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:


and THIS scene:


and sadly, this scene:


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!):


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!


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.


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…


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


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


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?!


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!

One Reply to “Holy Saturday”

  1. Ha! The kids were literally fighting over who would get to "sleep out" last night! But last night I went it alone – more room for me (it’s pretty cramped down there!), and the kids are more rested today. But truly, the kids have been very helpful through all of this!Yes – twins are pretty common. Occasionally triplets, but twins are good enough for me! We have one yearling ewe who I would expect might have only one lamb this year, if any. It’s harder to catch a young ewe (she was only about 7 months old when bred) in heat, plus some people like to give those young ewes more time to mature themselves before breeding them. Since she had no where else to go during breeding season, we had to put her in with the ram and trust that whatever happened would be for the best!

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