beautiful mayhem

IMGP1027Lambing is in full swing these days. I’m kind of glad the gardens are so wet from all of the rain that we have had because if we were also faced with tons of spring garden work at the same time all of these lambs are dropping to the ground… well, I think we might consider ourselves overwhelmed. IMGP1003Something like 25 lambs were born within the last 24 hours. That’s basically one lamb per hour. I wonder how long the flurry will continue. When multiple ewes labor and give birth in the proximity of one other, it is very easy for there to be confusion about whose lamb is who’s. In these years of keeping sheep, I’ve noticed that sheep are not, by nature, mathematicians. Counting to two poses a serious challenge for some of the ewes. When they happen to throw triplets? Well, most ewes are truly flummoxed. Eric carries a little pocket notebook with him all of the time during lambing season, taking notes as he strolls the paddocks before each time we move the livestock. In his notes, he has one abbreviation that totally cracks me up: “HPC”… having problems counting. It is certainly worth noting!

This ewe happened to be at the gate into the next paddock as all of the straggler lambs came through... they all were certain she was their mama.

This ewe happened to be at the gate into the next paddock as all of the straggler lambs came through… they all were certain she was their mama.

Inevitably, there always seem to be a few lambs that are orphaned each year. Depending on the circumstances, we have different ways of dealing with this. There is always bottle-feeding but, geez, that’s a time drain and an expense. It’s great when an orphan is vigorous enough to be a milk thief! (making the rounds to the HPC ewes, and catching them with their guard down). Sometimes a ewe can be convinced to take on an orphan, especially if her own lamb died and you can mask the odor of the orphan lamb with the ewe’s placenta. You obviously have to be on the ball and pretty observant for the pieces of this puzzle to fit into place. This year I am planning to have a little milk replacer and a bottle on hand and when I find a lamb that isn’t being properly cared for give it a shot. I don’t want to bottle feed all of the time, but I feel like some little lambs just need enough energy to get going, and then maybe they can keep up with their rightful mama or find a ewe to steal from. We’ll see how it goes.

Olivia had a blast pretending to be this lambs mama. It was pretty funny watching the lamb actually get under her and punch, looking for Livi's udder!

Olivia had a blast pretending to be this lambs mama. It was pretty funny watching the lamb actually get under her and punch, looking for Livi’s udder!

All through lambing season, we continue with our daily paddock shifts. We are still on the three times a day move. There is quite a bit of mayhem each time we move the livestock, especially as the ewes try to find their babies that maybe got lost in the shuffle. A really good ewe has the ability to keep the lambs right by her side, even amidst all of the confusion. We certainly take notes of this quality, as these are the ewes that best fit with our program. These are the ewes and lambs whose genetics we want to propagate. There’s a management intensive grazing specialist, Ian Mitchell Innes, that says “An animal’s purpose is to perform in the environment into which it is born.” Therefore, if animal doesn’t perform well under the conditions of your farm, move it on down the pike. So that’s basically what we do. Obviously, we make exceptions for animals that we bring to the farm, the ones that were not born here. Most of the time, with some patience (and maybe a small dose of frustration) animals will adapt. After all, everyone wants to survive!IMGP1079A few days ago, during evening chores, I was collecting eggs. The livestock had just been shifted into their new paddock and were right beside the chickens. All of the ewes were balling for their lambs and the lambs were bleating for their mamas. The geese were standing at the end of the egg-mobile, honking their heads off directly into the metal-sided structure that reverberated intensely with their noise. The chickens were cackling and even though I don’t remember precisely, I’m sure a rooster (or two or three) crowed. The cattle couldn’t help but add to the symphony with some deep lowing, and the girls, on roller skates (absolutely essential attire for evening chores) were squealing with fear that the geese were going to come after them. I think I probably covered my ears for a time. The noise was dizzying. But I looked around and saw all that was going on. I saw the light catching the new green leaves on the trees. The steely gray sky with shafts of light filtering through as the sun sank towards the horizon. The droplets of water shimmering in the deep green grass. The children, the livestock, the chickens and geese… all so full of life. I had the realization that Eric and I created all of this madness. And that the mayhem was nothing short of beautiful.IMGP1104

lunar & eclipse

IMGP0784On Saturday morning we had plans to head to Nashville to share some of our egg abundance with our devoted customers there. Eric and I don’t like to be in a rush, so we got up a little early so we could still sit and have our morning coffee together before heading out for chores and then getting ourselves and the kiddos ready for a trip to the city. In those early morning hours, the full moon was on her decent toward the horizon, and in the quiet candlelit cabin we watched out the window as the earth’s shadow started creeping across the illuminated face of the moon. We watched until the moon dropped below the treeline, beyond our unobstructed view. Then we headed up the hill to get our chores done a little early and with the hopes of being able to watch the lunar eclipse just a little bit longer. I went about with my milking as Eric advanced the livestock into their next paddock. When I was about halfway finished, Eric was near enough to speak to me without hollering and asked “Did you see your new lambs?” 

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Enter Lunar and Eclipse. Two small but healthy ram lambs and the first of my Shetland lambs to be born this spring. They quietly slid into existence with the power of that full moon and lunar eclipse, at the dawn of a gorgeous spring day. I can’t think of a better start to the lambing season than that. Of the ten Shetland ewes that I acquired from Pairodox Farm (www.pairodox.wordpress.com, hyperlink still not working…) last fall, two of them were already bred. I’ve been watching those two ewes for a couple of weeks now, but with wool sheep in full fleece it is really hard to see anything other than wool! Good luck getting a view of a swollen udder or anything like that! IMGP0733And then this morning, once again while milking the cow, I noticed the second of the expectant Shetland ewes off by herself and showing signs of labor. I finished up my milking and got a little closer to the ewe, but not close enough to make her feel nervous, and watched. Eric finished up his chores and joined me to observe the ewe. We decided she was doing just fine and left to go eat some breakfast. After breakfast we went back up to the pasture and Chloe was still without lambs by her side and clearly laboring hard. We are “low intervention” when it comes to our livestock, but will certainly get involved in assisting a lambing or calving when necessary. We decided I should go and get some supplies just in case. By the time I got back on the scene, though, I could see Chloe with her head down and actively cleaning up a little black lamb. Whew. I was starting to get a stress headache at the thought of something going wrong with my favorite ewe (I know, I know. I shouldn’t have favorites) but she did her work just fine. We watched the second lamb be born and were witness to those magical first moments of life and the bonding of a special ewe to her offspring. Her lambs were quite big and I think she was just having to work especially hard to bring them into the world. Two strong and healthy ewe lambs. Hooray!IMGP0814Once it was obvious mama and lambies were doing just fine, Eric and Ira eventually drifted off to other chores and mushroom hunting. But I couldn’t pull myself away from the pasture… one of my favorite places to be anyway, but especially when there are lambs! I sat in the grass, taking in all of the sights and sounds of spring, and felt so peaceful and thankful.

Now, the rest of my Shetlands are not due to start their lambing until May but in just a matter of days, our big flock of Katahdins will begin lambing. Oh, boy, will that be fun! I’m not sure there is anything in the world as joyful to watch, or anything that says “spring” as much as a whole gaggle of bounding lambs in the bright green grass. IMGP0813

for the love of a lamb

sheep have grazed our pastures here since 2006. our relationship with farm animals has evolved, the learning curve has been steep, but when the sheep arrived as part of a work trade with a neighbor, we were excited and as ready as one can ever really be.

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actually, our flock chose us. and they chose wisely. we have jacob’s sheep, an old time breed whose wool is loved by hand spinners, whose meat is fine textured, and who embody the qualities of sturdy survivalism that have carried this breed through centuries and fit right into our shepherding approach.

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you see, we are pretty non intervention with our livestock here. we expect good mamas to have their babes without our help. we want animals thriving on grass as we do not feed any grain to our farm’s ruminants. we have certainly had our share of set backs with these policies, but for the most part, we have successful lambing (and calving) and have exceptional meat, milk and wool.

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needless to say, with our non intervention stance, we don’t have a flock of sheep that come running at us for attention, they follow paul, the shepherd, because he means fresh grass to them. (or hay in the winter) the rest of us can wish for a wooly cuddle, but it just won’t happen. until now. actually 3 days ago. you see,  the last ewe to lamb this season, a young ewe birthing for her first time, had twins and she wasn’t accepting one: a sweet female. this has happened many times over the years and honestly, we have let those lambs die.  we consider it a natural loss and accept it. (most often during her second lambing season such ewes successfully raise twins).

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i am not sure what happened this time around, but we saw the ignored lamb, we were on our way to town, somehow, some way, we came back with 8 pounds of the sweet powdery lamb milk replacer, sav-a-lam. (the whole way to town madeline whispered, “is dad getting soft?”)

to put this in another context, i have been a quiet but confident breast feeding advocate for nearly 15 years. i know the value of formula when a mama can’t nurse her own, but know also i am so thankful that i have been able to nurse all of mine long and well. no bottles, no formula, no mixing. honestly, i really couldn’t believe that this powder in a bag that smells like a cross of cake mix and pudding stirred with water could really nourish anything. i had to call around and ask, “does this really work?”

somehow, i was left with the final decision. i am not by the way a tremendous decision maker. the libra in me can always see both sides and i prefer to defer on things such as bottle feeding a lamb. weighing in all facts, and i won’t list them here, i ripped that bag open and went for it.

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we have yet to name her.  i warned the children “we really don’t know for sure that she is going to live”. admittedly,  we are already attached. we give lamby cuddles and love in addition to her milk replacer, those necessary gifts that usually come from mama aren’t one of the ingredients in the sav-a lam.  i have questioned the efficiency of this project. you see, for the past days i have been on a 6 bottle a day schedule (all according to the bag!). tomorrow i will shift to 4 larger feedings a day and likely settle into a routine that is slightly more reasonable. this is a love project though and i  have not once regretted my decision.

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