2009Lamb

I was pleased to get a post card from WSU’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (WADDL) a while back, advertising that they now offer a pregnancy test. I had been paying $6.50 at BioPryn, so I was liking the $4.50 price at WADDL.

I sent in a batch of blood samples that were collected 5/1. The report came back saying all the ewes were open. I noticed once was on the hairy edge: her S-N ratio was 0.297, and anything greater than 0.300 is considered pregnant. I had a hard time deciding whether I thought this ewe looked pregnant, or just fatty. Even her  udder was ambiguous, it looked slightly full, and, in the last few days, growing larger; but certainly a long ways from imminent-to-deliver. Well, we were all wrong, she had a lamb this morning (and now her udder looks quite full). WADDL claims a sensitivity of 99.3%, so once again, I seem to have fallen into their small slice of error range, which is… not helpful. I had almost stopped monitoring or looking at this ewe, and had started putting away all my lambing bag supplies, relying too much on the test results to tell me I was done with lambing for the year.

I have not had the BioPryn test be wrong for me in either direction, tho they claim a similar sensitivity. I may go back to them, despite the $2/sample extra charge. They are also much faster at processing and returning results, which is preferable for me, since I’m using the information to plan next steps. Anyway, I was glad for the test to be wrong, as it’s always distressing to have a mature ewe be dry, and I was contemplating what to do with her. Now I know, she lost her pregnancy less than a month in, and re-bred in late December. Which is actually kind of a testament to her prolificacy. It was a nice surprise.

I think I have four orphan-rear lambs this year. I say I think, because I never can be sure which lambs are nursing off the bucket.

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Old #33 is thirteen this year. I really intended to cull her after last season, but… I didn’t.  For various reasons of procrastination, guilt, a summer schedule turned on its head by drought and hay feeding, and because I wanted to retain enough mature ewes to have an increasing crop size. She had single lambs the last two years, which was ideal for her, not too big of a load. Wouldn’t you know it, she conceived twins this time, and it nearly killed her.

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A few weeks ago, the county was doing some road work near us. They must have had a lot of dump trucks to stage, as they were parked all over the place in the early morning when I drove to work. One of them decided to park in our pasture driveway. Not a big deal, but he backed way down off the road, and off of the gravel apron. Into the Mukilteo Muck. Kirk wondered aloud, “why did  he back so far in? He’s probably going to get stuck!” Maybe he was trying to make room for a second truck to park in front of him, I don’t know.

Well, sure enough, he did get stuck. Another truck had to pull him out. Leaving some really big ruts behind. I waited a week or so, curious to see if the driver would return to clean up the mess he made, or fess up to his supervisor and have someone sent out to do it. Nope. So, I sent a quick email to the county, asking them to send someone to come and tidy it up. Within minutes, I got a reply saying a ticket had been logged.

I envisioned that a laborer with a shovel would come out in a few days and do twenty minutes of hand work. Also nope. Within a few hours, this is what appeared:

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Lambing is cruising along, up to 44 lambs this morning. I am on vacation from work now, which gives me a huge time breather. It is amazing how much of the day is eaten up by the routine: check for newborns and weigh & tag them; check for troubled births, assist; feed the bottle lambs; feed the herd am hay; fill the water buckets in the barn; move the fencing; move the water hoses and troughs; top off mineral feeders (they really hit the kelp hard in these last weeks of pregnancy…); get old ewe in the barn standing up and walking; medicate the ones that need it; launder wet clothes and used towels; feed evening grain; check, check, check. It’s easy to forget to eat in there, and lost sleep is part of the bargain.

On Sunday we had friends over for BBQ. The sheep happened to be pastured immediately below where we eat dinner at our picnic table. So I was able to keep an eye on the sheep until it got dark around 8:30. No births seemed to be happening. Our friends left a couple hours later, so I went down to do a final check around 11pm. As I approached, I saw a ewe on her side with her legs kicking in the air- a sure sign of a struggle to push out a stuck lamb.

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We are off and running on spring things. It’s been a warm Feb-March, so I  was able to get the sheep on our new south property pasture for grazing at the beginning of this month. I was nervous about it, since we’re pushing into territory that’s been occupied by coyotes for a long time. But, so far so good. I  set up the trail cam on the far edges of the graze strips, to see if any coyotes were lingering there, eyeballing sheep. Not a single one spotted. There are plenty out there, heard singing in that far woods at night. So, the presence of the protection dogs must be doing the trick. It sure is nice to have all that extra grass, tho a lot of labor to string portable fencing there too. I was also hauling water, since that’s many hose-lengths away from the nearest faucet. Fortunately, the sheep don’t drink a whole lot when they are eating wet, green grass. I captured only a few in the picture, but I have 79 adults and yearlings in that grazing group.

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SummerI was contacted by a mother of a fifth grader whose class is doing a research project on the farming industry. They asked that I respond to the following questions, which were devised by the gradeschooler herself. I thought they were very good questions.

I’m also sometimes surprised and taken aback by the higher level of sophistication of gradeschool projects compared to when I was a kid. All I remember doing at that age was memorizing multiplication tables, gluing art projects together, and learning to play Hot Cross Buns on the recorder. Nowadays, they seem to be tackling major societal topics such as the ethical consideration and treatment of slaughter animals in the food chain. On the other hand, my grade school in downtown Snohomish was a few blocks away from a large slaughterhouse. So, through the bus windows every morning, I saw cattle frames hanging from the rails, and thought nothing of it. Now that slaughterhouse is an indoor soccer dome for yuppies. How times have changed.

Anyways, here are her thought-provoking questions, and my answers.

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