Color Changing Lambs

I’m often asked about Tunis wool.  Is it soft?  What projects are it good for?  Why do lambs have different colored wool than adults?

Tunis wool is a fine to medium, down-type wool with lots of loft.  If you’re not familiar with wool or fiber terms this means Tunis wool is soft and bouncy and makes light and springy yarn which is great for a variety of projects.

Explaining the lambs’ coloring isn’t as simple.

Tunis lambs are born with a short layer of cream-colored wool over their torsos and necks and light to dark cinnamon colored hair on their legs, heads and tails.  Intermixed in the wool are longer kemp fibers (think guard hairs) that can sometimes completely hide the wool.  The amount of kemp fibers can vary between lambs, just as the cinnamon shade can.  Below are twin lambs.  Notice how one is much darker and also has more kemp fibers covering his wool.

lambs1

twin Tunis lambs

Over their first few months lambs appear to change from cinnamon to the lighter cream color of their parents.  Their color doesn’t actually fade during this time.  Their wool grows longer, though the kemp, but they also begin to shed much of those longer, darker kemp fibers.

kemp

close-up of a kemp fiber

You can see this in the photo below of a 6 week old lamb.  The kemp fibers are longer and becoming more sparse overall.

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close up of Tunis lamb

By the time Tunis lambs are 3-4 months old they have the typical coloring associated with the adults.  As Tunis sheep age their wool does lighten slightly.  Their first fleece is usually a beautiful cream color and each year it will become whiter, although Tunis wool doesn’t ever become pure white.

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Jack at 1 year old, before first shearing

You can see the differences in color in the photo below.  The two shorn ewes are 5 years old in this photo, the smaller lambs are all up to 8 weeks old and the larger lamb on the far right is 4 months old.

changes in color.jpg

And that is the not so simple explanation of why Tunis lambs seem to change color.  Hope you enjoyed it!

 

Textbook Lambing

As I stood feeding our Jersey calf his bottle last Thursday (2/23), I noticed that Bertha was pacing in a small area and sniffing the ground a lot.  I figured she was in labor – a few days earlier than I had calculated – so after Cookie was finished his bottle I decided to watch Bertha and make my first Facebook live video.  I realize not everyone is on Facebook so I wanted to share the video here, too (our farm page is public and anyone can see it).  I tried to keep it from being too graphic for folks who don’t want to see too much of the birth.

Enjoy!

Lessons from Across the Fence…

… or {more accurately} through the fence.

We brought Camille and her 2-week old ram lamb home in May 2009.  After weaning, we sold Camille’s lamb “Cameron” to Christine E. in NJ to be the herdsire for her flock.  He produced beautiful offspring, but in 2012 Christine decided not to breed her sheep.  It turns out Cameron had other ideas…

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Here’s Christine’s story:

We had Cameron and 13 ewes.  We decided not to breed, so in May 2012 we separated Cameron from the ewes in a connecting pasture separated by 4×4 mesh sheep fence.  On January 16, 2013, I noticed that one of the two-year old ewes was bagging up.  We were not set-up for lambing (had disassembled lambing pens), so we put her in my horse trailer.  Within 48 hours, she delivered 2 lambs.
After that, I got down on my knees to study all of the ewes as they walked around in the pasture.  The ewes were of course very woolly, so it was difficult to tell for sure as they all looked fat and the only way to really get an idea if they were pregnant was to see if they were bagging up.  As they are on 5 acres, it was impossible to catch each one to get a hands-on check of them.
I noticed another ewe bagged up, brought her to the horse trailer, and she had a lamb.
christine lamb 1
I thought that was it.  2 days later, I went out to the pasture to feed, and I noticed all of the sheep were laying outside of the shelter even though it was windy.  It made me suspicious, so instead of just throwing hay over the fence, I went inside and walked to the shelter.  There was a ewe and a lamb.  All of the sheep stayed outside (I’m guessing) to make sure they didn’t step on the lamb.  My horse trailer was not safe for any more ewes, so we put her in my old chicken coop.
I then noticed that my 11-year-old ewe was bagging up and even though she was fat around her stomach, I could feel her spine and ribs.  I brought her up to the coop so I could grain her.  About two weeks later, she had twins.
Another ewe was bagging up.  I had to put her in the horse trailer because we were running out of room in the coop.  We set up an outside pen so the sheep could go in and out of the trailer.  That ewe had a lamb but it was weak and I was afraid to leave it in with so many sheep (afraid it would get trampled), so we made it a bottle baby.
christine lamb 2
It was snowing one morning, and I went out to the sheep pasture, and found a lamb laying in the snow with mama nowhere to be found.  My second bottle baby.
In total, we had 8 lambs born to 6 ewes.  One of the first set of twins died because the mother rejected him.  I kept him in with the mother, holding her and forcing her to let him nurse and supplementing him with a bottle.  One morning, I found him dead.  It looked like his neck was broken.  Either his mother or the other ewe must have stepped on him or shoved him against the wall when he tried to nurse.  He was almost 2 weeks old, so it was very sad.
The first lambs were born on January 18 and the last on February 11.
christine lamb 3
Besides losing the one lamb, my only regret is that I didn’t get to see Cameron breeding the ewes through the fence!
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I’ve heard of rams breeding ewes through a fence… but this is the first time I heard of one breeding 6 ewes through a fence!  Now I know why some breeders have “Abstinence Alleys” (space between fences so sheep cannot have direct contact)!  I am so thankful to Christine for letting me share her story.  I hope she doesn’t mind how long it’s taken me to post it!

Dairy-Free Treats for my Niece

My niece gets eczema-like flakiness on her scalp.  It was originally diagnosed as cradle cap, but when the condition persisted into her toddler years and didn’t respond to cradle cap treatments, my sister suspected a dairy allergy.  A couple weeks after removing all dairy from her diet, my niece’s scalp wasn’t dry and flaky anymore.

This spring I experimented with making dairy-free desserts for my niece.  Two were big hits with our whole family, the other, was good but not great.  I have an idea of how to make it better, though.

On Hannah’s birthday I made a dairy-free Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie in addition to her birthday cake.  I found the recipe for a CC skillet cookie via Pinterest, tweaked it a bit and Viola!

Dairy-Free Skillet CC Cookie

Here’s my version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 ¾ c                    white whole wheat flour (King Arthur’s)

½ tsp                   baking soda

14 tbsp                 Earth Balance

½ c                       granulated sugar

3/4 c                     packed dark brown sugar (I used light brown)

1 tsp                      salt

3 tsp                     vanilla extract

1                            large egg

1                            large egg yolk

1 ¼ c                    Enjoy Life semi-sweet chips

Directions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Adjust oven rack to middle position.  Lightly butter pan.

  1. Whisk together flour and baking soda; set aside.
  2. Heat 10 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat until melted about 2 minutes. *Continue      stirring for another 1-3 minutes until brown and nutty in aroma.*   {Earth Balance doesn’t get brown and      nutty, so I skipped this step}
  3. Remove from heat.  Pour heated butter through a sieve into a heat proof bowl.  Stir in remaining butter until completely melted.  Add all three sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully combined.  Add egg and egg yolk, whisk until mixture is smooth and no sugar lumps remains, for about 30 seconds.
  4. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes then whisk for another 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat step four 2 more times until mixture is thick and shiny.
  6. Stir in flour until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips until combined.
  7. Press cookie dough mixture into pan.  Bake for about 15-17 minutes or until golden brown and still puffy.  {Note:  baking time is based on using a 10-inch skillet.  If you use a smaller or bigger one you will have to adjust your baking time.}

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For St. Patrick’s Day, I made the Coconut Oil Fudge recipe that I found on Common Sense Home blog.  It was good, but I didn’t add the nuts or dried fruit in the recipe and you could really taste the coconut oil.

coconut fudge

I think if I make it again I will use a neutral taste coconut oil like Jarrow’s and add the nuts and/or dried fruit.  Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients
2 c                     unrefined coconut oil, softened
¾  c                  finely chopped nuts
1 c                     organic cocoa powder
7 tbsp               maple syrup or honey
¼ c                   chopped dried organic cherries or dried, unsweetened coconut
¼ c                   chopped dried organic cranberries

Directions:

In the bowl of a standing mixer stir coconut oil until creamy with no lumps (if oil is too thick, set bowl in warm water). (You want the oil soft, not liquid.  If it is liquid, the other ingredients will settle to the bottom of the pan instead of staying mixed with the oil.  If this happens, you can warm the whole thing and remix.)  Add cocoa powder and sweetener, mixing after each ingredient. Mix in the dried fruit, (coconut), and nuts.

Spread fudge into 7″x11″ or 9″x9″ inch pan and refrigerate or freeze until firm. Cut into squares and serve. Keep refrigerated.

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What Easter basket is complete without chocolate?  My very favorite are buttercreams.  I decided to make dairy-free buttercreams for my niece for Easter and they were fantastic!  For the filling I used this Irish Potato recipe from Cooks.com, minus the coconut (yes, Irish Potatoes are buttercreams plus coconut and rolled in cinnamon).

DF Buttercreams

Recipe:

1 lb           10x sugar

1 stick      Earth Balance

½ tsp       salt

1 tsp         vanilla

1/3 c        light Karo

1 bag       Enjoy Life semi-sweet chips

Directions:

Mix ingredients by hand or in mixer.  When combined put in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Melt Enjoy Life chips in double boiler.  Scoop filling with spoon or cookie dough scoop and roll in melted chips.  Remove and place in paper candy cups or on wax/parchment paper.  Refrigerate until set and store in refrigerator.  Note: the filling warms easier and faster that true buttercreams so you may need to work in small batches so it doesn’t get too soft to work with.

I’m already looking for summer desserts that I can make for my niece and can’t wait to share them with you!

Just when We Thought We were Finished…

… we had more lambs!

Remember that 1980s film For Keeps?  I felt like I was in the scene where Molly Ringwald announces, “I’m pregnant.  Can you pass the turnips?” when I went out to feed the sheep last Tuesday morning.

Coco was laying in the middle of the field next to a lamb.  I wondered why she was mothering a lamb when she didn’t have any.  As I got closer I realized it was her lamb!  I went right over to Fiona and felt for an udder … it was full!  I immediately brought Coco and her lamb into a lambing jug and put Fiona in the jug next to her.

Coco’s little ram lamb weighed 7 lbs and has turned out to be just as loud as his mama.

Coco lamb

The next morning I thought I saw a lamb on the baby monitor so we checked the barn before leaving for school.  Fiona had 2 lambs next to her and I checked Coco’s stall to make sure her lamb didn’t squeeze through into her jug!  Nope … she had twins!  After bringing Noah to school I went back to the barn and checked on the lambs.  The ram lamb (darker color) weighed 7.25 lbs and the ewe lamb weighed 5.25 lbs.  She’s the smallest (live) lamb we’ve had born here!

Fiona twins

When we crotched the ewes in early February we didn’t think our lambs were pregnant, but we were wrong!  Wondering how we missed it? With 2 months to go in their 1st pregnancies, they weren’t very big yet.  Also, first-timers’ udders don’t get swell too much prior to lambing.

Our shearer came out the day after Fiona had her lambs (Thursday) so everyone was able to be shorn.  {If you shear before lambing, most shearers recommend shearing 3-4 weeks before the due date so there is no chance for injury to the unborn lamb(s).}  The day after shearing, we moved all the ewes and lambs to our big stall to get used to being in a large group again.  The weather turned colder over the weekend, so we kept the flock in the barn until Sunday so the smallest lambs didn’t get too cold.

Here’s a short video I took of the ewes and lambs on Sunday.  They were so happy to be outside!

Our lambing season is now finished.  Really.  We don’t have any ewes that don’t already have lambs.  Now to watch the lambs grow!

Last but not Least

Our lambing season this year has come to an end!  Camille gave birth late last Wednesday night to twin ewe lambs.

She probably had them while I was laying in bed, reading and listening to the monitor.  I didn’t hear any birthing noises … or lamb noises, for that matter.  I did hear Coco baa-ing every now and then, but I thought it might be because of the dog next door barking.

I soon turned off the light and as I was drifting to sleep Coco’s baa-ing became more frequent and had an urgent tone, as if she was yelling, “Moooooommm!  Moooommmmyyyyy!  Moooooooommm!”  I got up and went out to the barn with my lambing box – just in case – and found Camille with 2 ewe lambs by her side.  One was almost dry and weighed 10.25 lbs.  Camille was still cleaning the 2nd twin (she weighed 9 lbs).

Camille & Twins

I got the lambs and Camille into a lambing jug, made sure they got some colostrum and headed back to bed.

Our 2013 lamb crop totals 10 lambs.  4 rams, 6 ewes.  3 sets of twins and 4 singles.  The 2 ewe lambs sired by Ezra will be registered.  The other 4 ewe lambs will be available for sale as unregistered ewes.