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!

Amidst a pandemic, the world seems to stop, except on the farm

As much of the world hunkers down in fear, isolation and quarantine in the midst of a global pandemic, we feel so blessed to be (mostly) together as a family on our 35 acres.

We have been home here for over a week, with only the occasional venture over the ridge and through the woods to Grammy’s house to exchange food and hijack her more reliable internet. If we weren’t watching the news, we would have no idea about the pandemic affecting the world, except that our mailman is delivering packages with gloves on today!

The animals continue their daily routines, the chickens are giving us more eggs as the days lengthen, the spring flowers are opening, seeds and onion sets are waiting to be planted, the rhubarb and garlic is sprouting, and soon we’ll see asparagus break ground. We must continually remind ourselves that outside of our little haven, the stores are empty, many businesses are closed, thousands of people are laid off and struggling each day, and more people are getting sick from COVID-19.

We are trying to stay healthy and keep ourselves ready for caring for newborn lambs and their moms in about a month!

Today we rounded up the ewes for the first time since late December when we separated them from the rams after breeding season. They have survived a very mild winter. Most of the time, when they weren’t gorging on round bales of second cut hay or ruminating near their shed, they were taking themselves out to enjoy the stockpiled pasture. Sometimes it’s difficult to say what they enjoy more, but it is safe to say that grazing is a strong instinct, and they will keep grazing even when presented with an abundance of hay.

Roy has been setting up the barn with lambing jugs to contain a ewe as she approaches her time. These will be bedded with straw. There she can be separate from the flock, undisturbed as she labors and delivers and cares for her new lambs. She will remain there for a day or two after giving birth, and then another ewe will take her place.

Four lambing jugs made with recycled pallets and hog panels.

And no, I didn’t climb up in the rafters to take that picture! I took that picture as a screenshot on our IPad which now bears a program that communicates with a camera in the barn! Yes, we are going high tech with our new farm (or lazy, you might call it) and instead of wandering down to the barn many times through the night, we will be watching our sheep from the house! I know – some shepherds WE are! Imagine that Bible story retold, “While shepherds watched their sheep at night, remotely from their tent on their IPhone 11, an angel appeared to them!” Yeah – just doesn’t seem right, does it?

So our goal today was most importantly to vaccinate the ewes prior to the birth of their lambs. The ewes were due for their annual booster vaccine against clostridial diseases, including tetanus and a few others that are dangerous to sheep, and this vaccine will carry immunity into the colostrum that their lambs will drink and thereby receive what is called passive immunity for their first weeks of life. The lambs will then need a vaccination when they are ready to produce their own immunity at about 4-6 weeks of age.

Also, to prepare these girls for the big day, we trimmed hooves and gave them a dose of a vitamin/mineral paste which includes Vitamin E and selenium, which is very scarce in the soils of our area, and therefore in the food that they are eating. Deficiencies in these can cause problems for the ewe and for her newborn lamb.

Bessie was very patient for her hoof trimming. We rated her with early development for her udder.

We also weighed them all, checked their eyelid color for signs of parasite caused anemia, and checked their udders for signs of development indicating possible pregnancy.

Faith isn’t too sure about Roy’s ballottement procedure!

As you can see above, Roy also tried ballottement of their abdomens to try to feel lambs in the uterus. He holds his hand firm on the animal’s left over their rumen, and then bounces his hand over the right side in an attempt to rock the uterus in the fluid of the abdomen in hopes that a lamb in the uterus would bounce off the inner wall of the abdomen under his hand. One day I hope we will have an ultrasound machine so this all becomes a lot more definite and scientific!

The ewes have returned to their winter pastures, and in a few weeks we will move them closer to the barn. At that time we will bring the rams in for vaccinations, hoof trimming, weighing and physicals.

While we continue to quarantine and wonder what the future holds for our country and for this hidden enemy virus, we wait not with fear but with hope – and with joyous expectation for the new life that will hopefully grace our farm in a month’s time! We ask that God protect you all — that you stay safely away from ALL illnesses – and that you stay tuned for many photos and hopefully videos of the miracle of life on the farm!

The Nuptuals!

Well, you can see from the photo above that the weather was absolutely perfect for today’s nuptuals! Above you can see Romeo pursuing one of his harem. She looks totally unimpressed! Everything went fairly well. We did have one “runaway bride”, but I think she’s learned now to stand by her man and hopefully won’t stray again!

In the video below you’ll see us bringing the rams over to the “meet up” venue first. It’s only right that they be waiting for their ladies, and not the other way around.

We set up temporary fencing to help guide them across the driveway, then pushed them right up into the handling yards.

After getting them into the race, we marked them each with a homemade version of a raddle marker. This will serve to mark the ewe when she is served by the ram. That helps us when we can’t keep eyes on them all the time so that we can try to establish breeding dates. In the past I’ve made this by mixing powdered tempra paint with vegetable shortening, but this time the store didn’t have the paint, so I went with the next best thing – Koolaid! Just a note, though — Koolaid powder does not readily dissolve in Crisco, so I had to wet it first! At least this smells more interesting – cherry and raspberry!

We then put each ram in their own pen using the sorting gates as they come out of the chute. They really didn’t like being separated, but they soon won’t mind one bit!

Here come the brides!

Waiting patiently to meet Cyrano! Someone is looking at us, and she doesn’t look too sure about this! I think she was actually our “runaway bride!”

And, keeping it friendly for all audiences, here’s Romeo with his girls in their new pasture. There is so much lovely stockpiled pasture there for them to eat that he’s torn between chowing down and making himself better known to his brides!

And now we will watch and wait. Hopefully the girls will take a shine to the boys and all will be over quickly and without a hitch!

Health Check before the Wedding Vows!

The girls are about to meet their “husbands” in a couple of days, and while they won’t be getting blood tests like we do, they do get a quick “once over” health check before tying the knot, so to speak.

This will be the first time we have tried the new weighing facilities and yards, so we were as anxious as the ladies for this to work out well!

We were pleased at how easily they complied with entering the yards, and now that they were contained, we needed to see them enter and pass through the race.

The first attempt yielded 6 of them easily pushing into the race. Maybe they already know that they will be divided into 2 groups for the 2 rams, who are eagerly awaiting the nuptuals!

OK! Piece of cake! These girls went through their paces with ease! I guess that although one is not supposed to discuss a ladies weight, in this case we will make an exception. We were very pleased to see that these yearling ewes had gained from 30-50 lb since June on a diet of pasture alone. Now they are ready to meet Cyrano and Romeo (yes, really!) in the next day or two.

We will try to video the meeting and post it, while making sure that we keep this blog for “general audiences”, if you get our drift!