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lambing 2009

Posted 5/15/2009 8:08am by Catskill Merino.

Last Lamb

Little boys live in a scary world.  Shrieking eagles can swoop from the sky and carry you away clutched in their thorny talons; howling coyotes can leap from the grass and drag you away clenched in their yellowed teeth.

Last Lamb & Dam

But little boys are safe with mom.  This ram lamb was the last born of the 2009 lambing season—truly a surprise—born 18 days after we took the rams away from the ewes 5 months  ago. 

Is he proof of immaculate conception or did his mother wantonly jump the fence to join the rams when she ovulated all those months ago.  Who knows: art trumps science once again.

Posted 4/27/2009 9:03pm by Catskill Merino.


A cooling breeze came up in the hot afternoon.  The day was easy, it felt like childhood, there was little to do.  The sheep were on the shady side of the barn.  I sat on a feeder among them; the day is won when I can sit with the sheep.  Seated, I am no threat—not that I ever am—but sheep are cautious by nature.  I watch the discovering lambs prance, their cloven hooves fascinate me. 

I admit I was flattered when ewe lamb 105 stopped to look at me.  Sheep are always sincere, they bless you, you feel special—I sing to them—we're not limited by words.

Posted 4/12/2009 10:15pm by Catskill Merino.

A Way In The Manger

We've kept the problem ewes in the barn to better watch them.  A ewe with a problem is a ewe with a lamb not getting enough milk; the lamb hunches up with the back rounded because its stomach is drawn in on itself to preserve the lamb's energy and warmth.  We bottle train some of these hunchy lambs to get them onto a lamb bar, a bucket of milk with nipples on it used to supplement the lamb or to completely feed a lamb refused by its mother. To provide more immediate sustenance, we insert a rubber tube down the throat into the lamb's stomach to place 2 oz. of milk, and we may do this several times a day until the lamb gets stronger.

Two more ewes lambed this afternoon; I had to pull a very large ewe lamb from old mother 94.  Now that it's out, she is taking good care of her baby; she must be 10 years old, having lambed 8 times.  By the calm, trusting demeanor she now has, I know she knows me and it feels good to help out.

Posted 4/2/2009 9:14pm by Catskill Merino.

Busy day, we're halfway there, 18 more days to go.  Today, 15 ewes brought forth 19 lambs: 4 sets of twins and 11 singles of which 13 were ewe lambs and 6 were ram lambs

Before I got to the barn this morning, a lamb died at birth.  I found the mother on her side; she was cast:  on a slight slope she lay, her back was lower than her legs, she couldn't get her feet on the ground to stand up and care for her baby.  She had been there for awhile trying to right herself—windmilling her legs—judging by the marks of her struggle.  The lamb was almost out but it was cold.  The bad news is that had I gotten there 45 minutes earlier I could have stood her up and saved the lamb, but the good news is that had I gotten there 45 minutes later the ewe would have been dead too.  

The lamb lost, the ewe lost and I lose.  You can't be there all day, all night everyday; but still you hope to be there when needed.  The ewe pawed at the lamb trying to make it get up; I put out feed in the barn and she ran into eat with the other ewes.  I removed the body and went about my chores. 

Posted 3/31/2009 9:04pm by Catskill Merino.


The Three Tenors Sing O Solo Mio

9 lambs were born today: 2 sets of twins and 5 singles; the births were evenly spaced throughout the day making it easier than  yesterday with its simultaneous births.  In addition to handling the new lambs and moms, the project of the day was to dock  the tails of lambs born earlier and to move them outside to join the older lambs. 

Then, after feeding grain to the mothers in the yard, I shot video of their lambs running as they uniquely do in the first weeks of life  The lambs are discovering what their legs can do; and as a flock, 20-30 of them will run from one end of the yard to the other end, back and forth they'll go picking up more runners as other lambs join the fun, overlapping and turning into one another like starlings in flight; but the lambs only run when they can't be seen by their dams who ignore them while eating grain, their heads deep in the feeders devouring the whole oats I put out.  When the ewe's away...those dour, but wise, old mothers must have their reasons to damper this lamb foolery. 

Carrying on, the lambs can levitate; straight up they go with four legs jumping at once to land on all hooves; their nonplussed looks saying, "look what my legs just did," before they bound along up the hill after their mates. 

I want to post my lambs-at-play video, but I'm still too busy in the barn for a day off to learn my editing software—sooner or later the ewes will give me a break.  Pictured above are Placido, José and Luciano, the triplets born yesterday, who are doing well and singing loudly about it.

Posted 3/30/2009 9:34pm by Catskill Merino.
A shepherd's dozen, 14 lambs born today: 5 singles, 3 sets of twins and another set of triplets; that's three sets of trays—quite unusual for merino ewes. 
I say "born today," but when I got to the gestating-ewe yard this morning, 5 ewes had lambed during the night.  They were within 20 feet of each other and they were surrounded by a confusion of 9 lambs anxiously milling about, each trying to find the right mother, (one twin may stumble toward Boston while the other twin lurches toward Philadelphia—what's a New York mother to do) all baaing plaintively in the midst of 140 other ewes about to lamb.  Chaos: the sheep looked as sure of themselves as the GOP does under Rush Limbaugh, who in reality looks like a rather delinquent ewe.  Oh well, not everyone can be a ram, Rush.
I wanted to show rather than explain to you what we do to get the right lamb with the right mother, I have video of how we ID lambs, born in a field, and get them  back to the barn with their proper dams. 
I shot the footage of this a couple of days ago; today I  had planned to approach the learning curve of my new editing software, Adobe Premier Elements 7 to cobble together a little film about new-born care.  But all I could do was act in my own play—taking care of sheepthere was no time for any art other than the maternal. 
Maybe the sheep will give me an easy day tomorrow (with 3-4 births) for my humble montage.
Posted 3/29/2009 5:30pm by Catskill Merino.
Lactating Ewes & Lambs
 Lactating Ewes & Lambs
Two weeks into lambing, with three weeks to go, we have 78 lambs on the ground.  The colored spray marks (washable) that you see on the sheep are codes that identify the ewe to the lamb from a distance because we must quickly know who belongs to whom if one of them is not eating or something else questionable is going on. 
At lambing the ewe is usually excited and moving around, and she is harder to mark; we spray her first any where we can: on the head if she's licking her lamb, on the rump if she's running by, then we coorespondingly spray the same color on the lamb at the same place—head or rump and so forth.
Posted 3/26/2009 6:06pm by Catskill Merino.
Seven ewes lambed today yielding 3 single lambs and 4 sets of twin lambs; of these, 6 were ewes & 5 were rams bringing the total to 58 lambs on the ground.  It was a busy day—all lambs came on Dominique's morning watch—but luckily the lambs were healthy and their dams were attentive. 
Greenmarket's Davy Hughes was up here Tuesday to video lambs being born with his Kodak Zi6 Pocket HD Video Camera which looks like a Blackberry and is not too much bigger.  He got some good footage of the sheep, of  the lambs, of the lambing barn, of us, but in the several hours he spent here, he wasn't able to get a ewe lambing—the ewes were camera shy. 
And without video of actual lambing, he had no movie. He was planning to come up to the farm again to see if he could happen upon a lamb being born; it seems that when people do come to see lambs born the ewes don't produce for them, but maybe he would get lucky.
In the meantime my Zi6 arrived from Amazon (cheaper than from Kodak) and today about 4 PM a ewe lambed when I was there, Kodak in hand, to capture the process from contraction, to parturition, to the ewe licking her baby, to Dominique luring the ewe into the barn by carrying its lamb.
Sunday, Davy will edit my footage; if it's suitable  (not too shaky, framed well enough, etc.) he can combine it with his and he should have his film about sheep farming with lambing as its centerpiece.  I will embed the video in the blog early next week.
Posted 3/25/2009 9:55pm by Catskill Merino.
Lactating Ewes
Lactating Ewes
6 ewes lambed today bringing the total to 47 lambs: 20 ewes and 27 rams.  We are about a quarter of the way through lambing which continues for 2 ovulation cycles or 36 days, the length of time we kept the breeding rams with the ewes.  The births have been without complications, the lambs have been vigorous and the ewes attentive to their newborns.  
The lambing barn is on a hill swept by the chilly north wind.  To protect the lactating ewes, we fenced in a yard on the southerly side of the barn; there, separated from the gestating ewes, the ewes with lambs can enjoy larger portions of grain, a healthy mix of 65% whole oats, 25% cracked corn and 10% soy flakes (sheep granola), required by nursing mothers who must eat not only for themselves but for their rapidly growing babies too.
Posted 3/23/2009 3:03am by Catskill Merino.

After a slow start lambing is well underway with 33 lambs on the ground at the end of the first week:  15 ewe lambs and 18 ram lambs, all weighing between 6 & 8 lb. at birth—good birth weights for my 125 lb. ewes—lambs that are slim enough to deliver easily but with a fat reserve sufficient to ensure their survival on the critical first days of life as they realize instinctively, but by trial and error, the goodness of mom and milk. 

22 ewes have lambed so far; there have been 2 sets of triplets, 7 sets of twins and 13 singles.

Posted 3/19/2009 8:12pm by Catskill Merino.
Later on day 4, for the evening lamb check, Poem and I drove to the farm at dusk to find 6 healthy lambs: 3 singles and a set of triplets (the three were an hour old) born this afternoon.  Lambing has come like welcome rain.
Posted 3/19/2009 7:52am by Catskill Merino.
On the chin
To check focus, I enlarge the photographs I've taken to look at the eyelashes or whiskers of the subject.  This shot was made using a Nikon D700 mounted with a Nikon 70-200 mm f 2.8 VR telephoto zoom lens;  the Focal Length was 170 mm, the Exposure was 1/200 sec at f /20 and the ISO was 1400. 
The camera was handheld and the photo was taken about 10' from the sheep; other than the enlargement, it has not been retouched.  Even from a respectable distance this lens is intimate; when I photograph passers-by in Union Square, the portraits show pores, wrinkles, scars, and blemishes  that only a person kissing the face would know.  
Dominique does the morning lamb check and I look in on the ewes in the evening, but if she needs me I'll be there.  I got a text message from her this morning, "no lambs," as of the early lamb check on day 4 of lambing.
I guess I'll finish my taxes.
Posted 3/18/2009 7:34pm by Catskill Merino.
Cannondale Synapse

Today finishes the day 3 of lambing; one would expect  twenty lambs on the ground now, but we have one: ram lamb number 001 to be exact.  We should be busy in the lambing barn; instead we wait.  Most of the ewes are bagging up (showing udder development) and they are due, have been due, will be due...all twenty plus ten more will lamb tomorrow; I'm as sure of this today as I was sure of it yesterday.

The sheep are not worried so why should I be; they're laying around in the warm sun, ruminating on something pleasant—what I don't knowbut each has a peaceful, lost-in-thought expression like my brother Kirk had when he sat across the kitchen table from me at breakfast, eating Shredded Wheat with milk and sugar, dreaming about the Indian lore he read on the cards from inside the Nabisco box.

With the weather this afternoon, I decided to take my Cannondale Synapse out for its maiden ride on the Heritage Trail.  The tires needed air after not having ridden the bike there since October; the branches overhanging the trail are barren now, but the buds will redden and  the leaves will burgeon green—like me, the trees are waiting.

Posted 3/17/2009 9:22pm by Catskill Merino.
First Lamb of the Spring

"No one will be watching us, why don't we do it in the road..."  The White Album.

Finally, lambing begins on day two.  About 4 PM, just minutes before I arrived for my evening lamb check, ewe 258 had a healthy ram lamb.  From outside the fence, I  watched the pair: the lamb was calm and the ewe was attentive to her little man.  Good. Older lambs, having been born last summer and never having seen a birth before, came over to sniff the newborn; the ewe permitted their curiosity but kept her head close to her baby nuzzling it and cooing in that unique gurgling sound of new mothers that I will record for you when I get my Kodak Zi6 pocket video camera from Amazon later in the week.

I slowly approached, one hand carrying my D700 mounted with a Nikon 70-200 mm lens, a telephoto zoom to keep my distance if the ewe needed it, a lens that was long enough to get close-ups of the two from 15 feet away—stopping, taking photos, advancing, I came up—the other hand holding a bag of lambing supplies: ear tags, ear tag pliers and spray markers for identification, and a bottle of 7% iodine to disinfect and desiccate the lamb's umbilical cord.

With no fuss, the ewe let me pick up and ear tag her lamb, 001, then dip his navel in iodine.  She and I were moving, not in slow motion but deliberately, if not with a tai chi chuan flow then in a slow dance of alternating leads: she then I, then she again—considerate we were of her lamb—our eyes avoided contact and the world was right for us at that moment of newness.  I put the lamb down,  rose and stepped back; I typed a self-addressed email on my Blackberry "258 001 r" and copied it to Dominique.  Back at my iMac running XP I will copy and paste that data into my lambing records in Excel.

The afterbirth tells me that the ewe will not have another lamb—no twin here—if the sac protruding from her vagina were filled with clear (not bloody) amniotic fluid we would be expecting another lamb or two.  The afterbirth will fall away from the ewe within the hour.

My last two kelpies, Miss and Shade, loved to eat afterbirth—good and tasty—they would sniff it out, a week old, buried in the barn's bedding and run like furtive-eyed Wall Street thieves (something this rich must be a no-no), the long gore hanging from their greedy mouths, to a safe spot where they could chomp down, eye the devil, and enjoy their meal.  Poem hasn't learned of this barnyard delicacy yet; but she will, as a dog's sense of smell is 100 times more acute than our own: she can smell an AIG broker and his credit default swaps from a mile away.
Posted 3/15/2009 9:15pm by Catskill Merino.
Brooding Ewes
No lambs today. Odd. Usually I'll find early arrivals. Tomorrow marks 5 months since the rams joined the ewes.  I look in on the ewe flock more often now, waiting too.
The temperature today was in the high 50's and dry; this is good weather to lamb outside, but as insurance we lamb near a barn to bring lambs and ewes inside if they are having trouble during inclement weather; an absence of problems at parturition and good weather means no barn and no special care for the sheep. When a ewe has a good birth and a healthy lamb, all we do is dip the lamb's navel in iodine, eartag it, record the ewe's number and let mom & lamb(s) go.  This is what I call modified pasture lambing where we help those who need help and let the rest do what they do best, be sheep.  Pasture lambing means letting nature take her course and that road leads to life or death; but with a small flock of 200 lambing ewes I can help the weak, and I do.
Notice the blow marks of shearing: good shearers leave ridges of wool on the sheep rather than taking another blow to slick shear the sheep (making it look pretty & well shorn), thereby losing this short wool (called a 2nd cut) between the slats of the skirting table.  
We will keep wool to spin that has a staple length of 3"; anything shorter is devalued or lost.  If a shearer leaves wool on a sheep, it will be there to shear next year; good shearing looks like sloppy shearing to the unschooled eye.
Posted 2/24/2009 10:34am by Catskill Merino.


We take a break from the cold while innoculating the ewes with CD/T vaccine.  I go to my idling truck, the heater blasting, to warm my hands and get my camera while Dominique huddles in with the sheep protecting herself from the 35 MPH gusts of Monday with afternoon temperatures that fell into the low 20's. 

Pink grease-marks on noses tell us which sheep have been vaccinated.  When all noses are marked, we let the sheep go to join the already vaccinated on the flats behind us; we then bring another 25 into the treatment pen keeping them bunched closely together to prevent them from moving which is easier on them and easier for us.

Gestating ewes must be vaccinated with CD/T several weeks prior to lambing to pass clostridium antibodies on to their lambs in colostrum, the first milk from the udder.  This vaccination is crucial to lamb survival as the lambs' immune systems don't begin to develop until six weeks of age.

CD/T (Clostridium Perfringens Types C & D plus Tetanus Toxoid) is a commonly used vaccine that is also approved for use in certified organic sheep; it guards against tetanus infection and enterotoxemia (overeaters disease) which is a painful, gastric affliction that is untreatable and causes a lamb's death usually within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.