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Lazy Farmer


Counting Sheep

new lamb

Spring is lambing season here on the farm.  If you’re thinking of exchanging your mower for sheep this year – read Raising Katahdin Hair Sheep - then you need to learn about lambing season.

Katahdins lamb easily and rarely need human interference.  Our babies typically come in the early morning hours and are nursing happily by the time we get out to the barn in the morning.  These sweet lambs were curled up with their mama and sleeping contently when we found them.  That’s how the vast majority of our lambs are born.  Quickly, with no fuss, and with the mamas knowing just what to do during and after the birth. 

However, it’s helpful to be prepared for emergencies.  Keep a kit handy with long latex gloves, Vaseline, old towels, a halter, Nutri-drench, and vanilla extract (more on that later).  We have had to help pull an overly large lamb out of a first-time ewe’s birth canal so its brother could be born.  One sheep had triplets which frightened her so badly that she tried to reject the runt.  A still born lamb had to be removed so that its sister could come out.  One of our mamas was so terrified by her lambs that she almost trampled them trying to escape.  It is important to be nearby during lambing season and to check on the ewes frequently.

The gloves and Vaseline are for when you need to “go in” and straighten out a lamb in the birth canal.  The towels are for when you have to pull on a large lamb’s legs with the mama’s contractions to help it eject.  The halter, Nutri-drench, and vanilla are for those times that the ewe rejects a lamb, or just can’t figure out how to nurse.  We give the lamb an oral shot of Nutri-drench for sustenance, hold the ewe in place with the halter, and teach the lamb how to latch on.   Vanilla is one of those odd yet fortuitous accidents that we discovered with the little triplet that was rejected.  Nothing in the sheep books seemed to work for getting Mama to accept her baby.  Since sheep can tell their lambs by smell, we decided to work by scent.  Rubbing vanilla on the ewe’s nose and on the lamb’s bottom convinced the mama that this was indeed her baby – he smelled just like her!  The same thing worked like a charm for the new mama who was scared of both her babies.  Our vet denies that this can work, but we’re leaving the vanilla in our birthing kit.

 twins

In the fall months you decide how many lambs you want and when you want the lambing season to begin.  Sheep gestate for 145 days (just shy of 5 months) so count backwards to determine when to put your ram in with the ewes.  Since Katahdin sheep are prone to multiple births (twins are usual, and triplets aren’t unknown), a small flock of ewes produces a large crop of lambs.  Check out Lambing 101: Animal Husbandry for Newborns for more details on sheep husbandry. 

Lambing season is our favorite time of year!  Watching the little ones gamboling across the meadow exploring their new environment is a time of intense joy.  Seeing the ewes respond so tenderly to their new lambs is so endearing.  It is amazing how perfectly God created these sweet animals to know what to do when they become mamas. 

Raising Katahdin Hair Sheep

Sheryl CampbellWhat’s a snowbound hobby farmer to do in the dead of winter?  Dream dreams!  Especially lazy dreams of someone or something else doing your work for you come spring.  That’s how we ended up raising Katahdin hair sheep, and giving our belly mower a vacation.

Are you tired of mowing in endless circles?  Then it’s time you dreamed a lazy little dream with us.

Sheep eat grasses and forbs!  Sheep like to mow!  It’s much more emotionally rewarding to do maintenance on animals then on a tractor.  (At least it is to some of us – those who prefer equipment maintenance should read a different article).  But there are all those horror stories of shepherds having to stay up with their sheep all night in lambing season, of sheep purposely seeking out ways to kill or injure themselves, and of animal escape-artists.  So, are there easy sheep created just for lazy farmers?  Of course!  Otherwise we wouldn’t be raising sheep.

Katahdin Hair Sheep originated in Maine in the 1970’s after Michael Piel began experimenting with hair sheep from the Caribbean.  Katahdin’s are hardy and low maintenance.  They are a sturdy breed that thrives even on poor to mid-quality pasture.  Quite docile and easy to handle, they adapt well to rotating pasture systems.  The ewes lamb easily and are good mothers.  Being hair sheep, no shearing is needed.

We became shepherds with nothing more than an electric net fence and charger, Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, and an abundance of over-confidence.  But we did become shepherds, and most of the sheep survived (except the ones pre-destined for our freezer), and we did eliminate much of the mowing.  Was it an absolute time-savings?  No.  But the trade in work time was about even, and it became much more fun. 

Since we move the portable fencing to create new pasture areas every 1-2 weeks, the sheep don’t try to escape.  They seem to know that greener pastures are soon to come.  Because we walk through and clean up the greater pasture area regularly there aren’t accumulations of detritus that the sheep could use to harm themselves as can happen in fixed pasture enclosures.  We sleep right through the nights during lambing season in our nice, warm beds.  Katahdin’s rarely need intervention during lambing.  Since our sheep usually lamb just before dawn, we help those who are taking longer once it is light out.    Positioning the lambing barn so we can see into it with binoculars from our bedroom window helped. We know when we need to go out and when we can stay inside and let nature take its course.

About that barn, you might want to build one.  Ours is an 8x12 foot three-sided shed that includes an enclosed area for hay storage.  We use red farm gates when we need separate out a portion for lambing.  The barn is surrounded by a 50x50 foot permanent wire fence creating a winter pen. 

Several other things are useful while the sheep are on pasture.  We purchased a small metal Quonset-style hut for pasture shelter.  Flipped on its back it slides easily into each new pasture rotation.  The other pasture item we built came after our vet sarcastically said, “You all make sheep farming seem hard!”  Seems he didn’t cotton to spending an hour chasing lambs and catching them with a flying tackle.  We made our catch pen out of two cattle panels bent in half and held together with zip ties and bungee cords. It moves easily wherever we need it.

Are you tired of all that mowing?  Are you ready to raise sheep instead?  Here is a web site with handy information about Katahdin sheep to get you started:  https://www.katahdins.org/

Dream a little dream with us this winter.

lambs in pasture

lambs in barn

hoop house







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