Friday, April 27, 2012

Yearly rewards

Several weeks back, the shearers were here and all of those lovely fleeces the girls and I have spent the last year working on were harvested.  Those fleeces are one of my rewards for all the work I put into shepherding. Well, okay, the girls did most of the work, but, I did put some effort into helping them stay as clean as possible ..... you know, given that they live in a barn and all that.  Overall, I was very pleased with how healthy they looked, but the best part was seeing what my just now yearling girls produced.  Oh, my!  I love their fleeces!  You may remember that last year the famous Henry (half Wensleydale/half Cotswold ram) was the father of all but one of the ewe lambs I kept to put back into the brood ewe flock.  Henry did a fabulous job of putting beautiful fleeces on the girls.  I can hardly wait to spin them.  I need to select some competition fleeces and then start washing others in preparation for the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival, so I'm not allowing myself to do more than wash a few samples right now.  The locks pictured below are from Birdie and I can hardly keep from carrying it around with me all the time, just so I can admire it.  It is so lustrous and so soft, it reminds me a lot of kid mohair.  I know it's going to take dye beautifully and spin into some pretty, pretty yarn.  My hope is that 'The Mister' (our rent-a-ram), who was Wensleydale, has given me fleeces similar to this on the lambs born this year.

One of the reasons I still love raising sheep (after lo these many years) is the fun of breeding for improvement.  Way back, when I was raising purebreds and showing in competitions, there was a different kind of thought process because that was not necessarily breeding for what I liked best, but more what a show judge would be looking for.  Believe me, as in most competitive endeavors,  show standards can be totally different from 'living in the real world' standards.  Now that I'm breeding strictly for healthy animals and beautiful fleeces, every year brings surprises.  Last year when I selected Birdie to become a bottle baby and be a companion to Luna, I had no idea she would turn out to be such a sweetie and produce a gorgeous fleece.  If I'm completely honest, she was a little difficult in the beginning and I wasn't sure I was even going to like her personality.  She's turned out to be a charmer and, even now,  would follow me around all day if she could.  And, as much as I love Luna, she does have a strong sense of entitlement (and I can't imagine how she came by it) that allows her to think she can do certain things that are un-sheep-like on occasion.  (Such as helping herself to Aslan's dog food!)

Well, it's on into the weekend.  The grass is growing, growing, growing and there are plants in the greenhouse that need to be put in the ground right now.  It's that time of year when I feel perpetually behind on every aspect of my life.  I hope all of you find a little bit of time to enjoy your weekend and I hope to see you back here next week, with lots of gratuitous lamb pictures!

Friday, April 20, 2012

It was fine

Shearing day for the alpacas and llamas went as near perfect as possible.  The weather was great and everyone behaved admirably.  I penned all my alpaca boys the night before and put Strawberry and Pippi in the big pen with the Easter mom and lambs.  It's always amazing to me how gentle and curious the llamas are with the tiny lambs.  They move slowly and carefully, sniff around some and seem to enjoy watching the lamb antics.  I've mentioned here before that Strawberry has even served as part of the exercise equipment by allowing the babies to climb up on her back (when she's lying down) and jump off.  Pippi is not quite ready for that.  She stands up if the lambs begin climbing on her.

Anyway, as I was saying,  I had no problems.  I loaded Strawberry, Pippi and one of the alpaca boys into the trailer first and the rest loaded themselves.  All I had to do was get in and remove their lead ropes and away we went.  At Lindy's, I was able to back right up to the barn door, put them in a stall and let them be worked through the gates until it was their turn.  The shearers were a study in speed and efficiency, all the while treating the animals with care.  They have a tag-team system where they shear two animals at once, on mats across from each other.  Each shearer has a specific task; one shearing the 'blanket' (that's the prime part of the fleece), others doing head, neck, tail and legs.  They also trimmed feet and I was able to give each animal a shot of Ivomec (de-wormer), all while they were safely restrained.  After seeing how the professionals get the job done, I cannot imagine what it would be like to try shearing an alpaca or llama while they were standing up.

When I went through my camera, I was amazed to see that all I had taken were two short movie clips.  I could have sworn I took more.

Guess what's next on my to-do list?  Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

All lambs, all the time

(Easter babies - how they sleep)
That's pretty much the story of my day to day life right now.  Twenty seven lambs, out of twelve ewes is a paltry sum when I consider that my friend, Kathy, has had 150 lambs born in the last two weeks.  Oh,  but mine do seem to fill my days.  Right now I'm bottle feeding 5 lambs, 3 of them 4 times a day and 2 of them 5 times a day.  Yes, that's right .... twenty two bottles.  I'm well on my way to dishpan hands!  The ewe that lambed on Easter has been struggling to gain her strength and her lambs were just not getting enough milk, so they are getting bottles.  Two other triplets from separate ewes are also getting bottles.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  I love raising bottle babies because they are so much fun and so easy to manage as they mature.  (Remember Luna and Birdie from last year?  They are still lovely and sweet girls.)  They've become ambassadors for the farm because they are perfectly comfortable being social with humans.  (Oh yeah, they are the two that were so good, they got to visit with Santa Claus!)

The good news is that help is on the way with bottle duty.  A lovely young woman, Hannah, is coming to get three of the bottle babies this week.  She has purchased lambs from me before and is building her own fiber flock, so these babies will be going to a wonderful home.  I do become attached to these little ones that I visit with so many times a day.  Five bottle babies are too many to have out and following me around, but two ..... well, that is much more likely.

The ewe flock spends nearly all their time eating.  They are especially ravenous now,  partly because they're providing milk for growing lambs (and partly because everything around here loves to eat).  If you are still watching the lamb-cam, you can see how the lambs are getting bigger and bolder in their play when they come in for the night.  The straw bales are like jungle-gyms (are those things even still called that?),  providing endless hours of jumping and climbing pleasure! And when they're worn out from all that play, the bales make a handy napping spot.

Tomorrow is shearing day for the alpacas.  It's a little stressful for me because I'm always afraid something will go wrong.  It never has, but still I worry.  I'll be loading my seven alpaca fiber boys and two llama girls into the trailer for the ride to Seldom Scene farm.  My friend, Lindy, has scheduled a team of professional shearers, who travel all over the United States in the springtime, to shear all of her alpacas and is gracious enough to allow me to bring my small herd.  Hopefully, I'll have a chance to take a few pictures and post a little about our day.  Wish me luck!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday on the farm

There are a lot of moms and babies out enjoying the warm air and green grass today.  Lambs are like all babies;  they love to play and explore,  then suddenly it's naptime.

We only have one more girl left to lamb and then we'll be through for Spring 2012.  Hopefully, she'll be delivering this weekend.  I'm thinking she may be carrying our final set of triplets! 

Keep an eye on the lamb-cam ..... you just never know when something will happen.  (At the very least, you'll see lots of lambs jumping on and off the straw bales!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter miracle

*(Olive and one of her twins)*
Every year for Easter, the family comes out to the farm for dinner and an Easter egg hunt.  Every year I think about skipping the Easter egg thing, but no matter how old they get, they still want to have it.  Traditions are part of what makes a family get-together special and I like to think I'm providing memories that will be with my grandchildren long after I'm dead and gone. It was suggested that maybe next year we would do a switch and let the kids hide the eggs and the adults be the ones to go hunting.  The kids loved the sound of that, so it just may happen.

This year got off to an unusual start because when everyone arrived, Mike and I were in the barn, dealing with a breech birth.  My grandchildren got a real education (and some of the adults in the group, also!).  The ewe could not have given birth without intervention.  After the second lamb was born,  Mike palpated the ewe and found nothing else, so we cleaned everyone up, moved them to a mothering-up pen and I managed to get dinner on the table, only two hours late.  The kids had their egg hunt and we had begun to take our annual family pictures on the big rock in the side yard when, Jared, my eleven year old grandson, came running from the barn to tell us that the ewe we had thought was finished four hours ago, now had another lamb hanging out of her!!  As we all ran back to the barn, what was going through my mind, besides pity for the ewe, was that I really didn't want the grandchildren to see me pull a dead lamb out of that ewe, but everyone was determined to watch the whole scene unfold.  Sure enough, there was the head and one leg. Not good. I had to push the lamb's head back in and find the other leg, then pull the lamb out.  Now here's the miracle part.  The lamb was alive!  Within minutes, she was trying to get up and find her way to her first meal.  At this point, there was some risk that the ewe would reject her.  After all, she already had two healthy babies, who were cleaned up, well fed and sleeping contentedly. But, she immediately started cleaning the lamb and 'talking' to her.  So, what seemed like a sure disaster (and possibly scarring experience for the onlookers) turned out to be an Easter memory that everyone (with the exception of the Parker, who is only three) will remember a long, long time!  Ah, life on the farm.....never a dull moment.

It's been a strange year with birthing times all over the place and several malpresentations.   I go through different stages during lambing season.  At the beginning, I'm very anxious to just get things started, around the middle I'm thinking it will never end and by the end, I'm wondering if, at my age, I should still be doing this!  But, oh those babies!  How could I not have some babies in the spring? 

So, I think lots of people have seen some live births on the lamb-cam in the last few days.  We are down to having only two ewes left to lamb (yay!) and they should go within the next few days.  After that,  it will be lamb races and games of lamb-on-the-straw-bale, for your viewing pleasure.

**Remember my baby, Olive?  Well, she had her first lambs this year.  She had twins,  a boy and a girl.  I wondered what sort of mothering instincts she might have, since I raised her on a bottle and she's just a little spoiled.  I needn't have worried.  She's doing a wonderful job.  I had to laugh this morning because when I took some bottles in to supplement the triplets born on Easter, Olive tried to take one of them!  That girl remembers when she had it really good!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Here we go.....

(the boys-just a few minutes old)
Ah well, we've finally begun.  Apparently Gabby had not read the manual where it states "No Middle of the Night Births" because I woke up around 2:30 am Sunday morning with the feeling that I should check the lamb-cam.  Sure enough, back in the corner I could barely see a ewe turning around and around, but basically staying in one spot.  Which might or might not have meant anything, but the giveaway was that all the rest of the ewes were standing on the other side of the pen, staring at her.  Usually when one is in labor, the rest step away and give her some space.  By the time I got dressed and walked to the barn, Gabby had moved herself right in front of the lamb-cam and the rest of the ewes had gone to the side of the pen where she had been earlier. 

(the boys are 18 hours old in the video)

I don't like to intervene, unless it's looking like things aren't progressing normally, so I went about preparing a mothering-up pen.  Most of the time, I leave putting bedding down and filling hay feeders, hanging heat lamps, if needed, to the last minute so that I am busy, but close at hand.  I don't believe Gabby ever did lay down, but instead pushed out first one big boy and then another, while standing up.  She's a very good mother and started right in cleaning them up.  These two boys may get the award for being the liveliest newborns I have ever seen.  The first was up on his feet very quickly and within just a few minutes, was hopping around, with the second one right behind.  All in all, it was a picture perfect delivery.  I managed to get back in bed around 5:00 am and slept until around 9:30 am, so I got off pretty easy with that one.

(the girl and her suspicious mother)
I had two more ewes marked on the calendar that could be due today and just a few hours ago one of them delivered a strapping big girl.  I did help pull this one out because the ewe had been pushing for so long, I was worried that the lamb would be stressed.  In fact, when I got her out, she was covered with meconium (the yellowish stain you see in the picture), which is thought to be a sign of distress during delivery.  Not to worry, she's up and aggressively nursing.  I left them in the big pen for several hours because I was hoping some of you might get to see the lamb taking her first steps, but now they are also in a mothering-up pen for the next few days.  The first few days are important for bonding and time away from the main flock will allow the lambs to get strong enough and savvy enough to stick close to mom for a while.  One funny thing about this ewe is that she's very vocal.  I had made a note on last years lambing records that she was a loud mouth (but a good mother) and she's living up to her reputation right now!  Be glad the lamb-cam does not have audio!