It's lambing time! Not only is there a whole mess of adorable baby calves, but now we're getting a bunch of sweet lambkins too. I'll tell you all about it.
The ewes were sheared a couple of weeks ago by a local shearer, Chuck, and his crew. It's important to us to shear the ewes before lambing for a couple of reasons. First, when ewes are at the peak of their wool growth, they can easily get stuck on their backs. From time to time we find a ewe who has lain down and can't get back up because she rolls over to her backside. The wool makes her very heavy and add to that a bellyful of lambs and you've got one stuck sheep! If you don't find her in time, she can die. The other reason we shear ewes before lambing is so that the newborn lambs can find the teats and nurse. When ewes are all woolly, sometimes it's hard for the little lamb to find its nourishment.
Sheep often have twins. In fact, this year so far, out of 40+ ewes we have had 35 sets of twins. We still have another 100 head or so to go, but it's looking like we're going to have a wonderful lamb crop. We've had one set of quadruplets (all died due to premature birth) and 3 sets of triplets. When triplets happen, most of the time the ewe can't raise 3 lambs very well. Generally, one of the lambs get's pushed out and doesn't get enough to eat so we try to graft one of the trips onto another ewe if possible. The best way to do this is to have another ewe lambing at about the same time. If she only has a single lamb, we'll rub the afterbirth and liquids from the single all over the triplet so that it smells like the single's brother. The mother ewe will lick the lambs clean after they are born and she wants to smell that same smell on both lambs so if we douse the triplet with her after-gunk, she likes him and thinks he's her own. If not, she can smell that he is someone else's lamb and she won't accept him. In this case, we have a bum lamb and we'll have to bottle feed it until another ewe decides to give birth and hopefully has a single lamb. The process begins again.
Lambs are amazing creatures. They are born skinny, scrawny, wet little animals -- all legs and ears. They aren't fluffly and white like the storybook lambs. You'd think they could never survive when you first see them born, but in just minutes, they are blatting and struggling to get on their feet and find their nourishment. The mother ewe constantly "talks" to her babies with little grunts and bleats, licking them madly, which stimulates her lambs to get up and going.
This time of year we must bring all the ewes and lambs through the shed. Every ewe that lambs gets put in a small wooden pen (we call it a jug) so we know that she has made a good bond with her lambs. We need to see that the lambs have sucked and are healthy before we turn them out to pasture. We mark a number on the twins and their mother with a spray paint made especially for wool . This way we know they are a set. If the twins happened to get separated from their mother in the pasture, we can easily see who it belongs to by the number and put them back together.
With unpredictable northern spring weather, we must keep lamb bunches closeby so we can put them back into sheds in a hurry in case of snow or extreme cold. Young lambs will not withstand a winter snow storm or driving rain or deep, cold temperatures. Their mothers are very good at protecting them from harm, but it's ultimately the shepherd's job to watch over the flock.