This time last year we had just purchased our first sheep. As many of you know from our previous blog updates, that first “starter flock” of mixed breed hair sheep turned into a disastrous experience. We did however learn a few good lessons from all that trouble. One area though that we did not gain any experience in was lambing. Our starter flock produced only a single birth for us last March, a ewe lamb we named Dolly. When our katahdin herd came here last summer the majority of our girls were young ewe lambs themselves. As you can imagine, we have been very excited and eager to see our first lamb season come from those girls.
Going in to this season we had seven registered katahdin ewes bred, six of them white and one of them solid red. Our ram, Red John, is white with a red spot on one hip. A few of our white girls have a bit of color on them as well. Red Spot, has red freckles on her face and legs. Black Spot has black freckles on her face. Lil’ Red, our solid red girl is quite unusual. She is solid red in the summer, but as her winter coat comes in she "frosts" on the top coat, solid white on top and red on bottom. So with this bit of color, we were hoping for some marked up lambs.
The day after we returned from our exciting weekend of alpaca shows and tornadoes in Shelbyville, TN, we had our first delivery. Whitey, one of our youngest solid white girls, gave birth to a huge white ewe lamb. We named her Alpha, as she is our first. Alpha was born with a red spot over her shoulder blades.
Alpha is now two weeks old and doing wonderfully. She is a rowdy little bugger, who enjoys chasing the pups and making her mother come to her.
Two days after Alpha was born, Red Spot surprised us by delivering twin girls. This was her first birthing as well, and she was not very large so we assumed she had a single. Her twins are adorable! Both ewes, mostly white but with red spots all over them. One of these girls began following Andrew around the evening she was born. Now every time he goes in the pasture she is his little shadow. This behavior has earned her the nickname Tag Along, and her sister we call Little Sis. Here is Tag Along in the front, with Little Sis behind her.
The same day the twins were born, our 2 yr. old girl gave birth to a stillborn boy. I felt just awful for her, wandering around the pasture and crying out with no reply. She tried moving in on Red Spot's girls, only to be chased away and yelled at by their Momma. She continued this behavior for a few days, but now seems resigned to the fact that none of the babies running around are hers this time.
On a cold, wet, and windy Friday night Andrew went out for one last barn check. In the far corner of the field laying in the wettest spot in the pasture was three little ewe lambs! Old Lady, our five year old girl and most experienced mother here had delivered triplets. At first we were thrilled, especially when we discovered they were all girls! Our excitement quickly turned to concern. It was midnight, they were wet, cold, and very small. We spent a while drying everyone off and making sure they took to Momma. We made the decision to keep all three with the Mom instead of removing one that night.
The next morning we went out to check everyone and all three girls were doing just fine. The smallest seemed to lag behind a little, but when we tried catching her to bottle feed her she was fast enough to keep getting away! She ran right over to Momma and began nursing, so once again we decided to try to keep them all with Momma. Here are the two smallest triplet girls at 2 days old.
Unfortunately, 3 days after they were born I went to do a barn check and found the smallest little girl (the one smiling above) nearly lifeless. I ran her back up to the house so I could go check on everyone else, and Andrew stayed with her trying to get some response. After three hours of trying to stimulate her enough to take a bottle she died wrapped up in his arms. Looking back, I do question my own judgment in keeping the three with their Mom. If we do ever have triplets again, we will most likely try to get all to nurse off Mom at least once and then take the smallest to bottle feed. Unfortunately my bad decision may have been responsible for her loss.
Farming has its ups and downs. So far, I must say my lowest point was losing that little lamb. We’ve had deaths before, but none that I have felt so personally responsible for. After checking and seeing that both surviving triplets were with Mom, had healthy pink gums and eye lids, and were nursing well,we left her to them and went about our daily chores. On the top of the list for the day was putting up a temporary electric fence connecting the sheep pasture with the small stand of winter wheat grass we planted in the 3rd garden the pigs plowed up for us last fall. We planned our growing time to allow for us to turn our new Moms onto this grass for the nutrient boost during what we thought would be the end of the roughest part of winter. Turns out we had a very mild winter here and our pasture grass was not completely dormant so we actually have extra hay instead of being short as I had feared. Nevertheless, the wheat grass is still providing a nice banquet for our nursing Moms.
The fence was really easy to expand. We just put in 14 step-in posts, four t-posts for the corners and opened the gate to secure on a t-post. Four lines of electric attached to the pigs electric fence and there you go! Andrew tied some pink tape to the wires so the sheep would have a better visual boundary.
The flock was hesitant at first to enter the new area. None of them have been outside the gate since they arrived last summer. It wasn’t long though before we had our first brave soul venture into the tall wheat, and the rest quickly followed.
A few days went by with no excitement around here. Wednesday of last week however we welcomed the morning with another set of twin ewe lambs from our painted desert sheep. She already had her babies up and dry when we found them. These beautiful girls are also white with red spots. One looks like she stepped in a paint can with her front right foot. Another set of ewe lamb twins quickly followed from another of our young girls we call Wooly.
The Paints marked up twins.
We were very concerned with Wooly’s twins. The largest was a little ram lamb. This was our first live birth ram for the season! The twin, a very small 3½ pound girl was a little slow to get going. By the time this picture was taken though they were both strong enough to run along side Momma. Wooly proved to be a pretty ferocious new Mom. We were surprised at how protective she was. After one confrontation with the pups, we were afraid little Johnny had broke his leg. That silly pup took a pretty good beating from her before we got him out of there, but he was just fine and other than a bruised ego there were no injuries. We haven’t seen either of the pups venture so close to the new lambs since though!
Just when we thought our luck was going well we were dealt another blow. The largest of Old Lady’s triples was found dead in the barn stall early one morning. Really not sure what happened with that one, she was just fine the night before and was the largest and most aggressive of her babies. We lost her 7 days ago, but since her death the remaining lamb from that birth has grown tremendously. Without competition for milk, she has really thrived despite her small size at birth.
Yesterday morning we headed out bright and early for our morning barn check. The day we had been waiting for was here! Lil’ Red, our only red katahdin and our favorite sheep, had given birth! Much to our surprise there was a very white little lamb at her side! Who would have guessed that all those white sheep had babies with red spots, and Lil’ Red would have a white one? This little ewe lamb does have the same matching red patch between her shoulder blades that all the other lambs do. Apparently this is going to be a genetic trait from Red John. We haven’t come up with the perfect name for this girl just yet, but she is beautiful!
As thrilled as we were that Lil’ Red finally delivered, yesterday morning was also devastating. After checking out the new addition we began doing our head count. We came up two lambs short. Wooly was laying down on the other side of the pasture, but where were her twins? It was very unlike her to stray even a few feet from them, as we had watched her spend the last week walking literally on top of them. The little bitty ewe lamb was so tiny she would walk under her Momma’s belly, while her brother would huddle next to her shoulder and scoot under her when she stood still. As Andrew walked closer to her, I was horrified to see her stand up. Laying still underneath her were both of her lambs. The boy’s neck was broken, and his little body bent beneath her weight. Andrew rushed over and checked them both and discovered the girl was still breathing. As gently as possible we brought her into the house and tried our best to check for injuries. She was cold, despite the warm day. She managed a few weak cries before falling silent. Within a few hours her little heart stopped beating, and we soon had to leave to attend a family birthday party with very little cheer in our own hearts.
So yesterday brought a mixed bag of emotions here on the farm. Today our spring lamb total stands at 12 births. Ten females, two males. Our surviving lamb count is only 7. We have had one stillborn, two of three triplets die, and twins crushed by Mom. We have one more female due to deliver in this group. Then another two for late spring/early summer. I sure do hope those bring more joy, and less sorrow! To date we are at an 83% female birth rate, and a reproduction rate of 171%. Not bad considering 6 of our girls were in their first birthing season.
In addition to our lambs being born, we have also added a new pair of farm assistants this week. We have had a horrible time with field mice and rats since moving here. For this to be a farm community we have been very surprised to find few cats in the area. However we have a very large population of rodents and snakes. YUCK! I do not do well with anything that slithers or squeaks. Macey and William have asked for cats ever since we moved here. We have not had a cat in three years, and have had very few in our married life. I have always liked cats and had several I played with as a child growing up. Andrew however has not been a big fan of cats ever since an unfortunate run in with my cat Tigger a few years ago. So we finally talked him into a few barn cats.
We found a farm that is relocating out of state that needed to find a new home for their cats. Gypsy was Macey’s choice. She is a three year old torti who may be a barn cat, but she wants to be a house cat! Blondie is a two year old orange tabby male who would really rather tom-cat around and come home on his own terms.
The last few weeks have felt like a roller coaster ride. Full of ups and downs, wins and losses. But then again, that’s life. We have learned that a farm life with livestock requires you to develop a thick skin, maintain a soft heart, and be willing to work most nights and weekends. The hours are long, the job is dirty, and you will occasionally receive an emotional beating. But the benefits are nice, the pay is rewarding, and every day is casual Friday!
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