Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Lambing

It is common knowledge that ewes tend to lamb when it rains. As spring is a rainy time of year in Oregon, this could just be coincidence. Not so coincidental, ewes will lamb in groups. Sort of like, that looks like a good idea, I think I'll go for it too.

It is probably closer to a cycle thing. However, I must say it occurred to me, as our guest, Taffy, stood by my side, seven months pregnant, fascinated to watch one of our ewes giving birth, that I ought to suggest she keep her own legs crossed.

Her husband looked a little alarmed when I mentioned the ewe group birthing thing. Taffy was lost in her own reverie of a 45 minute delivery. How nice would that be! No assistance, no bright lights, just the warm smell of fresh straw and maybe a few curious faces peaking over the stall wall.

I'm not sure we've ever had a heavily pregnant woman on the farm during lambing season. Probably because most stay close to home. Lambs were on the agenda for this family specifically, I think, because they were pregnant. It was a chance to see new life revealed. It was a chance to do something they had never done before with their young son. It was a chance to be away from the city and close to life. Our girls didn't disappoint, and Taffy, thankfully, didn't go into labor!

The thing about baby lambs is that they are cuter than human babies and they do child-like things almost right away. We would be hard-pressed to protect ourselves as 3-day-olds, but lambs practice jumping in the air even before they are released from the barn. If you have ever tried to catch a 3-day old lamb, you need to be fast and you need to be nimble. It's why they get all their shots and tags and bands before we ever let them out with the flock.

Lamb-life is simple. There's recess, nap time,lunch, recess, nap time, lunch, pretty much in that order all day long. The younger the lamb, the more playful. Any object makes a jungle gym or play toy, especially dozing moms and mounds of dirt. Give lambs a hill and they play Lamb of the Hill. They run as a mob, choosing to follow whichever lamb leads fastest. Some stop for a milk break. Some lie down in the sun. If it's nap time in the loafing shed, lambs can be found sleeping in the hay manger and large feed buckets!

This is a great time for lambs and guests alike. This is actually a great time of year for all of us on the farm. Small, warm, silky babies; moms lowing in the barn; grass coming on in the fields; children and parents wowed by the birth process and the chance to hold a baby lamb.

Taffy and her family left for the big city with some stories to tell. Come July, when it is her time to deliver, I hope the magic she saw in the barn will flow over her, protect her, and assist her with an easy delivery - although 45 minutes might be cutting it a bit close to get to a hospital in Los Angeles!

Photos: (top) lamb lying on its mom, (bottom) lamb resting in a bucket.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

No Lambs for Lucy

Lucy and her mother first came to our farm stay a year ago in March. They hoped to see lambs and take a break from the city. We already had two lambs from February, the result of a very naughty ram lamb five months prior. During their visit, we started lambing in earnest. We also had our first problems with rejected lambs and had to begin bottle feeding two youngsters from different mothers.

The great thing about having guests stay on your farm is that they provide an extra set of everything: hands, eyes, brains, muscles. Watching for rejected lambs can sometimes be difficult at first. Is the mother just out of sorts for the moment or does she really have no intention of feeding her baby? I am getting better at spotting the problem early. Left too long, extreme measures often come into play.

We all kept an eye on #26, later to be known as Dusty. She was a beautiful lamb with long legs, but she wasn't faring well with her mother. Lucy took on the job of holding her when there was no one else to cuddle and feeding her from a baby bottle I made up with formula six times a day. There is nothing sweeter than a baby lamb and Lucy's mom got the perfect photo of the two together during their visit.

This year when Lucy and Joanna showed up at the end of March, we had not yet begun lambing. The first thing out of Lucy's mouth when she saw us was, "How is #26?" I honestly had forgotten who #26 might be and was wondering how to explain the end game of most sheep farms. Farm girl, Annie, quick to avert a meltdown, looked through our records and saw that #26 had been renamed Dusty and was now going to be one of our breeding stock. Disaster averted. We all ran to the barn to see if Dusty remembered the girl who had held her in her arms only a year ago.

During their entire stay, Joanna and especially Lucy were good sports about the lack of lambs at Leaping Lamb Farm. We explained the delay. We had put a new ram lamb in with the girls at the beginning of November and we suspected it took him a little while to get the hang of the ram-thing. Farm girl, Annie, suggested he might have been a little shy. Despite rushing out to the barn every morning, before most grown-ups had even had their first cup of coffee, there were no lambs for Lucy. We kept hoping, up to the last minute of the visit that a lamb would drop miraculously onto the straw bedding, but one never did.

Instead, Lucy channeled her lamb artistry into a knitted lamb she presented to me. The year prior she had knitted me a ewe with a bell. This time she knitted its accompanying lamb. I keep them down in the front room as a reminder of the little girl who loves lambs and creates talismans to leave behind when no real lamb is present. Several days after Lucy's departure, we had our first lambs. We sent photos, knowing there is no real replacement to holding a lamb in your arms. But, of all the kids who grow up in cities, how lucky is Lucy to have at least had the experience once in her life. May the once become many!

Photos: top, Lucy and #26 (aka Dusty) in March 2009; middle, Lucy and Dusty 2010; bottom, Lucy's knitted ewe (2009) and lamb (2010)

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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