Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lambing 101

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.


  1. That looks like a lot of work.With over a hundred head of sheep how many can one person bottle feed?

  2. OMG, they are sooooo cute!

  3. That was fun to read, and the little lambs are sooo cute! Wow, you guys really know how to keep busy. :) I always enjoy your pictures and learning a little more about what you do!

  4. I bottle raised a lamb once -we called her little orphan Annie She was more demanding than any of my babies :)

    And I once rescued a sheep on her back. I was just a kid but my friend and I were biking by and we saw her struggling. We slid a piece of stiff cardboard under her and hoisted her over onto her feet.

    We had friends who had a flock of sheep - and so I know from experience that lambing season is an exciting time but incredibly busy!

  5. I love when you tell us about your ranch life. It's romantic...from my suburban armchair. *wink*

  6. I was wondering if you ever sell the fleece when they are sheared? I have a friend who does shearing here and he sometimes sells the fleece on ebay!
    Happy spring,

    ~Lisa L

  7. We loved reading this Jody!
    You described it all so well, including the last paragraph which made me think of my job as a mother in protecting my 'lambs'. I am so thankful that the Good Shepherd does a better job than even I can do! It is so reasuring to know that!
    Thank you for this wonderful class 101 in raising sheep/lambs!
    Joanne and family

  8. Embellisher,
    We don't bottle feed all of the lambs. That would be a tough job. No, we want the ewes to raise their own lambs. If something happens that they cannot, we bottle feed. So far, no bum lambs (orphans).

    Island Sparrow,
    I love to hear that others are experiencing what I do in another part of the world. Doesn't it feel good to "rescue" a sheep in distress. You saved her life.

    My stories might sound romantic, but it was far from romantic this morning as the boys and I shoved out sheep shtuff out of the jugs and came home smelling like sheep barn. Jeans went direct into the washer. Romance at its best!

    Lisa L,
    Yes, we do sell our fleeces. However, we sell all of the wool to a local wool house which was about 1900 lbs. This wool house will grade the wool and sell it to a buyer who will decide what to make of, blankets, rugs, etc.

    I agree, the Good Shepherd does a much better job than I do, but I have an appreciation for his job. It's funny that He calls us His sheep.


  9. We liked your post about the lambs. My son Forest has always wanted a pet lamb. It sounds like fun. Hope you have lots of fun taking care of your lambs.

    Forest Zoo and Elizabeth Joy

  10. Hello, I have come for a morning visit before my two "little lambs " wake up. This was very interesting to read. so many parallels here.
    I am so glad that you have prospered so well this year with the herd.

  11. wow! that's so amazing to me !
    In Awe!
    We sure enjoyed reading about the mama's and baby lambs. Amazin!

    Debbie & boyz

  12. Oh Jody, I haven't been to your blog for the longest time and am so glad I poppped in! I forgot what I was missing. The lambs spoke to me, of course. I just love sheep and it's always been my dream to have a few for meat, wool and companionship. My grandma raised Suffolks and I used to spend hours with them when I'd stay with her-of course the bottle lambs were my favorites. Thanks for sharing bits of your wonderful life. I'll be back soon!
    Love, Angie
    ps-what breed do you raise?

  13. Jody, we are way behind in reading, but we really enjoyed hearing about lambing. They're so cute, too! I really like the photo near the top of the page with the lambs peeking over the fence.

  14. Angie,
    We raise a Ramboulette/Targhee crossed sheep. These breeds are known for their superior fleeces. Back in the day when wool was used more, sheepgrowers were fussier about the fleeces than they are today. They wanted sheep that raised a good wool that would pay dividends when sheared so they got a meat crop and a wool crop from the single sheep. With the onset of synthetic fibers, wool is not as important a comodity as it once was and people don't worry about their wool crop as they once did.



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