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Saxon Merino Sheep
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Posted 3/3/2014 5:47pm by Eugene Wyatt.

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.

Posted 3/3/2014 3:01pm by Eugene Wyatt.

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.

15:34

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.

Posted 3/3/2014 10:56am by Eugene Wyatt.

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.

Posted 3/2/2014 6:05pm by Eugene Wyatt.

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.

Posted 2/27/2014 10:05pm by Eugene Wyatt.

At a hay feeder outside the shearing shed.

Posted 2/27/2014 7:44pm by Eugene Wyatt.

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.

Posted 2/19/2014 6:37pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Dominique shot this with the camera on her iPhone. Now that I know that she is a good photographer I can do what I do best on cold days: warm myself in the truck. 

Posted 2/17/2014 9:32pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Dominique brings the Saxon Merino ewes up to the to the shearing shed, but because the snow is so high when she passed the ram yard, 4 rams jumped the fence and joined the ewe procession thinking they were going to get fed.

We will shear the ram group the day after we shear the ewe group and easily put the 4 vacationing rams with their brethren when that group comes up to the shearing shed in a week; it's bringing the mountain to Mohammed.  

Driving the 4 rams back down the hill wouldn't work so well. All the ewes are bred so they want little to do with them. Everybody is fine in the shed for a week.

Posted 2/16/2014 4:38pm by Eugene Wyatt.

We're a week from shearing the pregnant Saxon Merino ewes who will lamb in a month. Monday we will move them a quarter mile up to the shearing shed (last year) with a carrot and a stick: a tempting pail of oats before them and Poem dog behind, after plowing a wide lane up the hill in the 2 foot of snow that had fallen this week. There they will stay inside and dry until they're shorn.

With the sheep must come their accouterments: the hay feeders, the oat feeders, the mineral feeders, the water tubs and the electric fence to protect them. The hay feeders and the mineral feeders are frozen solid in the ground down in their yard, the grains feeders are buried under snow at the foot of a hill where we bred them. The water tubs are easily movable—I hope—and we'll stick in a portable electric fence in the snow—I guess—at night in the barn we'll leave an AM talk show blaring on the radio to ward off the coyotes. They fear the human voice no matter what it's saying.

In the meantime we'll feed and waste hay without feeders until they thaw-out—then move them up to protect the bales, dig out the oat feeders and move them to the shed Monday and feed minerals in barn tray feeders until the formal feeders are free from ice and movable.

Yesterday in Union Square I was talking to Rick Bishop about the snow storms in Sullivan County, where his farm is, and he said, "With the snow it takes so much longer to do things; you never seem to have enough time." I nodded in agreement.

Posted 2/16/2014 3:46pm by Eugene Wyatt.

At 7 PM, after a Greenmarket Saturday that began when we got to Union Square that morning at 7 AM, after we'd broken down the stand and after we'd loaded the unsold lamb, yarn and sheepskins (garlic too) in the truck, we headed home.

One of my favorite quotes is "Home is where they can't throw you out," but I've forgotten who said it first, anyway...

Last Saturday was snowing when Dominique and I left New York to head West then North. Just before the Lincoln Tunnel I had to brake suddenly and skidded a bit. "Good," I said, "the roads in the city are slippery," and I slowed down. New Jersey 17 was salted, the New York Thruway was too, but New York 17 required more caution as parts of it were icy.

Because of traffic on New York 17, I took Exit 126 at Chester to take the side roads to the farm— what a mistake! The road conditions were worse than on the Quickway; the snow was blowing and drifting across Route 94 and portions of Pulaski Highway were a white-out blizzard of blowing snow—I couldn't see anything, I felt like I'd closed my eyes—all I could see was white—then as quick as we were in the white-out we were out of it, I was into the darkness again, I could see the road, I could see the dark fading shapes along the roadside, I could see the blackness around me and it was welcome...but then we hit another white-out caused by snow blowing across hayfields next to the road: you're blind, you brake a little, you hold the wheel tightly, you steer straight ahead and you hope there is nothing in front of you like a stopped car. Then you're through it and you can see again. It's maddening.

I turned on Cross Road. The wind howled. The farm is gotten to by a one lane dirt-road driveway about a quarter mile long then it turns at a right angle and this is where the snow can drift waist high—you can't see what's ahead until you make the turn. Stuck in a snow drift in the driveway in the dead of night with the 2 wheel drive market truck was a problem I didn't want to have; besides Dominique and I would have been stuck at the farm too: we couldn't get our four wheel drive pickup trucks passed the market truck to go home.

It was cold, we were wet, it was late, we were tired.

Getting nearer to the farm we discussed several scenarios: we could walk in from the road and see how deep the drifts at the curve were, or we could drive in to see if the market truck would go through the snow; if not, I could hopefully back out if I didn't get stuck going in.

I slowed as I approached the farm driveway and overcome by a foolish courage due to having had enough of the day, I  said, "Fuck it!" I turned in, the snow was about 4" deep on the driveway as I went along (I felt buoyant, like I was skating or ballooning, not under my own power) and when I came to the turn I stopped and peered like a deer into headlights: the drifts looked passable—I gunned the truck and barreled through them with a smile in my heart. We made it, we were at the farm, the home of the sheep, here to unload the lamb and the garlic. I was almost giddy; I felt like I'd won the Lottery after having had an off market day in the snow and rain but Ulysses was home to Penelope.

Once unloaded at the farm, we both had to go to our respective homes; the roads were bad but foreseeable if one drives slowly and they—the gods, nature, fate or whatever you believe in—weren't throwing us out this time.