Monday, May 20, 2013
12:56 pm | link
I lay awake last night, watching the flashing lightning and listening to the rumbling thunder. The house
shook with each deafening crescendo, and even the quieter moments were filled with the splatter of big raindrops whipping
against the siding and windows. I am sure that many in our area worried whether their homes would survive the onslaught, but
my worries were different. I lay there, worrying about our lambs.
You see, earlier in the day, I had
struggled with a decision I faced: should I bring the lambs in from the Fire Circle Pasture to one that had barn access, or
should I leave them out where they have been for only a couple of days? My original plan had been to bring them in for the
storms, but - well, there were pros and cons.
There was still plenty of pasture where they were - no
need to move them immediately for food. The pasture they were in has nice big trees for shade in our current hot temperatures,
and the grass is lush with many small wildflowers - perfect for growing lambs. The open air environment has dramatically reduced
the pneumonia we were dealing with only one week ago, and the lambs are growing and looking well.
we will be shearing our boys soon (June 1), so it would be very convenient if we could work things out to have the lambs and
rams near the barn at that time - and these next couple of moves will put them there. It would be nice if we could delay their
movement back to our shelters for a few days to simplify shearing.
On the other hand, the pasture where
the lambs now reside is the very same pasture where, in 2009, I lost a lamb when a tree fell and broke his back in a storm.
I can't imagine that being in an open pasture during hail and high winds would be any fun at all - especially for scared little
lambs. The pneumonia we treated last week is not so distant that I no longer worry - thinking about recently sick lambs lying
in potentially torrential rains had me worrying.
In the end, I decided to leave them where they were
- and in the wee hours of this morning, I lay in bed listening to the lashing storm and again rethinking my decision. What
had I done? How would my lambs survive the night? Why hadn't I moved them in? Who cared about simplicity for shearing! I should
have moved them! The terrible thoughts and questions swirled through my mind as sleep eluded me. It was all I could do to
wait for morning to see the result of the previous day's decision and the night's storms.
as soon as I could get the dogs taken care of, I got on my four-wheeler and made my way out to the Fire Circle Pasture to
check on the lambs, armed with all the medical equipment I could possibly need. I was expecting the worst.
When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised! I was greeted at the gate by the lamb flock, none the worse for wear. As I made
my way into the pasture, the lambs surrounded my vehicle to the point that I had to turn it off - I didn't want to accidentally
injure one of the little ones! Their curiosity was too much for them - they made their way into the smallest of openings,
and climbed over anything that gave them a foothold. After a bit, even the ewes came to inspect my ATV (see Loralei and lambs
swarming in the attached photos).
Obviously, my previous night's worries were unfounded - our lambs
had survived the storm just fine! My nightmares were just that - nightmares, that had no grounding in the realities of what
I could obviously see was turning out to be a glorious day!
We are scheduled to have storms again later today - I only hope that we survive them as well!
Friday, May 17, 2013
Moving the lambs
9:06 am | link
Within about two or three weeks of their birth, our lambs have access to the outside world - but it is
limited access. Throughout the spring months, we slowly give them more and more freedom, introducing them to larger and larger
pastures, farther and farther from the barn. Eventually, the break must be made. Once they are old enough that they no longer
need the shelter of the barn, we send them off into the bigger pastures that lie more distant on our acreage. Eventually,
they have to grow up - but like a worried mother, I keep trying to delay the inevitable.
as the time draws near for them to make their move into these more distant areas, I put it off. They still seem so small -
so easily injured. My mind conjures up all sorts of dangerous possibilities: coyotes and foxes who roam our area, people looking
to steal a tasty lamb, kids motoring the countryside with BB guns. Few of these things have ever happened to our lambs, but
my mind is filled with strange and dangerous images, leaving me feeling much like my young children's first day of school,
when they first left my side for an extended time. I worry.
But like children, lambs grow up and they
must learn to face the world on their own. Yesterday was that day, and although they were as excited as can be to enter new
territories, I walked to the pasture with a bit of trepidation. I walked through the groups of lambs, calling and calling,
knowing that these lambs had no idea what that this calling meant, but I also knew that within a very short time, if I always
called when they were on their way to new pasture, they would learn to follow. The draw to fresh eating is incredibly strong.
Since the ewes in the group knew very well that my calling meant fresh grass and wildflowers, they led the
way, running to join me at the gate. About half the lambs followed the first time, running and gamboling ahead with the two
llamas. They didn't know where they were going, but they knew the ewes were excited, so it must be fun! The remainder of the
lambs waited too long to join us and found themselves caught in a corner of the old pasture, not knowing how to make their
way to us. After dropping off the first group and closing the gate so that they wouldn't follow me back, I went to "save"
the second - and was treated to another exuberant display of new-grass excitement when they, too, realized that they were
off to a new home.
This is the first pasture this year in which our lambs have no shelter; they will use a hastily constructed creep-house (in
photo) to eat their daily ration of grain, and will have to huddle near a tree if we get a storm. Thankfully for me, they
will not be there long, though - we usually move our sheep every few days and I want them back near the barn for this Sunday's
predicted severe storms. I can put them out there on their own if the weather is good, but I worry about those lambs being
treated for pneumonia if things take a turn for the worse. Yes, I once again feel like I am overmothering, but I'd rather
be safe than sorry.
Eventually, these lambs too will grow up and look just like the sheep in the rest
of the flock - but for now, each and every one is like one of my children, under my attentive care and protection. They will
have three days out there on their own - and then I will bring them back in for a bit, mainly to convince myself that they
are all just fine and that it truly is time to move them out!
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Frustration, sorrow, anger, and finally hope
11:56 am | link
As I mentioned in Monday's blog, we spent a big part of the day on Monday working with the sheep. I had
been gone all weeked at The Shepherd's Harvest festival in Minnesota, and I knew that when I got home, I had hooves to trim,
lamb coats to change, and immunizations to give, along with the lamb evaluations that are usually done at the same time as
the shots. We finished the work on the ewes' hooves in the morning, and then in the afternoon focused our energy on the lambs
in the new barn.
When we entered the barn after lunch, we immediately noticed some lambs coughing. When you have over seventy lambs together
in one space (see them eating at the creep feeder in photo), it is often difficult to determine whether you are hearing one
lamb cough a lot or several lambs coughing a little. We knew we had one lamb in extreme difficulty; when we came out to the
barn, we had found Majestic in the pasture, leaning against the barn, struggling to breathe. Which other lambs might be involved,
we had no idea.
We first attended to Majestic, giving her doses of a strong antibiotic and a pain-killer. As time
progressed it was obvious that she was really struggling, so as a last ditch effort to save her life, I also gave her a steroid.
It was only a short time later that she died in my arms from pneumonia - and this was my first sign that last week's warmth
followed by the weekend's ice pellets and very cold temperatures had undermined the health of the flock. The question was,
"How much? How bad would it get?" It did not help that this weather hit during the week that we weaned the majority
of the lambs, when their bodies were already stressed. This had obviously become a major problem for our little ones.
As we worked, we began to hear more and more coughing from the lambs around us. We caught first one lamb and then another
as we tried to identify all the sick lambs. We took the temperature of each and treated those who were obviously sick. I was
still grieving for Majestic, and in my sorrow and frustration, I became angry. Why is it always the best of the lambs who
die from things like this? I don't know, but I was determined to break this illness. In my anger I vowed that this disease
was not going to lodge itself in our lamb flock - I would not let it!
As a result, I decided to treat every sick
lamb with Draxxin, a one-shot antibiotic that lasts seven days. I usually reserve this drug for use after other treatments
fail, but because of the sheer number of sick lambs, and how desperately sick they were, I didn't want the pneumonia to reinfect
already weakened lambs. In addition to the antibiotic, those with high fevers also got the pain-killer Banamine to lessen
the discomfort and lower the temp. In all, one third of the lamb flock was sick and treated that afternoon - but unfortunately,
that wasn't the end of it.
I awoke Tuesday morning to find another lamb dead in the pasture; it was Majestic's
sister, Miracle, and I was distraught. I removed the body and reentered the barn, once again looking for coughing, sick lambs.
I found several, and again began their treatment. Thankfully, Tuesday afternoon's barn visit revealed only a couple of lambs
who were now sick and needing treatment. Most of the others, including those that had been previously treated, seemed to be
doing fairly well in spite of the temperatures over 90 degrees. I began to hope that perhaps the worst was behind us.
So far, so good. We've lost no more lambs since Miracle on Tuesday morning and no more lambs who have needed treatment since
yesterday afternoon. I've been in touch with my vet, and if things worsen again, we will send lung samples from any lambs
who die to the Iowa State University vet school in Ames to see whether we need to take other steps to keep the flock healthy.
I watch and wait because this is one battle the flock can't afford to lose. I have doubled my barn checks and am ever alert
for new illness. I've already lost two of my favorite lambs, both of whom I had planned to keep for my own flock. I refuse
to lose any more.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Hooves, hooves, and more hooves
8:17 pm | link
One of the big jobs that awaits us each spring is the trimming of each of the four hooves of each and every
adult sheep on our farm. This year that means two hundred and forty-eight hooves that need trimming. Honestly, the number
is daunting, even for me.
Recently, we've waited until after the lambs are weaned and the weather begins
to warm. It only makes sense that if we have to do this difficult and dirty task, we shouldn't have to freeze while we do
it, sitting in dirty bedding as the lambs climb all over us! We also try to avoid the heat of the summer, so that means this
is prime hoof-trimming time. Right now.
This morning our team assembled. I had convinced Rick to take
a day off from work at his office to help with our project. Our new helper, Mckayla, also came out to help - although I will
admit that she had no idea what she was getting into. That might have been the only reason she agreed, actually. We'll see
if she's willing to come back for next time - but at least she came this morning!
We also had our former
apprentice, Julie, who moved to California last year. Since she was back in town through today, she e-mailed me last week
to see if she could come out to see the sheep and help with whatever was at hand. I had mentioned hoof trimming, and she agreed.
She has an obvious love for our sheep that even a morning of trimming can't dim!
So the four of us set
out to the South Pasture this morning with Coda, my main sheepdog, leading the way. The plan was simple: Coda would hold the
girls in one corner while we would work in pairs. Each pair would choose a ewe, flip her gently to the ground, and one person
would hold her there while the other trimmed the four hooves. When the job was done, the ewe's number was added to the "done
list" (handily written on my left arm!) and another ewe would be flipped and the process continued.
With two teams working, the trimming proceded at double-time. Rick worked with Julie (see them in the accompanying photo trimming
Lilac's hooves) and Mckayla worked with me. After two hours, we had trimmed half of the ewes' hooves. We plan to trim the
ram hooves when we shear in a couple of weeks, and we'll have to find another day to finish the girls. Honestly, after two
hours we were hot, sore, dirty, and literally beaten up.
You see, trimming hooves is probably the most
dangerous thing we do with the sheep. To trim hooves, one person holds the ewe down, and the other sits between her front
and rear legs and trims the excess horn from each hoof. When the ewes decide that they don't care for our technique, they
begin to kick and try to stand up - with the trimmer right between all those slashing hooves. By the time we came back to
the house, we had all gotten more than our fair share of hoof slashes. Ouch!
So, we are halfway done
with the girls' hooves at this point. We will have to find another day to finish them in the coming weeks, a day that isn't
too cold or too hot and when the ewes are in a fresh pasture without too much manure (for when we have to sit on the ground).
I have no idea when it will be - but I won't be able to really relax and shift into those easy, breezy days of summer until
it's done, so I hope it happens soon!
Friday, May 10, 2013
11:18 am | link
Despite drizzly skies yesterday, I decided it was time to release the lambs. They had been locked into the new barn since
Monday for weaning, with their mothers up at the old barn. The calling back and forth had stopped and each group seemed to
have moved on. They had been separated for three days, and the lambs were becoming bored. Like children, little lambs need
to play, and there just isn't much to do inside the barn. It was getting old.
So although the weather
could have been better, I decided it was time to open things up and let the lambs out. First, I reinforced the fencing between
the West Pasture where they would be released and the barn where their mothers were housed. The last thing I wanted was to
have a lamb find its mother and have to start the quarantine over again!
After my "safety measures"
were in place, I entered the barn where the lambs were waiting and pulled open the garage door on the north, letting the lambs
spill out into the afternoon rain. The weather did not faze them though - they came pouring out of the barn with the few adults
who are still nursing their late lambs, hardly able to believe their good fortune. Not only could they now access a lot of
great grazing, but there was space to run! Lots of it!
Within seconds of their release, the lambs began
a game of chase, up and down the hillsides and across the pasture! They moved and flowed as one entity, somtimes dividing,
but then reuniting again as they went around and around the pasture. Not even the heat of the day - a muggy high-seventies
- slowed them down! They were free of the barn and they had excess energy to run off. I watched for quite some time, relishing
their freedom almost as much as they did before I continued on my way to other chores.
When I returned
several hours later, the barn was filled with sleeping lambs, exhausted from their energetic play. The only sound in the barn
was that of the few ewes, cudding as they contentedly lay watching their babies sleep, surrounded by the rest of the flock's
sleeping babies. It was a fitting end to a great day of celebration.