Maternity wing

For the next few weeks we will be spending a lot of time with this mob! We are pretty certain that at least 11 of the 12 are pregnant! Now we wait for the “when” and “how many!”

Today, after a crazy spring blustery snow squall, we finished preparations for our maternity wing and labor and delivery ward.

This is a relatively small area where we can keep close tabs on the girls as they approach their due dates. Tomorrow marks the first potential due date, counting from the time the rams were introduced to the ewes back in November. The girls are close to the barn where we have set up lambing jugs, as we mentioned in our last post. When we see signs of impending labor, we will bring that ewe in to the barn and isolate her in a quiet stall so that we can keep an even closer eye one her, and where she will be on camera for us to watch from the house on our wireless barn camera set up.

As for now, all had health checks today. Some udders are much larger than others, and some ewes are waddling a bit slower than others, but none are showing any signs of labor. They are happily chowing down on hay and minerals, and getting used to their new location.

This week we also started to learn the process of examining their manure for evidence of harmful parasites. Generally we check each animal’s mucous membranes for evidence of anemia using a color chart. This is a quick and easy way to assess parasitic disease when we bring them through the chute . But some sheep actually have more parasites than their membranes reveal. When we do a fecal exam for parasite eggs, it takes a lot longer and requires a microscope and a special slide that allows you to count the number of eggs per gram of feces, but this added procedure gives us a much better picture of how big a worm burden the animal has. More eggs shed by the animal does not necessarily mean an animal that is sicker. It can mean an animal that has a high resistance to the worms which can be an asset passed on to their offspring. Of course some will show extremely high numbers of eggs, and sometimes a shepherd will cull (remove) that animal from the flock because they are source of parasite exposure to the rest of the flock. Our counts today were low, which we expected for this time of year. The parasite we worry about most, the barberpole worm (named for it’s barberpole appearance due to the sheep’s blood in its alimentary canal), goes into a sort of winter dormancy, but will soon be making it’s presence known as the days get longer, warmer and more humid, and especially in the ewes after lambing when their systems are more stressed.

Well I won’t bore you any further with manure and worms! Time to get some rest before our days and nights start to blur into one when those lambs begin arriving! I’m hoping to get some great photos and videos to share with you all! If we had better internet (which I was able to actually get set up in the barn today using our wireless camera system!), I would definitely do a Facebook live for you! Sadly, the quarantine will keep us from having guests here for lambing this year. I love sharing the moment of birth of an animal – it never fails to amaze me!

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Meet the newest members of our flock! Cyrano and Romeo will be dads to our crop of lambs in the spring! They are registered purebred Katahdins bred and raised in New York at Gibraltar Farm by Etienne and Isabel Richards. They are 100% grass fed, and we will be relying on their fine genetics to complement that of our 12 ewes.

They arrived in September and have not yet been introduced to the ewes. We have kept them near the barn, far away from the ewes. Our intent is to introduce them later this month. Each ram will have a harem of 6 ewes until early next year. Lambs should start arriving mid April.

Roy has been working on extending their paddock area, as they have been munching through the pasture since they arrived in September. In the picture below you can see them watching Roy as he is just about to finish the last stretch of fencing. The weather was gorgeous yesterday, in the low 60’s, but we knew that snow and an Arctic temperature plunge would come today. Roy had built them a little shelter that he had in this new paddock, and he wanted to get them moved to it yesterday so they would have access to the shelter in this snowstorm.

Well, the best laid plans of sheep and men…below you can see their pile of hay, covered with snow. They’d rather eat that nice green grass under the snow! And as for the shelter? We found them BEHIND it, huddled together as the snow and wind were coming at them earlier today!

Believing that sheep, like any animal, are hard wired to survive, by sheltering from the elements, we were amazed to see them NOT entering their shed to get away from the wind and driving snow. So how do you entice a ram to enter a shed and be more comfortable? We can’t use food, since they seem to ignore the hay, and have no idea what to do with any other foods. For example, the ewes don’t even acknowledge the presence of delectable things like apple peels or leftover squash from the garden. And if we caught them and put them in there, they would likely see it as a bad thing and never go near the shed again!

I guess we just have to leave them to discover it themselves. We do know that they have superior genetics. Hopefully some of those are devoted to creating sufficient brain cells to discover the entrance to the shelter before the weather gets seriously bad in February. In a few weeks thay join their respective harems. Perhaps their wives will be able to show them how to use that threatening opening in the shed. At least the girls seem to be able to understand how to keep warm. Or maybe these boys are just like any adolescent males, even human ones, who, it sometimes appears, seem unable to accept advice to make their lives easier, and have to work it out for themselves!

Build it and they will come!

The title, as some of you might recognize, is a misquote from the famous 1989 Movie Field of Dreams where the lead charater, played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice say, as he stares off into his cornfield, “If you build it, he will come.”  In our case, we are gazing into our meadows and referring to our future flock of sheep, not any ghosts from the past!

Barn building, as you see, is proceeding rapidly, despite sub-zero temperatures, snow, and now, as the ground warms up, a bountious and incredibly tacky layer of mud and boot-clinging clay.  Much kudos is due to our tireless builders who persevere despite all of the above that Old Man Winter has been hurling at them.  I am NOT a cold weather person, having been brought up in the tropics of Australia, and am in awe of those who shrug off frozen extremities and potential frostbite without complaining!

Below you can see our intrepid building team installing the metal roof.  We hope to harvest rainwater from this in the future to supply the barn with water. According to data from the internet, we can collect many tens of thousands of gallons from a roof of this size should we have sufficient storage capacity.

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As well as three large doors for vehicle and stock use, we also have a smaller “people door” installed so that we can access or egress easily.  Behind this door we will build a heatable office/sleeping quarters/storage room/sheep NICU!

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Well, roof installed, large doors in and now they are making a platform for the cupola that the builder has fabricated, that will transform this large shed into a bona fide barn!  Apart from aesthetics, a cupola actually has a function, working as a large roof vent, keeping the barn well ventilated.  This will be important when we have a lot of animals inside, such as during lambing season, though this may require supplemental fans at some point.  Note also the tranlucent sheets spaced evenly across the roof to allow natural light into the barn and decrease the need for electric illumination.

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Something that we did not have in our previous barn was electric power.  We dealt with this in a variety of ways, using gas generators and bringing power by heavy extension cords from almost 200 yards away.  But this time we promised ourselves that we would have power installed, as you see below.

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Running conduit to the junction box

And although we will have the power company and local electrician install the major facets of the system in the barn, we are intending to have a very good friend and retired electrician (also a Deacon, ex-submarine commander, builder, and overall nice guy!) help us to plan the majority of lighting and electrical outlet placement within the structure.

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Electrical conduit ready for wiring

This inside view gives a nice impression of how well the roof and window lighting works.  There is lots of space now, but I imagine this will fill up rapidly!

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Lots of room…for now!

Here is a time-lapse of the installation of the cupola today!

Cupola installed!  As you can see, it gives a nice agrarian feel to the structure.  Zooming in, the second picture shows the weathervane adorned with a ewe and her lamb!

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And until our flock of sheep arrives, our adopted herd of deer (viewed indistinctly below from our front door) continue to enjoy the pastures, even under quite a few inches of snow.  In fact this model of ruminants grazing pastures in the snow will be a model to emulate as we attempt to continue to pasture sheep on the fields for as much of the winter as we can.

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Our first pastured herd!

And finally, I leave you with a distant view of the house at the top of our hill in the midst of our pastures, taken from an adjacent property on an even higher hill!  We thought that we had a good view of the adjacent Laurel Ridge and Ligonier Valley, but this view really “takes the cake”!

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