March 14, 2010

Births in the Rain

March 2007

Lambs during the first 48 hrs of life don't produce their own heat. They have to stay close to there mom to stay warm, particularly during cold nights. For this reason, and after the first time lambs were born in the rain, we now breed so that lambs are born in May or June, when the weather is nice and warm. But when we purchased our first sheep we had no idea, at all, what we were doing.

It was March 2007. I had done research and wanted to get a rare, heritage breed of sheep - American Blackbellies. Beautiful - brown with, you guessed it, black bellies. Good moms, but skittish. I found a local breeder and headed out to buy a ewe and her not-quite-one-year-old lamb. The seller said about the ewe, during the course of our conversation, "She may be pregnant." Thinking back, that should have been a big, huge, bright red stop sign, with blinking lights and maybe a siren. But I was excited and there and ready to bring home some sheep.

They were lovely looking out in the pasture, but they wouldn't let us get close. Every night for two weeks, we'd head out to the pasture with oats and tried to coax the ewe in - no luck.

The next Saturday, the day before Easter, it was pouring down rain. I had an early morning class aobut soil. As I was leaving, I saw that the ewe was giving birth. I went back to inform Jeremy and Jordan. And I left.

How could I have left?! Great question! Faith in what I had researched, I guess. I had read that sheep don't generally need any assistance with birthing. (3 breeding season later, I have found that to be true - usually.) So, I figured I could go to the class and Jeremy and Jordan could watch the miricale of birth - right!

After class I was headed directly to a family Easter celebration; Jeremy and Jordan were meeting me there. I got to the party and no Jeremy or Jordan. They called to say that it was going badly with the lambs.

Here is what had happened while I was at class - Like I said, it was pouring down rain and about 40 degrees. The ewe birthed three lambs, one of which was still-born. Jeremy was removing the body and the noticed that the rain had knocked down one of the other lambs. Lambs can "freeze" in cold, rainy weather. Jeremy ran to Eric and Lola's to ask for help. Lola came out, got the lamb and put the lamb inside her shirt.

They knew they had to get all the sheep, including the yearling which wouldn't leave mom's side, under cover. I should mention that the pasture the ewe was on did not have direct access to our barn. The adjacent pasture - on Eric and Lolas property - was just one gate away and they had a pole barn. Problem was that the sheep just bolted when Jeremy got close. He couldn't coral them towards the gate. So, Lola got their temporary fencing (a big, plastic roll - very useful stuff). At this point, with all the running around, the other lamb couldn't keep up with her mom and got knocked down by the rain. Lola had to switch lambs in her shirt. After about an hour of getting ewe, yearling and lamb moving towards the gate just to have one escape, Jeremy, Jordan and Lola were finally able to get the sheep through the gate and into the pole barn. This is when they called me.

I got home, way to late to be of much help. The first lamb that was knocked down wasn't doing well. She kept laying down and not being able to get up; a death sentence in the cold weather because she couldn't stay next to her mom. So we brought her inside. That night I bottle fed her and kept her inside my flannel for about 3 hours. She was the most adorable little thing ever and baaaaed at me when she was hungry. My maternal insticts were in full form.

The next day she spent in a laundry basket with a space heater in the spare bedroom. She seemed good when we got home. Drinking vigorously from the bottle, running around in the living room (and pooping in the living room - nice!). We were concerned that if we kept her inside too long her mom wouldn't take her back and we'd have a bummer to bottle feed 4 times a day for the next 3 months. So we decided to put her back with her mom. The little lamb ran right over to mom and started to nurse. Perfect. We checked on them 5 times before going to bed. Everyone was doing great.

Next morning, Jordan and I went over to check on everyone. The little lamb was down. My heart stopped for a second and tears whelled up. I flew into the pen. She was dead. I wanted to be strong for Jordan. This is all just part of living on a farm - some animals don't make it. But I was devistated and the tears were already on my face. We found a box and put her body inside and in the garage until after work. We burried her that evening. It was the first and not the last death on the farm.

The one remaining lamb was strong and grew up well. We named her Baby. She birthed a lamb, Pixie, the next spring.

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