Friday, March 7, 2008

Three Ring Circus

So that was actually Tuesday that Eider lambed...the post was written very late at night. Wednesday I stayed home from work again to get the lambs stabilized and get some better feeding methods figured out. Today, Thursday, was my regular day off.

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 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".

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