Dominique takes the early morning shift (when most of the lambs were born, 10-12 a day over the last 10 days) while I look in on the ewes about 9 PM every night to see if anybody needs a hand lambing. If I come upon a newborn, for identification, I'll spray mark/color code the ewe to the lamb then dip its navel in a 7% iodine solution to prevent infection.
There are some weak lambs born recently, usually twins, who need 2-4 oz. of milk replacer to keep them going through the night as their mothers are not producing enough milk yet; I deliver nourishment with the insertion of a flexible plastic tube into their mouths, run it down their gullets and into their stomachs, then with a 2 oz. syringe connected to the tube I slowly introduce the milk replacer, made by adding water to powdered milk specially formulated for lambs. Stomach tubing is faster (you can treat more lambs in the same time) than waiting for lambs to consume what they need from a latex nipple.
It's still cold—19F tonight—the colder it is, the more nourishment a sheep needs.
I asked Dominique to pick up 072 so I could photograph him. His mother is 159 and his Birth was recorded 6 days ago. He was the 72nd purebred Saxon Merino born this year, hence his ear tag number.
I'm amazed that he, and his dam too*, know that he is a special sheep (good sheep seem to know their excellence and it is this self knowledge that amazes one); I can see by his calmness and the way way he carries himself that he is special. The way he looks at me. He has that sense of assurance that only good sheep have; being that he is a purebred Saxon Merino, he will have superior wool, better wool than his peers have, in those important fiber qualities of fineness, uniformity and density; he should pass these qualities along to certain of his offspring when I breed him two years from now.
*Two days earlier I had tried to photograph him as he stood in the barn with a very dear Nikon 14 mm-24 mm zoom lens on my D-700; as I bent over to get close to him, his mother, 159, interceded and bumped me leaving her nose print on the convex glass of the wide angle lens. "What you doin gettin so close to my boy?"
159, a two year old ewe and a first time mother, gives birth in the yard. I watched her circle, lay down and stretch as she contracted. She got the two front hooves out and the nose of the lamb in a normal presentation. After more contractions her progress slowed—the lamb was large—I would help her deliver it.
She let me get close to her as do many ewes in delivery. I knelt beside her and pulled one hoof forward, then the other, unlocking the knee joints. I grasped both legs and pulled them down in a circular fashion toward her hooves—out came the lamb. Like the proverbial spanking of a newborn, I swung the lamb forward and dropped it before her nose. It was still for a moment then shook its head and took it's first breath. 159 began to lick her lamb
All was well. But it was to snow later that night; Dominique took the lamb and held it like a carrot before the mother to draw her along as she walked to the barn. Sheltered from the elements, 159 would dry the lamb with her tongue then get it to her teat for it's first nourishment.
A day later we find a good mother and a good boy who will grow into a big Saxon Merino ram.
Here the lamb is at 6 days of age.
At day's end from the dirt drive I look up at the lambing barn and usually see a ewe or two silhouetted on the ridge.
Dominique called at 7:38 his morning. "Babies, two ewe lambs lambed!" Sunday, we knew we would face the unexpected when Aaron, while shearing the ewe lambs, called out referring to the sheep he had up-ended and was about to shear, "Hey, you got a ram here."
This ram lamb was polled meaning he had no horns and easily passed for a girl until you saw his testes (from Latin testiculus, the diminutive is testis, meaning "witness" [of virility], plural testes). We let him go without shearing him as his place was with the crossbred rams; when we got the ewe lamb group shorn and down the hill we would catch him and put him in with the boys.
Shearing the ewe lambs, Aaron found three who had been bred (they showed udder development); we put them with the rest of the gestating ewes who weren't expected to lamb until the 15th of March, yet knowing these ewe lambs (not even a year old) could lamb anytime.
Ready or not, the 2011 lambing season is underway. Also, it may carry on longer than we expected as lambs can be born for 5 months from when we pulled the young ram from his paramours.