Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Barn Check, 2009-4-8, 8:30 a.m.

Yesterday I was getting in the car to go to work, and--lo! and behold!--Ewedora was calmly mothering her first ever lamb--the first of our lambing season. Not wanting to "call in" to work unless absolutely necessary, I did a quick check to see that nothing else seemed to be going on, observed the lamb was already up and suckling contentedly, judged the weather as mild and stable, called to warn my chore person, and zipped off to work, avoiding a "tardy" point with mere seconds to spare.

When I got home nine hours later, Annie, my other ewe lambing for the first time at age 2, had the classic "two toes and a nose" presenting--clearly black with a broad white blaze. A couple hours later, things had not progressed, the tongue was protruding from the lamb's mouth with a distressed appearance, and I decided to intervene. Annie isn't that big, and the lamb looked larger than average (at over 12 lbs, he turned out large enough for 2 viable lambs). So I applied some traction to the little hooves, and suddenly the big lamb was on the ground--black with white lines scribbled all over! I've never seen a lamb marked this way, but I sure like it. I don't think this boy has any Suffolk heritage, so he'll likely keep these markings. His wool is silky ringlets, one of my breeding objectives. So, he may live to sire future generations here or at another farm.

But Annie wasn't so sure about what had happened--clearly a result of long, ineffective labor and my intervention. She didn't even try to sniff at the lamb, just walked away.

Catching her was evidently out of the question, short of running the whole waddling flock up to the barn. That would just be more confusion and more stress on the bonding. So I decided to clean off his nose, step back, and watch and wait.

Other ewes, esp. the yearlings, came curiously up to sniff him. So did Freckleface. Annie had second thoughts, and joined them in checking him out. They backed off, and Annie stayed around, though still not mothering him. I decided to just go away for awhile and give her time to figure it out on her own.

When I came back, Perfle was clearly laboring, with meconium-stained mucous streaming down the back of her huge udder. Everyone else was bedding down on the north end of the pen, but Annie was near her lamb and so was Perfle. Whenever Perfle wasn't laying down straining, she was up trying to mother Annie's lamb. Annie seemed to be concerned about this, but not very assertive about the older, bigger ewe's intrusion.

My preference would have been to "jug" Annie wtih her lamb, to make sure they bonded properly and keep Perfle from interfering. But the best way to move a new mom is to move her lamb, and she will follow along--and Annie wasn't bonded enough to her lamb for this to work. She was also pretty wild, and would have been difficult to catch.

So I decided to move Perfle, instead. Did she want to leave Annie's lamb? Noooooo.... Did she want to follow meekly on a collar and lead rope? Noooooo.... Would she budge with the improved leverage of the lead rope arranged as a "butt rope" (clipped on the far side of the collar from me, leadng back along her side and around the back between rump and hocks, held in one hand to pull her forward while guiding with the other hand on her collar--this minimized the choking action that comes with just trying to drag her by the collar, and gets me behind her where she is likely to try to move away from me in the direction I want her to go)? Noooooo....

Bribery? Aha! The old reliable tool in every shepherd's toolbox--"greener pasture in a bowl". It doesn't matter what it is, just so it's better than what she's got. A dish of alfalfa pellets got her attention...sort of. I put it in the "lamb taxi" (a laundry basket with a baling twine tow rope, used to keep new lambs visible to mom while moving them from one place to another--twins and triplets can be a real handful, esp. if you have to stop and undo gates, and you have to move everyone at once to get mom to follow) and dragged it in front of Perfle, while using the lead rope and collar to keep her from changing her mind.

Eventually Perfle was installed in the barn, and I ignored her for awhile to erect the panels of the lambing jugs in the north end of the barn. Ewedora was easily installed in her jug; the three special-diet barn ewes (geriatric Eider and Cleo, and raised-from-the-near-dead Taylor) were shut in the sort pen--with everything already pretty much on hand and ready to go, it didn't take long to convert the shearing shed to a lambing barn.

Back to check on Annie, after a break and a snack. She seems to be really hanging close to the little guy now, and everyone else is bedded down at the opposite end of the pen.

Back to check on Perfle. She heaved out one nice big white ram lamb and then another in short order. She still seemed huge, but some of the older girls are pretty saggy. The membranes hanging from her vulva had the look I've learned means "nothing but placenta left." She nickered and licked, and when I came out later to put on navel clamps (instead of 7% iodine, since the War on Drugs has deprived shepherds of their most reliable defense against navel ill) and jot down birth weights, the boys were up and looking for the teat.

By then it was about 1:30 a.m., and I called it a day...or night...or job well done (not that I did the hard part). Four healthy, active, mothered lambs after barely over 13 hours of lambing season. ALL of them rams!

But--this morning when I went out to the barn, a little black ewe was curled up with Perfle and the white rams! She has a white cap on her head, and the curliest coal black fleece to date.

A good beginning to my favorite season of the year--lambing! I took the day off work today, to finish getting things in order for the rest of lambing season...orient a new housemate/farm assistant who will be the chief lamb watcher while I'm at work...prepare for the first day of Farmer's Market coming up this Saturday...

Finally it really feels like dependable spring, after a last (we hope!) solid freeze a few days ago.

Those who are close enough are welcome to make arrangements to come view lambs.

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