Saturday 16 June 2018

Spring 2018

It is mid-June, still spring.  I am sitting on the wrap around porch, head in the shade, feet in the sun, admiring the front lawn.  It is adorned with sheep!  The tractor is broken and we have not been able to mow the lawn.  The sheep are doing that for us!

As usual I put the flock around the house early on in May when the lambs were small.  There are about 80 of them right now, ewes and lambs.  In May there were more on hand  and it took only about 3 days for them to scalp the lawn.  We'll see how long it takes this time.  The grasses are longer now than in May.

Looking through the bottom of my almost empty glass, I can see sheep and Henrietta lama.  It's a good thing she - Henrietta - is picturesque as her moodiness can be challenging.  Hubby has assured me, several times, that she is the last lama we will ever own.  I do, gently, remind him that the lifespan of a lama is rather long, as in several decades or so.  He says that's okay but that there should not be another.  Oh, she is eating a dreadful weed as I watch her and that is excellent!

We have Henrietta clipped every second year, and this is the year, however she has not yet been done.  On shearing day, Charlie started at about 8:30 a.m. and finished at about 1:30 a.m. the next morning.  There are only 6 more sheep than last year and last year he left at 8:30 pm.  Sigh.  He is good with the sheep and does a decent job of it, but speed is not his strength.

So, Charlie plans to come back to do Henrietta.  And I hope it is soon.  Fortunately Henrietta has some fibre fans, handspinning folk who drool over her fibre. I send it off to a mini mill where they wash it, card it, and remove the guard hairs.  The final product is a delightful, steel gray, that is, oh so soft!  The sale of this product pays for Henrietta's food, so she does pay her way. As well, Henrietta does go out into the field with her sheep.  We do believe she provides some level of protection to the flock - on her terms.

Today was a busy farm day.  I had to set up the new pasture area and then organize things for worming.  Actually, it is de-worming.  And - this is exciting from my perspective - I got a new drenching gun!  I've had trouble finding one but was able to get this one from the vet where I purchase the de-worming medication.

So, I waited for the sheep to come into the barn to rest in the early afternoon.  Most of the flock was right in the barn when I started to herd them into a corner.  I purchased sheep and cattle fence panels this year and these are wonderful when sorting animals as they are bendy and I just pull it along behind me as I push the sheep into a corner. The one end had already been secured and then I secure the end I have with me and the sheep are contained in a small space.  In that small space it is easy to catch each sheep, administer the medication, mark the top of their head and neck with a crayon and move on.  In quick order I got through the one group and then gathered up some more.

So, spring. It has been a challenging year.  My final deduction is that the challenges are due to the poor nutrition of the hay.  Last year was very challenging for haying.  There was so much rain that when hay was finally cut it was overly mature and not very nutritious.  And, although I fed grain, I realized a little late that I was not feeding enough grain.  In the end, there just was not enough nutrition.

Hungry lambs were common among some very good mothers.  I saw ewes pushing lambs away and in the past they have been such great producers I was so surprised.  I realized that they are not poor mothers but they did not have the nutrition to produce the quantity of milk needed for their lambs.

In addition, we had two groups of early lambs and then a cold spring.  That meant that all through lambing we dealt with cold temperatures.  We had baby lambs in the house on numerous nights trying to get them warmed up.  We had a collection of baby jackets in use on a fairly regular basis.  

At one point I was supplementing 12 lambs.  Three times a day I would bottle feed 12 lambs.  For several months there were large pitchers of milk replacer in our fridge.  I wore out a blender.  After the last ewe lambed on May 1st and I no longer had to go out to the barn late at night, or during the night, I cut back the bottles to two feedings a day.  When the sheep were finally at pasture, without any hay, I dropped the bottles.  By day two on pasture my barn became noticeably quiet.  Everyone - moms and babies - was getting enough to eat.

Two of Chloe's three.  I started off feeding both of these lambs and then just the one with the dark nose.  He was the chilled lamb in an earlier blog.  All three are doing very well. 

We had eight sets of triplets this year.  One from each of 4 sets was dead when found.  Two were rejected from their set - well, sort of.  One, yes, he was rejected as I observed mother bashing him.  She was not treating the other two very well either, but this one was going to get hurt so I removed him.  In the other set of triplets, this lamb could not stand.  His mother was a quadruplet from a previous year and she had floppy legs and now passed that on to her lamb.  He could not stand.  Therefore he could not nurse.

These two rejected boys were given to a neighbour to raise.  They were spoiled and received excellent care.  The lamb that could not stand did so at about one week of age.  His new family actually put a diaper on him as he was always in the wet.  Once he was able to stand on his own the diaper was no longer needed.  These two boys were returned to us when they were older and have done quite well.

Later there were two other orphans which went to the same neighbours.  These were both females.  One was rejected by a yearling after a difficult birth.  The other was born of an ill ewe who never recovered.  The neighbours are keeping the ewe lambs to raise for their own small flock.

Two other sets of triplet births required lifesaving intervention.  Duchess presented the first lamb tail first.  I had to push the lamb back and find the the feet to present first.  The lamb tried to breath but could not; it was dead.  The next two lambs she delivered fine.  All three lambs were quite large.  Duchess has managed well with her two.

I happened to be there when Bertha lambed.  The first lamb was a very good size.  The next one was a bit smaller.  I was shocked when I realized a third had arrived.  It was breach and she stopped pushing as the head emerged and I noticed.  I quickly grabbed the lamb and got its face cleaned up so it could breathe.  I do believe if I'd not been there the lamb would have died.  A breech birth can be tricky as there is a period of time when no oxygen gets to the lamb.  This third lamb was small.  The trio made me think of the three bears as all were significantly different in size.  All are doing very well at this point.

Bertha's smallest triplet taking the largest leap!

 In all we had 65 lambs hit the ground.  Five were dead at birth.  Two died after day one, one from the cold and the other for unknown reasons.  And two more were given away to the neighbours.  So, we had 56 and then 4 went to auction early, so we have 52 in the flock.  Our lambs per ewe ratio is quite high at 1.8 for live lambs.  You want 1.5 or higher, so we have done very well.

I am disappointed with the 4 yearlings we kept from last year.  All 4 had problems and 3 have already left the farm as not worth keeping any longer.  I don't think I'll keep the last one.

I had the vet twice in the middle of the night.  In one case it was a mal-presentation that I could not deal with.  The result was one of the finest sets of twins born this year.  In the other case a yearling was aborting a dead lamb and required greater intervention than I could manage.  The Vet's advice was to cull the ewe.

It's been challenging managing things while working but we have managed - barely on some days.  The plan is to reduce the flock significantly this year.  We can increase it again later.  So, for now, I am culling hard to remove any ewes that are poor producers or problem producers.  For now, they have lambs to raise and will spend the summer on pasture.

In addition, we will plan lambing to occur in early May when it is supposed to be warmer.  We will pray for good weather. We are monitoring the rams very closely to ensure there are NO early lambs again.   Already the local farmers have taken off a good first cut of hay.  I will be able to schedule time off work for a concentrated period of time so that I can be very present during lambing.

More photos are below, just because they are lovely (thanks to Hubby!).  Enjoy!

Star, born at the end of January is getting quite big

Ruby, pressed into her garden spot.  Her eyes followed the photographer as he took shots from different angles.  She did not lift her head.

Newly shorn sheep on the side lawn in early May.

Spring apple blossoms near the cabin

Happy looking sheep