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!

Spring sheep maintenance

Today was the day to try out equipment Roy has been busy making over the fall and winter. He has built a set of yards to work the sheep, including a capture chute that has a scale built into it. Many thanks to Gibraltar Farm for the great advice on building all of this! Purchasing this equipment would cost many thousands of dollars, and this homemade version, while a little “clunky,” is perfectly adequate.

It’s time to see how much weight these girls have gained since joining us at Morning Star Meadows. Also time to boost their vaccinations, check feet and overall health.

This is the basic set up with the chute and a number of simple panels made from 2x4s that connect either with rebar or good ‘ol baling twine!

Vaccine and records ready for recording

Bringing the sheep up from their pasture was easy, as the girls are quite used to us and to being moved. In fact, they will call to us when they want to go to the next pasture!

Getting them to move into the chute was quite simple. In fact we had more trouble stopping their friends from trying to double up!

Once in the chute it was simple to record their weight, give them a quick health check and administer their yearly vaccination.

A home made sheep chute is both effective and relatively inexpensive to make

Everyone gets a turn to inject a vaccine. This is the multivalent vaccine covering Clostridium perfringens types C & D and tetanus.

And finally we noticed that with all the rain we’ve been having, some of their hooves had overgrown (walking on the soft ground, not wearing them down), and they needed a bit of a pedicure before letting them back on to the pasture. It was relatively simple to catch them as they exited the chute and tip them onto their rear for a few seconds of toenail sculpting.