Today’s Guest blogger…Aidan

Our chickens are so hilarious! Recently when we put the chickens in the henhouse for the night, one of them was missing. Mom and Dad tried to look all over for it, but finally gave up, deciding that it must have been taken away by a fox or hawk. That night, everyone was talking about it and where it could be, and we were sad that we had one less chicken. The next morning we were getting ready to go to church and looked outside, hoping that, in the daylight, we might see the missing chicken more easily, but all we saw were sheep walking around like nothing was happening. All of a sudden, my dad called from upstairs, “Look who’s walking across the pasture!” We all jumped up, thinking it was the fox that had taken our chicken. You can imagine how surprised we were when we saw a little red speck walking across from the sheep barn towards the henhouse. It looked like she had just woken up and was wondering where all her friends were! It was so funny watching her run across the field! We were all so happy to have our chicken back! I guess she was hiding from us in the straw in the sheep barn! It was almost as funny watching Mom try to catch the chicken to put her back in the henhouse with the others!

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Help us name this little sweetie!

Matilda’s lamb is doing just great! Matilda is allowing her to nurse regularly – I just checked on her and she has a full tummy! She’s been crawling on top of Matilda, and I think Matilda is looking forward to taking her out for her debut in the field. We’ll probably wait until Friday, after the nasty storms predicted for tomorrow.

So…this little one needs a name. Initially the kids wanted to call her Daisy because she’s white and cute. But after spending so much time with her Saturday night and Easter Sunday, the name Lily came to me as seemingly appropriate. The girls suggested we do a poll, and they photoshopped this picture with the choices. Leave us a comment and cast your vote!

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Special News Bulletin!

We interrupt this blog for a very important message! This afternoon after lunch I moseyed on down to see Matilda, and quite happily discovered this lovely scene, which actually lasted long enough for me to take photos (thanks, Matilda!)

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YEAH!!!! OK – looks like she’s definitely accepting this lamb! We’ll keep her in here another day or so without distractions, then out to the “post-partum” ward, freshly cleaned today after Molly’s discharge. If all goes well, her lamb will be out there frolicking soon with the others! Guess it was all worth a few sleepless nights! Yeah Matilda!

Big day for the twins!

It was tag and release day for Molly and her as of yet unnamed twins! We will be tagging all of the lambs as a routine when they are just a couple of days old on the off chance that we can’t tell two apart. Later, in the same hole, we will place their official Scrapie ID tags when we tattoo their ears. Only the animals that will be sold or kept in our flock will be tagged and tattooed.

Here’s one of the lambs about to have her ear pierced! (thanks for blocking my face out with your thumb, Roy!)

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After their ear piercing and photo shoot (we document their coloration, as it is most distinct when they are young – we take photos of back/belly, face and both sides, Mom and babies were ready to leave their labor and delivery ward (they never made it to a post-partum area because we still had Matilda and her lamb there!) and head out to the pasture with the other expectant ewes.

First, Roy opened the gate:

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Molly made her way out first, of course:

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Oops! Forgetting someone?

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It’s ok, Roy can help with that:

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Out in the field, close at Mom’s side:

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Let me show you around the place, kids!

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And down this way you come to the most important place…

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the community hay pile!! YUMMY!

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And this is the barn that they said some day we’ll get to live in! And you keep away from those other sheep, kids. I don’t know why, but some of them have a dreadful habit of trying to steal other ewes’ lambs! Who me? I would NEVER think of doing anything like that!

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Anyway, all has gone well. Bindi once got a bit too close for Molly’s comfort, but a few head butts set the record straight. The lambs are enjoying today’s warmth and sunshine!

Update on Matilda

Well, just up from my third night of sleeping in the barn! Matilda is definitely making progress! The night before last, Matilda couldn’t stand it that she was in the stanchion and couldn’t see the lamb…GREAT SIGN! Her maternal behavior toward the lamb was budding! We couldn’t resist satisfying her urge, so we brought the lamb to her head end so that she could visit. That was it! When we put the lamb back in the pen where it could nurse when it wanted to, she called and called to it. We shut out the lights, hoping to get to sleep, but she only called all the louder! So I moved my bed to her head end and brought the lamb out for it to sleep there. Every time I heard them wake or the lamb cry, I’d bring it around to her udder to nurse. Sometimes I woke to see her actually putting her head gently right on the sleeping lamb.

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In the morning we decided to try them together in the stall, with Matilda freed from the stanchion.

 

 

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She was a bit nervous, and we were afraid that we jumped the gun, but throughout the day she seemed to get a bit more relaxed, and I thought perhaps I’d be sleeping in my own bed that night…wrong! NOW we had a new problem. She wouldn’t stand still for the lamb to nurse! Apparently this can be common in young ewes.

 

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Our great support group of ISBONA (Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America) came to the rescue with lots of suggestions. One of them was to check for sharp little incisors poking through the gums which might hurt Matilda when the lamb nursed vigorously (having nursed babies myself, that made COMPLETE sense!) Sure enough, when I went down to take a feel, there were two little sharp areas where those first two incisors were poking through! Now, this is where the solution to this nursing problem in sheep and humans differs! With lambs, you can take a nail file and smooth off those sharp edges! I did my best (the lamb was not happy submitting), then checked the udder for any signs of mastitis (another potential source of pain). We also tried haltering Matilda to try to keep her standing in one place (I really wanted to avoid putting her back in the stanchion!) She took very well to the halter, and so I’ve been haltering her ever since whenever the lamb seemed to want to nurse — that’s what I spent last night doing, too. As the lamb gets stronger and faster and remembers where the udder is (sometimes she looks in the wrong place!), and as Matilda’s hormones kick in, she should do better and better. Already after last night I saw her stand once for the lamb without the halter, and when I do halter her, I try to hold her less and less tightly. Hopefully by days end everyone will get the hang of it!

Holy Saturday

Saturday morning I rolled out of bed just before 6:30 am, got dressed and had my morning glance out the upstairs window, hoping to see some lambs. The day before, Roy and I were trying to decide what we would do on Saturday. It was supposed to be rainy all day – not good weather for much around the farm…especially for dealing with newborn lambs! SO as I looked down in the field, you can imagine my excitement when I saw a tiny white lamb walking around by the shed! I woke everyone up and we all ran down to see what we thought would be Molly’s new lambs, only to find this scene:

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and THIS scene:

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and sadly, this scene:

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We started to try to piece things together, SURE that Molly should have had her lambs, and wondering if Matilda also lambed as well. How amazing if they had lambed at the same time! Then we noticed afterbirth tissue coming from Matilda, and NOT from Molly. Not to mention the fact that Molly was still as wide as she is tall, clearly having not yet lambed. What we had was a case of the dreaded “stollen lamb syndrome” (not a real scientific term, just something I made up!) I had read about this a couple of weeks ago on the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America Yahoo group and thought – “Ha! Can you imagine that happening? We’ll have to be like King Solomon if that happens!”, assuming all the while that it could NEVER happen to us! Well, our time had come – FIRST lambing at Morningstar Meadows! My next concern was Matilda’s ram lamb. I was worried that Molly had not only stolen the white ewe lamb, but had potentially injured the ram lamb, who seemed paralyzed in the hind limbs with hind limb deformities and a wound over his lumbar spine. I grabbed him — he was cold and wet and pathetic looking. I eyed up Molly — she was majorly involved in maternal behavior with the ewe lamb, nickering and licking and bonding as I watched. This was tragic! When Roy got down we quickly tried to grab the ewe lamb and chase Matilda into the maternity wing in the shed. Molly put up a BIG fuss. Her baaing was clearly upsetting the lamb AND Matilda! It was war. Oh yeah – and Matilda wanted NOTHING to do with her ewe lamb – and was MAJORLY bonding with the deformed lamb, who I knew in my heart was not going to be with us for long. We had to get some priorities. FIRST – get Barbara Webb of Jager Farm on the phone. She is such a wealth of knowledge, and we are so grateful to her. We also spoke to our neighbors at Windborne Farm – the Fidrych’s – also Icelandic breeders. And we also thank David Patterson of Frelsi Farm in Maine for his advice! Yep – we newbies called on as many brains as we could!

In the end, we had to put poor Matilda in a stanchion so that the ewe lamb could eat. Since she was there, I took the opportunity to try milking my first sheep! I managed to milk about 200cc’s of colostrum from her that we froze in an ice cube tray, hopefully NEVER to need, but to have just in case.

Bottle lambs are DEFINITELY not the best way to go, even though our daughters were champing at the bit to try to feed her this way (yep, that’s
a beer bottle, but it contains colostrum, not beer!):

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We thought we were going to have so much trouble getting her to eat. She wouldn’t take the bottle, and seemed like she couldn’t find Matilda’s teat. I kept putting the teat in her mouth and she wouldn’t grab hold of it. Eventually we tube fed her some of Matilda’s colostrum. After talking to David at Fresli Farm, I learned that a lot of lambs don’t like to be forced by directing their head – they are better being directed by holding their tummy/hips. I went down and tried what he said, and either she was finally hungry enough or he was absolutely right, because she nursed like a champ!

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Next thing was to try to get Matilda to bond with the lamb. There were 2 schools of thought here. One thought we should keep the sick ram lamb until he died a natural death so that Matilda wouldn’t all of a sudden lose him. The second was that perhaps he was distracting her from the other lamb, and to euthanize him and get him out of the picture as soon as possible. Since things weren’t working with him there, we eventually chose to euthanize him. She was upset at first, but seemed to soon be distracted by the white lamb and forget the ram. Before Roy took the ram lamb, I tried to rub his scent onto the ewe. We also wrapped her up in his towels. Matilda seemed to accept her and would let her nurse, but each time I put the lamb down, she would try to butt it. This is why we baled her up in the stanchion, and she’s been there ever since. Barbara even advised us to keep the lamb out of her sight – she is learning about the lamb now through sound and smell, and hopefully she’ll forget about the butting after they’ve bonded, her hormones have stabled out a bit, and her milk is coming in.

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SO, now I’m babysitting continuously. Matilda doesn’t like to be alone. One of the kids has to sit at her head and talk to her and stroke her when the hay isn’t distracting her. I am planted in the stall, making sure baby nurses and Matilda doesn’t stand on her! Every once in a while, Molly (who, by the way, Barbara predicted would lamb within 12-24 hours since her hormones were surging now!) would wander over and call out to the ewe lamb and mess EVERYTHING up! At one point in the evening, after the kids had headed up to bed, she came o
ver calling out. I went to the door and said, “Molly, be quiet! Go have your own babies!” And much to my surprise, she turned to walk away, and I saw her bag of waters poking out! I was immediately on the walkie talkie calling up to the house, and before you knew it, all of the kids were down in the shed in their jammies, and our neighbors had popped over, hoping to see their first lambing!

Of course it was cold and foggy outside – and muddy and damp. Since it was dark, and it was hard to follow her around with a flashlight to make sure she didn’t need assistance with her delivery, we caught her and brought her into the outside pen to lamb close to the shed. I did a quick internal exam on her before letting her go, only to discover, to our pleasure, two hooves, and just behind and above them, a nose! Lamb 1 was in the perfect birthing position!

Of course she took her time in getting that baby out. Here is a glimpse of the feet coming out. Sorry about the fog diffracting the flash…

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We made small talk in the shed and kept checking her every 10 minutes or so. Some of the kids couldn’t last:

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And eventually we looked out when we heard licking noises and saw the first twin:

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Of course I was paranoid that things wouldn’t go well — our luck hadn’t been too good earlier that day. However, Molly did EVERYTHING right, and the lamb was up and trying to nurse within 15 minutes! Roy thought that he was so big (compared to the white ewe who was only 3.5lbs), that he wondered if it was a singleton, but soon we saw another bag of water and knew that the night wasn’t over yet! About an hour later, after the neighbors had left and the kids were in bed, Roy, Michael and I had the pleasure of seeing the second twin just after birth. It looked nearly identical to the first -and initially the only distinguishing feature I could see was a black spot in the corner of the mouth on the left side of the first lamb. Anyway, they were totally adorable, and Roy and I were exhausted.

Roy headed up to bed, and Michael and I tried to make ourselves comfortable for a night in the barn. Michael slept at Matilda’s head end, and I was (hardly sleeping!) in the stall with her rear end and the ewe lamb, occasionally getting up to check on Molly and her lambs, out in the cold fog. It was truly a long night, interrupted by helping the lamb to eat, calming the ewe, trying to make sure Michael was comfortable (he told me Matilda was breathing on him, and I reminded him that the animals’ breath in the cave kept the Infant Jesus warm), worrying about Molly and her lambs, thinking about how straw ISN’T as soft as it looks as a bed (ouch!), and thinking about poor homeless people as I shivered uncontrollably in the corner. It was cold and damp. It was not pleasant. But in hindsight, it was an amazing, unforgettable experience that I may have to repeat tonight (with more blankets this time!), as we’re still not sure we can leave her alone with the lamb.

Anyway, daylight couldn’t come soon enough! I got up to check on Molly and the lambs – they were frisky and happy, much to my surprise! How could they be so warm?!

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The rams were looking through the fence at the newcomers. The other ewes were happily lying across the field looking at the scene. We scooped up the two newest lambs, dried them off and dipped their umbilical cords and weighed them– 2 ewes, one with pink nose and black tail, one with black nose and white tail, 7.5 and 8.5lbs! Mom’s were fed some nice hay and Molly’s family was bedded with thick straw. All was right with the world! It’s Easter Sunday morning…what more could we ask for?! New life on the day of Our Lord’s resurrection! Alleluia!!

The family had to split up for Mass so that someone could stay back and keep an eye on everyone. The older kids were kind enough to help with egg dying yesterday and baking for today – they also made sure the Easter Bunny had come by the time the younger kids got back from the first Mass this morning. I’m totally exhausted, but so happy that we have have 3 new Icelandic sheep at Morningstar Meadows!

GOOD FRIDAY

A pause today as we meditate quietly on Our Lord’s Passion and death.  He is the Eternal High King, a humble Lamb bruised for our iniquities, led to slaughter without complaint, joyfully embracing His cross for love of us all.  As we await our first lamb here at Morningstar Meadows, we wish you all a holy Triduum awaiting the Feast of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday!  Perhaps God will bless us with new life on that day – a “paschal” lamb that would pale in comparison to the true Paschal Lamb Who is Our Lord Jesus Christ!

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BINDI’S BIRTHDAY

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Bindi is 2 years old today! No, she’s not named after Steve Irwin’s daughter. Bindi means “little girl” in Aboriginal. Bindi came to us a shy, young ewe with beautiful gray-black fleece, and so she earned the name. She has been outgrowing her shyness…anything for a handful of grain! Hopefully she’ll make a good mama soon!