Early Lambs 2014
Now Dominique has a week to ready the barn for our scheduled lambing and the slew of babies coming; almost all the ewes are expecting.
I'm in New York at the Union Square Greenmarket and will break the market day at the Met seeing 19th century French photographs of Paris in the early afternoon.
For her break, Dominique will coddle the dozen or so unexpected lambs that arrived last week sired by a Saxon Merino ram who jumped the fence and was with the ewes for less than a day.
...at 9:25 PM.
Text from Dominique at 7:35 AM : No new lambs...
Music by Frank O'Hara, 1964
If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian
pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe,
that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf's
and I am naked as a table cloth, my nerves humming.
Close to the fear of war and the stars which have disappeared.
I have in my hands only 35c, it's so meaningless to eat!
and gusts of water spray over the basins of leaves
like the hammers of a glass pianoforte. If I seem to you
to have lavender lips under the leaves of the world,
I must tighten my belt.
It's like a locomotive on the march, the season
of distress and clarity
and my door is open to the evenings of midwinter's
lightly falling snow over the newspapers.
Clasp me in your handkerchief like a tear, trumpet
of early afternoon! in the foggy autumn.
As they're putting up the Christmas trees on Park Avenue
I shall see my daydreams walking by with dogs in blankets,
put to some use before all those coloured lights come on!
But no more fountains and no more rain,
and the stores stay open terribly late.
At 61st Street and 5th Avenue looking south toward the Plaza Hotel.
Dominique found him this morning. Oh well, he's a pretty newborn; but maybe he's a girl. I didn't look, but I will when I do a lamb check at 9 PM this evening.
A lamb is a lamb and he is a boy.
Twins. Hopefully these are the last lambs bred by the ram who jumped the fence 5 months ago pre-breeding. There was supposed to be a break after shearing before lambing, "No rest for the wicked," as my grandfather, Augustus Lee Goff (1876-1955), would have said.
When one came up with an excuse, another thing he'd say, "If the dog hadn't stopped...(grandfather didn't say what the dog might have stopped for)...he would have caught the rabbit." When my grandmother heard this said in front of the children she would look sternly at him and say, "Lee".
The planned break between shearing and lambing was to prepare ourselves: readying the barn with 30+ jugs (we will have a week of ~20 ewes lambing a day) and ordering supplies that we will need, etc.
One of the things we need is ear tags; each year's lambing has a different color ear tag that we apply to the newborn. This year's tags (to be delivered this week) will be red and will be consecutively numbered. Last year's color was pink, the year before was black and the years before that were blue, green and yellow. Before that we used a different shaped ear tag. We like to know how old a sheep is at a glance; his or her ear tag number will tell us the lambing performance as we record the sire and dam of every ear tagged newborn and comment on the birth: date, sex and whether it is a single, a twin, a triplet, etc. This is the sheep's pedigree.
I will go to the lambing barn tonight again and take care of those who need it. If the dog hadn't stopped...
Lamb check at 9:20 PM: No newborns. The gestating ewes we lying about the barn or standing near the walls and were either chewing their cud or some were eating hay from the round bale; they were relaxed and barely moved out of my way as I walked through them with my flash light. Occasionally, I had to say, "Sst-Sst" to the sheep who blocked me and they would clear a path then stop after several steps and go back to doing what they were doing with that dreamy but inscrutable sheep look in their eyes. They treated me as if I were another sheep.
I slowly stomach-tubed (inserted a 14" long by 1/4" diameter flexible plastic tube mounted on a large syringe in the mouth making sure the lamb's head is back and the neck is stretched to prevent the tube from going into the lungs) 3 smaller and weaker newborn lambs in jugs with 2 ounces of ewe's milk. We will continue supplementing them every 3-4 hours on cold days until they are perky.
Then I turned off the lights and said good night; they ignored me and I liked that.
A two hour old newborn in a jug with his mother: a big and healthy Saxon Merino ram lamb.
When I returned to their jug, after looking at the gestating ewes in the rear of the barn, he was at her udder looking for milk. His mother is attentive and, as you can see, warily protective. Good signs, all.
This ewe had been a shark when twins were born this morning. A shark is a ewe who is close to lambing but before she lambs she claims another ewe's newborn as her own. If let be, she can drive a weaker mother away and the lamb can die. We fend off sharks: you wait, your turn will come and this is where a jug comes in handy.
Dominique said there were two sharks this morning so maybe we'll have another early gift.
Today, Monday, I'm in the house doing paper work and paying bills; maybe Dominique is home from the barn too—as she said—working on her taxes.
Me: Where are you now...
Dominique: Here w/sheep. No new lambs. Still freezing cold!
I looked at the temperature: 20F.
Me: I want to do a Newsletter & need some yarn to shoot; can you find several colors there in Lace, Fingering & Sport? Maybe some Undyed too...
Dominique: After I take care of the sheep; I'll leave it in the Shepherd's Room.
A little later.
Dominique: I spoke too soon. It's not over yet...one, maybe two newborn lambs...
I wait like a gestating ewe.
Last night I found no new lambs born in the lamb check and those born earlier looked good as did their mothers, but Dominique found 2 sets of twins who had been born just before she got to the lambing barn this morning.
She dipped the lambs' navels in a 7% iodine solution which desiccates an entry of infection on newborns and she spray marked the ewe and her babies to identify them in case they get separated. Then she put the ewes and lambs in 4 foot by 4 foot jugs with 32" plywood sides that give them a privacy to bond. Finally, by pulling on the teat and squirting colostrum in her palm she determines how much milk the mother has.
A ewe likes to drink right after birth so we provide a pail of water and hay. The ewes and lambs will stay in the jugs for a day or two until we're sure they're bonded, healthy and the lambs are getting sufficient mother's milk.
Since Thursday evening, seven ewes have give us twelve babies and all were unexpected. Next year during pre-breeding we'll better maintain the fence between the rams and the ewes—that should keep Lothario away from the girls until it's planned.
The ram who jumped the fence into the ewe paddock 5 months ago must have been a busy boy. Since Thursday evening we've had 8 unexpected lambs out of the 5 ewes he'd bred so far. When I found him, he was alone—not a ewe near him—I thought that he had been in with the ewes for the morning but the proof is in the pudding, he must have been in there just after the last time I'd looked almost a day ago. A ram can breed 10 or more ewes in a day: they have the equipment. Normally for breeding, I put 1 ram in with 25 ewes for 36 days or two ovulation cycles; this makes sure he settles all cycling ewes.
It's unusually cold now—and has been for two weeks—I will go to the lambing barn tonight to see if I have any newborn lambs and to care for ewes or lambs that need a helping hand to make it to sunrise when Dominique gets there.
The normal gestation period for a ewe is from 147 to 152 days so we may have more surprises.
This evening we had our first lambs, a set of twins.
This morning, Aaron the shearer finished the last ten rams of the ram group he started yesterday. He had the shearers, Emily and Kristen, to shear the ewes on Monday and the yearlings on Tuesday. I put them up and all three slept well after shearing.
Shearing Saxon Merino sheep requires help: two people to bring the sheep to the shearers, one person to keep the shearing boards swept of scrap wool between sheep, another two people to pick up the shorn fleece and to skirt it (to take off the irregular fleece around the feet and head) and one person to put the skirted fleece in a 3 foot diameter by 6 foot long plastic bag. We filled 50 bags this year, yes sir, yes sir...
We like to rest the day after shearing but we had an unexpected gift today. The lambs are well, full sized—not premature—and the ewe is attentive; we separated the get and their dam from the other gestating ewes. They will stay separated in their jug for several days to facilitate bonding then we will let them go to run free.
Lambing is not supposed to begin until March 23rd but 5 months ago I do recall that a ram jumped the fence into the ewe paddock several weeks before we formally combined the breeding groups. I guess he found an ovulating ewe, or better, she found him as the only time ewes pay attention to rams is the day or two they are cycling. Then the ewes will hang out next to the fence around the ram paddock making eyes at the boys—love those little hussys and the gifts they give.