I don’t bother picking up the sheep placentas in the pasture, because the sheep move on in their graze every couple of days, so the afterbirth doesn’t pose much of a biohazard to them. Bronte the LGD eats a lot of them, but eventually she gets full. She tends to opt-out of eating her proper dinner almost the entire two weeks of lambing, because she’s eaten so many placentas! Sometimes she finds them while they are still exiting the ewe, and she gives them a gentle tug to hurry them along. Smile with tongue outOne of the many humorous and gross things that happens on a farm that makes a farmer just shrug. Placentas are very nutritious, after all.

I had the sheep in a few areas in the orchard near the house, where I didn’t put a dog in with them, so those placentas got left behind too. I figure some scavenger bird will find them and benefit from them, or else, they’ll fertilize the soil.

Sure enough, here is a pair of turkey vultures doing cleanup duty. I rarely see them land anywhere other than trees. I was able to sneak up and get a reasonably close shot of them on the grass (unfortunately beyond several sets of fencing, so they are somewhat obscured) before they busted up when they saw me. I sat down and got a few more shots while they lingered. They circled and circled, apparently reluctant to leave behind those delicious placentas- I’m sure those were a good find!

I never realized what these guys were until our neighbor got a close-up shot of one sitting in a tree, where you could clearly see his red, featherless (and rather unappealing-looking!) head. When I saw them in flight, I always assumed they were some variety of eagle. They are bigger than a hawk, but not quite as big as the bald eagles we see so often here. The patterning on the bottoms of their wings is very distinctive, however, if they are flying low enough to see it. Thankfully, vultures are indeed more of a scavenger, and less of a concern for predation.

We have multiple bald eagles that return to this valley each spring to nest and stay for the summer. I get uneasy when I see them fly over the lamb crop, but so far (knock on wood) I haven’t lost any lambs to them. A friend of mine who lives upriver on the North Fork Stillaguamish has a lot of trouble with eagles getting her lambs. For us, Bronte is a pretty good deterrent. Kirk has seen her come leaping up out of a sound sleep to chase off a bird that was zoning-in on the sheep. The eagle had to put ‘er in reverse pretty fast in midair to avoid that six-foot-tall, grizzly-bear-dawg standing up on her hind legs!

This dude (or gal?) was sitting on a fence post in dense fog the other morning, hopefully also just focusing on placentas, not eyeballing my live lambs! Annoyed

I really can’t explain what’s going on here, but I’ll try. These lambs are in the barn with their mother. She is the ewe I’d mentioned earlier, with a mal-presented first lamb that I pulled, but it was dead. These two came after, and were fine. Their dam seemed a little under the weather. I suspected she was anemic, maybe lost some blood in the difficult birth. I brought her into the barn and gave her some meds and alfalfa to help improve her protein levels. Today she was feeling ok, scratching her butt on the fencing, talking to me, talking to her lambs. They are well, growing, milk in their bellies, and their mama loves them as much as any. Everything normal there.

The chicken is sick. I think she has some kind of intestinal inflammation or infection. I can’t feel an egg in there, but her belly is bloated and tender. She doesn’t want to walk, and is laying cockeyed and miserable. I put her in the barn for rest and quiet, and am trying to treat her. I hate to lose a good layer; and of course I always like a veterinary challenge.

All day, the lambs have been sleeping with her like this, all cuddly. If I chase them off to treat her, a few minutes later, they are back in this same configuration. It’s even confounding their mother, who came over to sniff this immobile chicken thing, seeming to assess why she can’t call her lambs away from it to sleep with their mama.

Maybe she’s just extra warm. Maybe they miss their triplet womb mate. Maybe they sense she needs comforting. Who knows?

Dan wrote in a comment:

I read your blog every day and wonder if you could do a loooong blog post on how you care for your sheep… for example how much hay you give them, do you flush and with oats, do you creep feed your lambs and for how long, do you get a 1lbs per day growth rate on your lambs… At what weight do you sell… Do you breed yearlings or wait for next year… do you always achive 1.8 … what is your loss rate of lambs…

Thanks Dan, for reading! Ok, here goes:

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My old lady, KRK #33, had a single lamb this year. You may recall, last summer, I had some minor cosmetic surgery done on her teats, to remove some warts and make them more nurse-able. This was a success, her lamb is nursing both sides equally and with ease; and her udder is in great shape. I’m forgiving of her having a single, because she is, well, eleven years old. She had a really nice ewelamb, one which I will likely keep, out of a new ram I bought. I’m happy to be able to retain the genetics for such longevity and vigor in a ewe; not to mention her prolificacy- this is her twenty-seventh lamb!

But poor 33 has had a bum rear leg since breeding time in November. I don’t think it’s a hoof problem, I think it’s a soft tissue injury, maybe a problem all the way up in her hip, or even a fracture. She spent the whole winter in the barn. I hoped if she didn’t walk much, it would heal. She is pretty lazy energy-efficient. So, I think she was just as happy to be indoors and doing nothing as being out with the herd getting exercise during winter.

The lameness did subside with rest. However, all during her pregnancy, I could tell she was still treating the leg gingerly. Now that she’s got the pregnancy weight behind her, and her lamb is doing well, I’ve turned her back outside.  I suspect her vote would be to limp in order to graze the fabulous green grass and snooze in the sunshine, rather than continue to eat hay in the dark barn. I’ll let her raise her lamb out through the summer, and see how that leg does. If she’s still lame, this will have to be the end of the line for her; as I wouldn’t feel right asking her to carry another pregnancy on it. But I’d like to hope I could get one more year, and one more lamb out of her. She’s one of my best ewes!

Lambing is going very smoothly, with just a few being born each day, in orderly fashion. I haven’t needed to intervene much, just tag and weigh. Of the 42 ewes I think were bred, nineteen have lambed, rendering 34 live lambs. A few singles from yearling ewes, which is fine; but a few from mature ewes, which is annoying. But several sets of triplets in there as well.

Of the 23 remaining ewes, eight are yearlings, so I expect some more singles there. So maybe there will be lambs into the low seventies, which is about what I expected. I have a lot of immature ewes, so cannot yet get up to the 200% crop I’m shooting for in the long run.

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Official lambing has commenced without fanfare. I am up to 21 lambs today, including the nine accidental breedings born prior. 14 ewelambs and 7 ram lambs so far; another run on ewelambs this year, it seems.

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pix 328Last winter, a butcher lamb buyer emailed me expressing concern over some negative Yelp reviews given for the local butcher. Curious, I gave them a read, as well as the reviews of all the other local butchers. And they made me chuckle! It seems, there are some things to learn about custom butchers that may be novel to the uninitiated. Fortunately, most of the reviews of our hard-working butcher shops are positive. But the angry customers have some quote-worthy complaints!

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