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!

BIRTHDAY GIRL

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Molly’s 3 today! We’re hoping that Molly will lamb this weekend, actually. I think she’s in the lead for first lamb on the ground at Morningstar Meadows!

EWE MIDWIFERY

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OK. So I guess that having had 8 children of my own, including a set of twins, I have always had a desire to be a midwife. A ewe midwife wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it will have to do for now! SO – I thought I’d interrupt the waiting game (the ewes still seem status quo out there!) with a little Lambing 101.

What we have here is our lambing kit. We hope and pray that all of the ingredients of the kit will not be used, but I’ll go through some of them for your interest…

When the lambs are being born, hopefully there will be nothing for us to do but watch! If Mama ewe has been at it hard for more than an hour or so, it might be time to get a feeling for what is going on in there. We will wash up our hands and her perineal area, don an obstetrical sleeve with a clean glove over the hand part, add an adequate dab of ob lube and reach in to see the positioning of the lamb(s). What we hope to see/feel is a nose and 2 front feet (from the same lamb, mind you!) Twins can get quite jumbled up in there, so you have to carefully feel for hind feet vs. fore feet, right and left vs. 2 rights/lefts. Once the necessary presenting parts are in place, we can use the lamb puller (center of photo -white handle with noose at the end) to slip over the head and feet to assist in pulling the lamb in an out and downward motion. We even have oxytocin on hand if she needs some chemical assistance with increasing contractions.

Ideally a newborn lamb will be cleaned up by Mama and will be up and standing and nursing in no time, but sometimes it is necessary to help this. Hence the pile of towels, suction bulb for the nose/mouth. Sometimes poor doing lambs are even picked up by the hind legs and carefully swung around you to use centrifugal force to help clear airways. Umbilical cords will then need dipped in povidine iodine solution to avoid umbilical infections, which can be deadly. For poor doing lambs, it may be necessary to give them glucose, IV fluids, warm enemas, etc. Occasionally a mother will reject a lamb. We have powdered colostrum and a lamb nipple on hand in the event that we have a “bottle lamb.” For the first lambing, we will attempt to milk out some of the ewe’s colostrum to freeze for any future needs – hence the ice cube tray. We also have a little french catheter to use to stomach tube a lamb that is unable to swallow. Healthy lambs will only need their cords dipped, a dose of oral selenium/vitamin E and their birth weight checked (scale in front, center of photo) – later they will need a clostridial vaccination and identification tags (front right of picture) for their ear. How do we pamper Mama after all of this? As soon as we can, we bring the new family into what is called a “lambing jug.” Here she and the lambs will have some privacy to bond and protection from the other ewes. She won’t have to compete at the hay pile, and the lambs will stay safe close to her. She will be given a big bucket of slightly warm water with molasses to give her a little pick me up and be sure that her energy levels stay up. Occasionally she will need calcium or glucose given by injection, but this would not be the norm. After a couple of days here they will be turned out with the others onto the pasture.

And so that ends our diversion for today, as we wait for the joyful moment of our first lambing!

OK, we’re tired of waiting!

Well, udders keep getting bigger, and so do the ewes! Roy keeps saying that a couple are wider than they are tall! We just did a little photo shoot – you can see on their left sides how pressed out their rumens are! Here’s Tillie and Bindi:

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Here’s Roxanne enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Her first birthday is Holy Saturday!

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Lying down brings some relief, but then they realize how it just makes is harder to breath because everything pushes up on the diaphragm! So, I think the race is still on between Molly and Millie. Both look as if they’ve dropped a bit. C’mon girls! Everyone is waiting!!

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The waiting game begins!

Well, today marks day 142 from “the day the sheep got married,” as our younger children refer to it!  The average gestation for Icelandic sheep is 142-144 days.  Barb at Jager Farm told us when she brought us our little starter flock: “in at Thanksgiving – lambs for Tax day!”  So apparently income tax day has been delayed this year until April 18th – did someone tell our ewes that?!

We see no signs of an impending lambing at this time, although on close inspection last night, I was surprised to see that Molly’s udder is bagging up.  We were expecting Millie to lamb first, however Molly may just win out!  It’s so hard to say at this point.  Thunderstorms and heavy rain are predicted for Saturday night, so I hope our first lambing doesn’t happen then!

It’s a riot watching these girls waddling around.  And just when you start feeling sorry for their bulging bodies, they fool you and race over to the fence when they see you coming, hoping to get a little snack!  As tempting as it is to comply, though, we do have to watch their girlish figures at this point, as an overweight ewe at lambing time can make for difficult deliveries.  That being said, we can’t exactly put them on diets, as they really need good nutrition during this time to go through labor and delivery and nursing lambs!

And so the race is on…who will have the first lamb?  Millie or Molly?  How many will she have?  Will it be in the dark of night and we’ll miss the whole thing?  Can you tell I’m getting excited!?  All I know is that these girls aren’t talking, so we’ll just have to wait and see!

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Preparing the Maternity ward!

This weekend we will make the final preparations for our first lambs!  We will be setting up our small barn as a combination labor and delivery area and post partum room.  If the weather is fine, the ewes may choose to just deliver their lambs in the pasture, but we will be giving them the option of coming into the barn if they want.  After that, we have an area on the opposite side of the shed in which we can confine the new family to allow for bonding time.  Only Millie is a proven ewe – the others are all beginners, so they might need to be confined a couple of days to give them time without the distraction of the other ewes.  

 

After delivery, Mom will be given a nice shot of karo syrup in their water for a pick-me-up.  The lambs will need to have their cords cut to the proper length and dipped in iodine.  Our first ewe to deliver will have to sacrifice to us some of her colostrum.  I can’t even imagine what it will be like to milk our first ewe!  We will freeze her colostrum in an ice cube tray and save it for any future lambs this season who may be rejected by the ewe and need bottle fed.  

 

After a day or so, everyone gets a workover.  Mom gets her “pedicure.”  Babies get a shot of Vitamin E/Selenium, as our soil is deficient in this mineral.  They’ll also get a ear tag, and we’ll have to start working out their color for their registration.  We’re hoping for lots of ewe lambs to build up our flock!

 

So – in less than a week we could have our first lambing!  The countdown is on!  I just hope the first one is on the weekend when Roy is here with me!