later in the year.
Luna found the one we saw today. I noticed her doing the classic "snake dance"--warily circling with little inward feints at something hidden in the grass, her every muscle tense, her every nerve focused on whatever-it-was. After yesterday's sighting, I pretty much knew what it was before I even got to her.
At first it seemed much more slender and dark that the other snake. Then it became aware of my presence and spread and flattened its body to seem wider, and I realized that yesterday's snake had already done that. This pose vividly displayed the brilliant red color between its darker scales...beautiful!
I'm surprised to see them when spring seems so slow and chilly. But they are a sign that it is, emphatically, spring. Nothing sneaky about it!
Just a random shot of the barn at late-night barncheck, a week or so ago. Time is going by in a blur. Current lamb count is 20, from 11 ewes. Pretty good--though some unexpected singles. One lamb died...not a bad average, except it was an entirely preventable death...it drowned in a stock tank. I should have realized lambs would play on the partially covered tank, fall in, and not be able to get out. Live and learn.
Today was my day to be snarly around the farm. NO ONE was home tonight...no warning about that... no note...no fire in the woodstove on a chilly, damp night. Really threw me off. Not sure HOW it could have made much difference if I'd known in advance, but it WOULD have. Expectations and all that. What if *I* just didn't come home one night??????? Would they just let the dogs pee on the floor and the bucket lambs starve?
When I got out to the barn I was able to calm down and focus a bit. It's increasingly becoming "home" while the house is just someplace I store my clothes and grab snacks. I feel like I just need to live out there these days. It's so nice, and there's so much to do. Tidying and organizing, fixing things, planning, building. Gradually things are falling into place...except that somehow there is never time for actually getting the crops in the ground. That's beginning to worry me a bit. Farmer's Market starts in 2 weeks, April 12.
How long can it POSSIBLY take to attach a 2 x 4 to a chain link panel, as a tool holder in the "tarp shed" that now serves the garden? About an hour, and at least 1/2 mile of walking, minimum...tools and hardware not matching up, and everything scattered among garage, galv. shed, and green barn.
Big milestone this week: The Douglas County Health Dept. approved our application to build a pit privy (outhouse). Talk about putting the cart before the horse: To do the inspection to get the permit, we had to go ahead and dig the 5' deep hole so that we could then drill a 4' deep test hole below that, to check for absence of groundwater. Because we dug by hand (M. loves to dig in my lovely soft soil) and OSHA says any pit with vertical walls has to be lined and the Health Dept. was going to come inspect...basically by the time they could do the inspection, everything up to grade was dug/built.
Now we just need to form up the concrete sill ring, floor and riser; mix concrete; pour concrete; build the building; do the finish work; etc.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Little did I know I would be trying on his shoes (what size? what brand? how recently purchased?) so soon.
The residents had a planning session the other day, and we decided to share the duty of washing the lambs' milk bucket daily, and filling it, and checking it later in the day to see if it needed filled. I drew the late-night check.
This morning, I showed A. how I wash the bucket, reassemble the teat units, mix the milk replacer. E. checked the level while I was at work, and reported to me when I got home that she hadn't needed to top it up, it was still about at the level of the top of the teat units. She mentioned how insistent the bucket lambs were, how clever they were at getting through all the gates and fences to be underfoot outside the sheep pen.
Had someone else topped it up at some point? The lambs were going through 2 scoops worth, twice a day. A. and I had filled it with 3 scoops worth in the morning. Were they sick?
I went out to for the nightly barn check. The level was still about the level she had described. The lambs--#211 and #213--came blasting out through the gates at me and mobbed my ankles, bleating and bunting at me insistently. I could hardly walk. I tried my usual method to get them to nurse on the bucket--fold their front legs at the knees and hold them down in front of the teat unit, my hand on their shoulder guiding their head to the teat. Usually when shown the teat this way, they would start sucking avidly and go on for several minutes, and I could walk away in peace.
Nothing doing. They struggled violently when I attempted to put them to the teats. They popped off the teats after a couple sucks, and recommenced mobbing my ankles. We repeated this several times.
I gave up and started building up a new "creep" area for all the lambs, bucket lambs included. It didn't take too long to set up some hog panels (lambproof, but easy to reach over) against a steel pipe fence that the ewes can't get through, but the lambs can. It's big enough that the ewes can't reach the treats that I put out for the lambs on the far side. This "kids only" area will let the lambs begin to nibble at solid food, increasing their growth and taking some of the pressure off their moms.
I put the bucket in it and tried again to get the lambs to nurse. Nothing doing.
I summoned up patience I wasn't sure I had, and worked at it for awhile. What is the deal here? The lambs are obviously hungry, but they won't nurse. They keep coming to me. Both of them.
Both of them. Yesterday, J. and I had examined them, compared their development. #211 (who bonded to his mom, even if she didn't bond to him) was clearly fatter than #213 (who's entirely bonded to humans), who was still awfully scrawny. #211 rarely bothered me at all. He was getting what he needed from other sheep, in terms of nurturing, and from the bucket, for sustenance. #213 was looking to people for everything, and not getting nearly enough of anything.
Now they are both looking truly pitiful. They are wildly energetic at trying to get milk out of my shins, but when not mobbing me, they are standing around in the hunch-backed, tucked-in posture of a lamb that is not feeling well. They are both equally scrawny.
What the heck is going on?
They are hungry--starving to death--but they won't nurse the bucket. A few days ago, they were doing well. What changed?
I reviewed every detail of washing and filling the bucket that morning. Nothing different. No new detergent that might have an off smell. It was a cool day, the milk shouldn't have soured. The teats weren't plugged--I could milk out a thin stream with my fingers. There was plenty of milk.
I watched and puzzled, puzzled and watched.
And eventually I realized there were 3 rubber teats on the bucket. At some point in the last day, I'd switched out the softer (more easily damaged, and harder to attach to the bucket) latex teats for the more sturdy, stiffer rubber teats. Before, I'd been using some of each.
I put them on the teats again, and watched. They sucked, but didn't keep sucking. And I noticed how small their mouths were compared to the teats.
Maybe the stiff rubber teats were still too stiff for their tiny, runty mouths?
I switched out the teats (a lengthy and messy project. Helpful hint: when you spill milk on the feed barrel lid, grab the barn cat. Works much better than a rag.), and tried again.
The lambs sucked on the soft latex teats for about 10 minutes without stopping. When they stopped, they came to me but didn't climb on me...as if to tell me thank you. Then they went back to the bucket. I walked away in peace.
A big lesson in the importance of knowing your animals, checking them often, and NOTICING when something is different. In this case, not just the level of milk staying the same in the bucket, but the lambs' uncharacteristic behavior. They were obviously trying very hard to tell us all along that something was wrong. E. didn't pick these up as cause for concern when she checked the lambs this afternoon--even though she reported both things to me later--because she hasn't spent enought time in the barn to know what's normal, and she was focusing on getting the job done quickly. I figured it out because I knew these animals, as well as lambs in general...and because I have a pretty good idea how much these animals should be eating.
If I hadn't figured this out, A. might have just dumped out the extra milk in the morning, refilled the bucket, and not realized that the lambs hadn't had a thing to drink. She might have just thought that E. had topped it up more than necessary. If this had gone on, the lambs could easily have starved to death by tomorrow night. This is the danger in sharing responsibilities--things can slip through the cracks.
Just like a persistent pair of lambs slipping through the gates to tell us something is wrong.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Torie is taking her time. I am writing to try to keep my eyelids propped open.
An hour ago I went out and saw just the tiniest glimpse of a black hoof-tip protruding, rimmed in white. The white is the gelatin-like "cap" on the hoof that helps ease the lamb'sjourney through the birth canal. This time there were two hoofs, up to the top of hoof. Next I should see a nose...if not, it's time to step in. A lamb is not likely to be born if its head is turned back along its body.
It is so much easier to see what's going on with the ewes now that they're sheared. This afternoon, we noted that Torie seemed much more gaunt than she had in the shearing pen. This is often a sign of early labor--as the lambs "drop"and engage in the birth canal, the ewe's flanks hollow out in front of her hips, so that her frame looks like a dairy cow--hips sticking out like a skeleton. Often there will be a pronounced groove along each side of the tailbone, as well, when viewed from the rear
Some sheep do not like to lamb with an audience. Thus my habit of forcing myself to walk away from a ewe in labor for half an hour or an hour at a time.
Then there are the ewes like Bitten who act like they're in early labor for days. She seems to be in early labor now, too. When I went out to check Torie, Bitten was on the far end of the pen from all the others. Ewes often go off by themselves to lamb.
How do my sheep get their strange names? Each name has a story as unique as the ewe herself.
--"Tailor" has a long tail.
--"Eider" was born my first year of shepherding. I named each set of lambs with names starting with the letter indicating their birth order, and all the names were food-related. Thus the first lamb born on Pinwheel Farm was Apple. The fifth batch was triplets. "E" was not an easy letter to find food names for. cohorts were Elderberry (ewe) and Extra (market lamb).
--"Footer" had a badly infected foot last year due to being tangled in baling twine. She's recovered so well I can't tell which foot.
--"Torie" has a torn ear. "Bitten" looks like something bit half an ear off. Both of these are most likely consequences of an ear tag catching in a fence.
--"Perfle" was the last born in a set of triplets, i.e. superflous.
--One year a neighbor kid named all the lambs after Beanie Babie sheep.
Guess I'll go check Torie. If I stay here any longer I'll fall asleep and there will be a lot of misspelled words.
When I went out, there was Torie with a HUGE black ram lamb next to the big round bale of brome hay--a nice warm, dry, sheltered spot to lamb--a common choice. She had been laboring in one of the sheds. I popped him into the lamb taxi and headed towards the barn. Torie followed with her nose in the taxi, good as gold, all the way to the barn and right into her jug. This guy weighed in at a whopping 14+ lbs.! That's not quite twice my normal birth weights! Easily big enough for two lambs.
I topped up everyone's hay and water and did a last check on Bitten. When I walked out to the pen, she was still laying off at the end. But then suddenly she jumped up and came running (waddling) towards me, thinking shewas missing out on some treat. She was, because I'd bedded the sheds down with fresh hay when I checked Torie earlier, and all the ewes were rummaging for choice tidbits. So maybe she was just enjoying a bit of solitude after a chaotic day.
I know the feeling. It was a hard choice between locking myself in my room early this evening, and hanging out in a friend's hot tub for awhile. The hot tub won...I kept thinking about how stiff I might be in the morning without it.
Shearing went very well. I would have to say that the two worst things were:
--The shearer showed up about a half hour earlier than he had told us he would. This is not uncommon, so although I was hoping for 11:00, I wasn't totally off guard to start earlier. On the other hand, this helped us keep from feeling like we were up against a deadline, and way better than having a big volunteer crew and audience assembled, then waiting...waiting...waiting.
--Since one of the regular members of the "shearing ring" (the several farms that coordinate shearing days, and help provide labor for one another) is no longer raising sheep, I dropped the ball on covering her usual responsibilities of supplying the traditional pop and cookies and chips for Dannie's mid-morning snack, so we asked a volunteer to run to the nearest gas station. Next year I'll plan ahead better for that little detail.
If I have to look that hard to find something to improve on next year, obviously it went VERY well.
The two best things were Mom and Dad showing up from Manhattan, KS, and my daughter showing up despite a heavy schedule of work and classes. Somehow none of these beloved people have ever been able to make it to a shearing day before this year!
We had lots of volunteers and visitors. Everyone pitched in and worked together well, and everyone had time to visit and make new friends, take pictures, or just sit and watch.
After a delicious lunch (prepared by one of my new housemates--with small children to tend, this was how she could best pitch in to help make the day a success. NEVER forget that the cook is one of the most important and influential members of a crew) served informally in the barn, several of us went to the next farm to watch their shearing and assist if needed. Their sheep are all "children" from my flock, so it's especially fun for me to see what my "kids" are producing. They are all fat and thriving...they have the good fortune to belong to a flock that is kept solely for wool, so they are never bred and are petted and spoiled.
Who, me? Take pictures? Too busy! Hopefully some of the many folks with cameras will send me some that I can post.
Yes, it's late, and I should be in bed. I WISH I was in bed. I'm exhausted...up late last night getting new gates installed in the barn, up early this morning with other preparations. But there is a ewe in labor, so I'm up...killing time, hoping that the next time I go out she'll be done. I'll keep you posted.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Everyone is welcome to attend this event, to just watch or to lend a hand. Volunteers should come about 10:30 for orientation; we expect to start shearing about 11:00.
We're making progress on the circle drive, but the ground condition is hard to predict. Please walk, ride a bike, take the bus, carpool--whatever you can do to minimize traffic. We'll try to have a parking volunteer. Please be sure not to block the main drive, so that the shearer can drive his truck back to the barn to unload equipement. He'll be shearing at another farm before ours--one of our "daughter" flocks--and then another daughter flock later in the day.
If you'd like to join us for lunch after the shearing, bring your own table setting and something potluckish. We'll have a big pot-of-something (featuring lamb, of course) cooking while we shear.
See you there!
We are feeding the little ones a commercial lamb milk replacer mix in bottles right now, a time-consuming but fun chore. As soon as the replacement teats for the bucket feeder arrive, we'll get them onto the bucket, and life will be much simpler.
Then twins, and more twins--Cleo and Mary Kay. Theyare all doing well, though Mary Kay still does not like the lamb that the suffolk cross ewe tried to steal. Cleo and her twins are now out of the jug and hanging around with the ewe lambs.
Mabel and her triplets moved into Cleo's jug Sunday morning. They are colorful--two piebald ram lambs, and a coal-black ewe lamb with a dusting of white on her forehead. Mabel is black. The piebald coloring, part of their California Variegated Mutant heritage, will fade over the next few weeks, thanks to their Suffolk heritage. Hopefully someday we'll get a piebald ewe that doesn't fade!
All the lambs are starting to really jump around and play. They are so fun to watch.
The weather is warming up, and we're getting settled into our new lamb-centered routine. It's spring!
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Well, I've got the lambs--and the weather is roaring. Bitter cold today, and snow. Not just a few flakes, but steady all morning and into the afternoon. The ground is frozen solid again. It's hard to imagine planting potatoes in a week and a half--St. Patrick's day being the traditional beginning of this important farm activity. Our seed potatoes won't even be shipped until early April...but we'll buy some locally to plant for the special day. Garden center bulk seed paotaotoes are inexpensive, so if they rot in the cold ground it won't be a huge loss, and if they thrive it will be an early crop.
After three days off, I went back to bus driving today. I needed the break from farm work (my legs are sore from all the walking and squatting these past couple days), and a chance to just sit and drive the nice warm bus after a busy morning.
Patience, and a subtle knowledge of sheep psychology, can often substitute for a lot of brute force.
The goal was to separate the 5 "new" (last fall) Suffolk cross ewes from my "old" flock, since they aren't due to lamb for several weeks, and I didn't want housemates to have to deal with any miss-mothering of lambs that might be born while I'm at work. Separating off the culprit would be difficult and dangerous--solo sheep tend to panic, and it takes a strong fence to keep them from going back to their buddies. Thus my choice to separate all 5.
I'd noticed that the Suffolk cross ewes tended to bed down on the east end of the pen, the others on the west...and in between was a gate. So the first thing I did when I went out for my morning lamb chores was to close the gate. Presto--separated!
Oops. There was one of the "old" ewes in with the Suffolks.
I got the lead rope and some alfalfa hay, thinking I might be able to get the rope around her neck while she was eating. No such luck. She knew something was up, and ran away every time. The Suffolks enjoyed their pre-breakfast, though.
Finally I decided to just leave her in with them. She isn't "bagging up" (getting a full udder) very much yet, so she may not be due until about the same time as them. I opened the gates to the side pen, and she strolled through while they stayed at the pre-breakfast. Ok, I couldclose the gate and separate them, but then there would be no way for me to catch her alone in a large pen, and she was in the pen I wanted THEM to be in.
So I ran her back into the pen with them. She willingly went towards the other sheep when faced with my frightening presence.
Then I started to run all 6 of them into the pen. But as I drove her farther from her "old" flock, she paniced and peeled off from the Suffolks to go stand by the gate separating her from her "own." I quickly closed the gate between her and the Suffolks, and presto! everyone was where I wanted them, without any wrestling!
Now instead of caring for 2 groups of sheep twice a day, chores encompass:
--The main ("old") flock of 9 ewes and Freckleface.
--The 5 Suffolks (in the side pen).
--The three ewe lambs (outside the barn, with occasional excursions into the barn for water).
--Eider in the stanchion and her triplets (she is getting antibiotics twice a day to prevent infection from the very invasive assisted birth; special feed; water bucket to keep thawed and full; cleaning soiled hay out from under her twice a day; occasional releases from the stanchion; bottling two lambs; cleaning their poopy butts....)
--Mary Kay tied up to keep her from trying to kill one of the lambs the Suffolk ewe tried to steal, and her twins (water, hay, check tie, milk out to supply Eider's 2 small ones).
--Cleo, a good mom to both of her lambs despite having a baby stolen (water, hay, tie up and battle to milk out for Eider's lambs).
Oh, and feeding the chickens and letting them out of their coop, feeding the cat, feeding the dogs....
The hardest chore to remember sometimes is to feed and water myself.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Yesterday was a roller coaster of trying to get lambs to nurse, trying to keep them warm, dealing with dehydration. It was cold and gray, and that didn't help. I'd gotten maybe 4 hours of sleep, then woke up to feed lambs, then the phone rang a few hours later...an unexpected delivery that I had to deal with. By the end of the day I was exhausted and feeling like I hadn't made any progress.
Last night I was really beginning to wonder whether the firstborn (weakest) triplet was going to make it. He was feeling cold again, and still dehydrated. He still had not yet walked on his own, that I had observed, and only stood when I picked him up. To deal with the cold, I finally rigged up a heat lamp for them, setting it up very carefully to avoid any chance of fire. I used reflective mylar bubblewrap insulation (available at many hardware stores) to create a non-drafty corner for the light that would also reflect the warmth back on them. This stuff is WONDERFUL! Very easy to work with, light-weight, self-supporting, not very flammable, cuts with scissors, joins with tape, attached to things like cattle panels with clothespins, water proof, insulating....
This morning when I got to the barn, all three triplets were walking around the pen! That was a great start for a sunny, warm day...but then I went out to feed the main flock. What's this? Cleo with just one lamb? And why is the Suffolk/CVM cross ewe nickering like she's got a newborn? She isn't due to lamb for at least three or four weeks!
Yes, Cleo did have twins. But the S/CVM ewe (Blue Jay? Pinyon? I still can't tell them apart very well without reading eartags) had stolen one, and was trying to mother it. I ran for the "lamb taxi"--a sturdy plastic laundry basket with a piece of baling twine on one end to pull it by--got the Border Collies, and went back to the flock. With the help of the dogs, I was able to get both lambs and Cleo out of the pen, into the main lane, without the "auntie" slipping through. But how she mourned all day!
Then it was a simple matter to pull the basket along the ground with the lambs in it, Cleo diligently following behind, all the way down the lane and through the barn and into the waiting lambing jug (small pen for new moms to bond with their babies).
This evening at 5:00, several farm volunteers assembled for our first sheep raising seminar. The plan was to go look at the lambs, then I was going to "Tom Sawyer" them into helping unload the truck load of feed before we reviewed some basics of lamb care. But as we approached the barn, I heard a ruckus in the main pen. There was a white ewe with a piebald lamb standing at the gate. What? A single from HER?
I looked all over the pen and in the sheds, as I always do when a ewe lambs unobserved. Lambs may be stillborn, or weak, or wander off. But no sign of another lamb. Oh, well. A healthy single is still a blessing, and with Eider's triplets doing well, I would still be at a 200% lambing rate (average of 2 lambs per ewe). I got the ewe and lamb out of the pen without too much trouble.
But then I heard more nickering--that special little throaty noise that ewes only make for their newborn lambs. I looked for the source--that S/CVM ewe was ducking into a shed. And I heard the tiny bleat of a new lamb. Sure enough, she had stolen one of Mary Kay's lambs this time! I grabbed the lamb and whisked it out of the main pen before the S/CVM could follow, and plopped it into the lamb taxi. We took off down the lane, Mary Kay following well...and then she turned back. Her instinct to be with her flock was at war with her instinct to follow her lambs. Thus began a merry (?) romp through the garden as we tried to get her to follow her lambs. What I generally term a "sheep rodeo".
Remind me to add this to my list of "reasons for lambing before garden season starts".
Some ewes are easily rattled, and even the calmest of ewes can be a blithering idiot in the hormonal turmoil immediately after lambing. The more rattled she became, the more she wanted to be with her flock. They had wandered off to their favorite corner of the pen, on the other side of the garden, and she followed on her side of the fence. She would not be detered by the dog, nor by flapping arms. Finally we took her lambs out to the place she was trying to go through the fence, and managed to catch her and put a collar and lead rope on her. Pushing, pulling, driving with the dog, and leading with the lambs in the lamb taxi, we eventually got her to the barn.
This turned out to be a great opportunity for the volunteers. I demonstrated both methods of navel treatment that I use, one on each lamb; and everyone tried their hand at stripping Mary Kay's teats to be sure they weren't plugged. We fixed up the lambing jug (bucket of water, lots of hay bedding) and put her in it.
Needless to say, I ended up unloading the feed about an hour ago. The "silver lining" was that by then the ground was frozen up again, and I could drive the truck back to the barn instead of carrying/hauling all 500 lbs. by hand.
My first task tomorrow (or second, if I'm greeted by still more lambs) will be to figure out a way to isolate the Suffolk/CVM ewes from the other ewes, so that this ewe doesn't steal any other lambs. An interference like this can cause the real mom to reject a lamb, which appears to be happening with Mary Kay. She is tied up (loose enough to lay down, close enough to not tangle) to give the unloved lamb a chance to "bum" (sneak a drink from the ewe's rear), and to prevent her from injuring it.
By the way, you may be wondering why her name is Mary Kay. It's because she has such beautiful eyeliner! She's pure white, with black eyelids. Very pretty, with a lot of her dad's East Friesien/Dorsett look and personality. She's giving lots of colostrum, enough to help feed Eider's lambs.. Too back she has "steel wool".
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Usually she's standing on the step of the working chute,urging me to hurry as I put out the alfalfa hay for her and the other barn sheep. But this morning she was absent, though the lambs were front and center at the trough. I feared the worse, considering her age and condition, and went looking.
She was lying by a big round bale, and didn't respond when I called her name. My heart sank. But then she stretched out her neck...and I realized she was in labor! A week early!
An abortion (as miscarriages are called in sheep)? I had several last year...my first ever. That would be a bad start for the season.
I saw the lamb was presenting just the head, no dainty crossed hooves preceeding it. Not good! I ran and cut my fingernails (was planning to do that soon anyway), grabbed lamb towels, and rushed back out. Fortuneately Eider is old and limber...it was easy to reach in, find each leg, and pull it forward. The the lamb slid out easily, with the second one on its heels (literally!). Twins! I hadn't even been sure Eider was pregnant! She diligently began licking them, then paused for another contraction. Awfully big contraction for the afterbirth...I looked, and sure enough there was a third lamb hitting the ground.
I called in to work, and spent the day working to get things organized for more lambing, and for caring for these. They're all with Eider in a "jug" (small pen) in the barn. Two of the lambs are weak and small, and in dangerof being rejected. But all are doing fairly well. We're battening down for a long haul of tubing/bottling/bucket feeding at least two of them, at least part time.
More tomorrow. Must sleep. Lambs will want fed again WAY too soon.