Notwithstanding the twelve unplanned lambs born in January and February, here are the official first lambs of the officially planned lambing season! A couple of white and brown ewelambs. Lambs should really start arriving in earnest today, and this ewe was due tomorrow. So, these twin girls got a jumpstart on a sunny Thursday. I didn’t see them born, just found them clean and fed on a midday check, my favorite kind.
I was able to move the sheep out of the mud pit sacrifice area March 22. It’s lovely to see them on green grass. I think we are all very relieved. Many of the ewes are very dark brown from laying in the mud, so I’m looking forward to them rinsing off in the rain and wet grass, as well as shedding, so they look cleaner. I set-stocked them for a week in our big pasture, before fencing them in to an “L” shape to force them to eat the reed canarygrass down there, which is not their favorite. Today I’ll move them closer to the house and rotate them across our hillside so it’s more convenient for me to check on them.
There were some logistics to manage in the weeks leading up to lambing. First was to clean out the barn. I realized from my notes that I hadn’t done it since November of 2015, so it was more than a year’s accumulation of bedding in there. (And, would you believe it, that’s all not really bedding in there, but rather hay-wasted hay they pull out of my poorly designed feed troughs!) I think it was about 18” deep. It took seven hours in the tractor seat to move all that material to the compost pile, plus some extra time moving the indoor sheep outside in a temporary pen, and re-bedding the barn when I finished. I worked on it over two days.
Next, I sorted all 35 ewelambs out of the pasture group and walked them up to the barn, along with a few skinny ewes I am concerned about. This allowed me to easily do blood samples on all the lambs to assess which ones were pregnant. I expected a lot of them to be open, our winter hay didn’t seem that great, it’s been stressful cold and wet, and the ewes are still small. Nine tested positive or in the gray-area “re-check” zone. (Those, I’ve learned, can be re-tested in a few weeks. If their protein levels rise, they are definitely pregnant; if they fall, it likely means they were pregnant, but are no longer…) I kept those maybe/yes ewelambs indoors, and sent the rest outside. All of the Jan and Feb early lambs and their mothers went outside too.
It was crowded in the barn with all those sheep, I had to feed them three times a day. I was crossing my fingers that one wouldn’t try to give birth in all that chaos; thankfully, none did. It was just for five days, as long as it took for me to sort, do blood draws, and wait for the results and sort again. Now, I have just a small “group of concern” in the freshly cleaned barn that I can monitor carefully during lambing, and feed them well. I also have the last four 2016 butcher lambs in there, waiting to leave for Easter! It’ll be great to have those gone.
Moving a large group of ewelambs from the pasture is a bit of a nail-biter. They are more easily agitated than adult ewes, less experienced with the dogs, and more reluctant to enter the barn if they’ve never been in there before. The drainages ditches are full, deep and cold, so I was anxious about sheep falling in, if they took a wrong turn. My border collies are getting old- twelve and thirteen- and they don’t run as fast as they used to! So, I’ve started to use some crutches when I need to do a job like this.
I intentionally chose some mature ewes to go with them, that calming influence always helps; and there were definitely a couple of older ewes that had me concerned enough to want to feed them in the barn. I’ve also started working the dogs on flex leads a lot more. This curtails them from doing unnecessary running around and tiring themselves out. I can keep them behind the sheep in a driving position, and prevent them from making a naughty swing to the heads, stopping and turning the sheep when I don’t want them to. No more chasing a breakaway sheep down and gripping it! And I can “steer” the dogs, which, for me, is often more intuitive and effective for both human and dog than verbal commands.
I’ve also started to set up Electronet to help steer the sheep through difficult areas. I don’t electrify it, but just its presence is enough to guide them. Using it to create a Y chute into the barn door really helps, then the dogs don’t have to try to cover both sides of the opening and have the sheep blow past multiple times and circle the barn. Instead, we can just push the sheep into the opening, then patiently pressure them for as long as it takes to make them go inside.
Bringing the group back down to the pasture was easier, as this is a direction which pleases them, to move towards green grass and other sheep in view. I have a farm intern this spring, and it was a help to have her here, as we could fan out more with the two dogs to keep the sheep on track.
Now, with all the sheep where they need to be, I am ready for lambing to get into high gear! I think we’ll have a slightly higher number of lambs than last year, maybe about 120 or so.