1 Weekend … 4 Lambs

I had to work this past Saturday and Sunday so Dave figured that all the lambs would be born while I was gone.  Well, only 4 were born, but right after I went to work Saturday morning Annie had her twins!  I left around 7:30am and Dave called me at 8:30am to tell me there was a lamb in the big stall when he went in to feed.  He got the lambing jug (pen) ready and moved Annie lamb to the smaller space to bond and continued feeding.  He checked back and Annie had 2 lambs in the jug with her.  Dave said she was so quiet that he didn’t even hear her pushing!

Dave’s 1st solo lambing couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  The 13 lb ram lamb was born first, followed by the 10 lb ewe lamb (no wonder she groaned every time she was laying down!).

Annie twins

When I got home from work Sunday afternoon Abigail was the only ewe laying down in the stall, but she got up when Dave brought their hay and grain in.  During our dinner, I noticed on the barn monitor that Abigail was the only one not really eating.  She was standing to the side of the stall by herself and only half-heartedly munching on hay.  Her ears were droopy and she had a look of concentration on her face.

I went out a couple of times to monitor her labor after dinner and was concerned that even though she was pushing I hadn’t seen a water sac or feet.  Warning …. graphic birth description …. may not be for the squeamish.

I “gloved-up” and found the sac was about to emerge.  After a few more minutes and as many pushes I saw a foot.  A single, rear foot.  Okay, I’ve done this before.  This is a breach birth, but at least the lamb wasn’t in the full breach (or butt first) position.  I felt to see if only one leg was presenting and found the other leg next to the 1st, but with the foot bent backwards.  That was easy enough to correct.  Once both feet were out Abigail started pushing again, but with no progress.  I examined again and found that the legs were bent, so I gently straightened them out and she pushed again, but  then got up to find another position.

I was getting nervous here because once the umbilical cord is pinched in the birth canal the lamb will instinctively breathe.  If the lamb is in the breach position when the cord is pinched it could try to breathe while its head is still in the mother and inhale birth fluids.  This is a concern because any aspirated (inhaled) birth fluids can cause pneumonia in the lamb.  Abigail laid down again and with each of her pushes I pulled the lamb’s legs side-to-side and downwards.  I only pulled with her pushes to lessen any tearing or damage to Abigail.  The ewe lamb came out easily and I quickly wiped any fluids from her nose and mouth so that she could breathe.

We waited for a while before moving her to the lambing jug to determine if she was going to have another lamb, but she ended up having just 1 ewe lamb that weighed 10.25 lbs.

abigail lamb

This morning (Monday) was the 1st day of Noah’s Spring Break so I got to sleep in till 7:30!  I heard lots of baa-ing over the barn, but figured it was just because Annie and Abigail were across from the rest of the ewes and they were “talking” to each other.  I got outside around 8 or so and discovered that Erin (one of our 2 first-time moms) was licking a nearly-dry lamb!  She was almost under the video camera and out of view on the screen, which explains why I didn’t see a lamb on the monitor.  I brought Annie and her twins out of the jug and carried Erin’s lamb (with her following) into it.  The ewe lamb weighs 10 lbs and Erin is very interested in her and standing still for her to nurse.

Erin lamb

We now have 3 ewes successfully lamb, with 4 more to go.  Our lambing percentage is 1.33 so far (divide the total lambs by the total mothers).  I hope we have some more multiples to boost the percentage a little.  By comparison, last year’s lambing percentage was 1.8.

Happy lambing!

A Contest!

You may already have read or heard about our breeding “accident” last fall with our sheep.  If not, read about it here.

Since we don’t know when our lambs are due, we’ve decided to run a “Guess When our Lambs will be Born” contest.  We are pretty sure that all 7 of our adult ewes are pregnant and that they are due in the next 3 weeks (probably before 3/13).


How to enter our contest:

1. “Like” us on Facebook (click here to visit our FB page)

2. To enter reply to the status pinned to the top of the page.

3. Only 1 guess per person/household.

4. All entries must be received by Saturday (2/23) at midnight (EST).

5. I will announce winners as the lambs are born. If you win please PM or email me your snail mail address.

Anyone to correctly guess a lambing date will receive a photo of the lamb(s) born on that day.  Ready… Set… Go!

When Abortion in Sheep Can be Prevented

When Abortion in Sheep Can be Prevented

This is Duffy’s story:


Duffy was born to Rosy in 2010, our only triplet birth on the farm so far (you can read about it here).  She was due to lamb for the 1st time in early March, 2012.  About ten days before she was due she went into labor – on February 25th – and I was the only one home because I was sick.  I went to feed hay in the late afternoon/early evening and found Duffy in the back of the pasture by herself.

I got her into the barn but her labor did not progress so I tried to assist.  She was hardly dilated and I couldn’t get to the lambs.  Plus there was an odor… a bad odor.  I called our vet, Dale (who is now retired and missed dearly), and he and his wife got to our place about 45 minutes later.  He pulled twin lambs with a lot of difficulty and gave Duffy antibiotics and other medications.  He estimated that the lambs had died a day or so prior to her aborting them.

He told me to call him if any other ewes aborted because if the cause of Duffy’s abortion was infectious, it could go through the flock.  Over the next days and weeks I watched the other pregnant ewes closely and researched causes for abortion in sheep.  I learned that a large percentage of sheep abortion is caused by non-infections diseases – read: injury, rough handling, poisonous plants and inadequate feeding.

Causes of Abortion in Sheep in N Ireland

During this time I began to consider that Duffy had been injured prior to aborting her lambs and tried to remember any incidence of injury.

Two days before Duffy aborted her lambs we vaccinated the pregnant ewes.  I remembered that Duffy had gotten pushed by another sheep into the stall doorway on her way out of the barn when we led the sheep back to their pasture.  The doorways had O-rings on them from when the barn housed horses and I believe that is what caused her abortion.  I immediately took the O-rings off the doorways of any stall that the sheep would enter.

stall doorways - before and after

Our other 5 ewes lambed normally in March and produced a total of 9 lambs (4 sets of twins and a singleton).

Please look all around your sheep handling areas to be sure there are no potential hazards.  We used this stall without any trouble for 6 years, BUT it only takes 1 second for a freak accident to happen.  This time it cost us 2 lambs.

Oops… or, Another Lesson Learned

We have bred our sheep and had successful lambing seasons for 6 years. This fall breeding season, however, turned out to be a learning experience for us.

Usually at 3 months our lambs are separated from their dams for weaning. After 2-3 weeks we move the ewe lambs back to the pasture with the adult ewes. The ram lambs go in the pasture with our adult rams and wethers. For some reason (I can’t remember why right now), we let ALL the lambs go back to the pasture with their dams for the summer.

On October 13th, we took all the ram lambs away from the ewes because we saw some *frisky* behavior going on.  We had decided to put our rams in with the ewes in early November so that we wouldn’t have lambs until April.  We separated our rams so that Ezra and Camille we together in one field (Camille is our only ewe that Ezra is not related to), and Raulie was with Annie, Abigail, Bertha, Beatrice, Erin and Esme.  We put all the lambs in a 3rd field with our wether BFL and goat.

{Some background info on sheep breeding… We put breeding harnesses that hold crayons on our rams each breeding season.  When the ram mounts the ewe the crayon on the harness rubs on her rump.  We then have  visual evidence of breeding and can mark our calendar accordingly so we can calculate when any lambs will be born.  Sheep cycle ever 14-18 days, therefore, you should change the color crayon in your ram’s breeding harness every 14-15 days.  If a ewe is marked with the second color, this means she did not conceive during the 1st cycle.  Any ewe that did conceive in the 1st cycle will not cycle again and the ram will not have any interest in mounting her.}

After 2 weeks of rams and ewes together, not one of the ewes was marked with color on their rump.  We usually breed in October, I started to wonder if we missed our window of opportunity, but I didn’t really think that was the case because we have had rams breed ewes though December.  Since none of the girls were marked, I didn’t bother changing crayon colors for their next cycle.  Two more weeks with nothing, and during that time I started thinking that we left the ram lambs in with their dams too long because the adult rams were not mounting the ewes at all.  You’ll remember that we did see some frisky behavior earlier in the fall, but we didn’t witness any actual breeding.

Now that we’re in the New Year, we are anticipating a surprising lambing season because we think our ewes are pregnant, but we don’t have any idea when they are due.  We guess that any lambs will be born BEFORE mid-March since we took the ram lambs away from the ewes in mid-October.  Unfortunately this lamb crop will not be able to be registered, but we will look forward to the lambs anyway!!

Seasonal Ram Changes

Autumn is here and that means we will be breeding our sheep soon.  I really find it amazing how rams change during the late summer and early fall in preparation for breeding.

Above are 2 photos of our newest ram, Raulie.  The photo on the left was taken when we got him in April and the one on the right is from yesterday (September 30th).  You can immediately see differences in his facial features – his face is more wrinkled and swollen now.

As soon as you come close to (most) breeding rams, you will notice a major change in them … their scent.  Most rams smell musky during breeding season (or rut) – and some smell more than others.  Sheep have scent glands between their toes and next to their eyes.  You can see in the above photo how the scent glands next to Raulie’s eyes have increased in size to produce the musky odor that comes with the breeding season.

The ram’s olfactory sense is heightened during rut so that he can more easily detect when a ewe is in estrus (heat).  To accommodate this, the nasal passages swell so that the surface area is increased.  Sheep also have a specialized organ above the roof of their mouth called the vomeronasal organ that aides in their sense of smell.  When the ram smells the ewe, he breathes into his nose and mouth.  Her scent is picked up by his olfactory cells and the vomeronasal organ and he raises his head and curls his upper lip (this is called the Flehmen response).

Isn’t it amazing how these animals were created so that their bodies change with the seasons?!

Trying a New Waterer

Last year we added ducks to our chicken coop.  It worked quite well, except for the mess they made of the waterer.  For a long time we had the waterer in the chicken house raised so only the chickens could get to it, and a general water trough outside.  This worked for a while, but eventually became a mess in its own way.  If only we had an automatic water system…

Then one day we got our FarmTek catalog in the mail.  Looking through it, I saw that they had a plan for making a poultry drinker with a 5-gallon bucket and their Super Flow push-in Nipples.   Basically you get a 5-gallon and drill 3 holes in the bottom.  push the drinker nipples in, fill with water and hang it so the bottom is about eye-level for your poultry.  We keep the lid on the bucket so that the water stays clean, but we only snap it on in 1 or 2 places so it’s easy to take off.

We ordered 6 nipples but just make one waterer to begin.  We showed the poultry how to drink from it by holding their beaks to it and they will drink from it, but still prefer the outdoor water bowl.  I think if we switched over to only this type of waterer, they would use it without problem.

We made a 2nd drinker when our ducklings were old enough to house with the rest of the chicks.  The young chicks, ducklings and poults adapted more quickly to the new system than the older birds did. 

Here are photos of the drinker in the chick nursery:

Chicks and ducklings drinking from hanging waterer

Another picture showing the handle

They are still using this waterer exclusively, however, when the rain fills their little pond up they prefer to drink out if that.  Even though they have been trained to use this bucket drinker, drinking out of a trough (or puddles) is more natural to them.

A New Season … More Stink Bugs

More and more people are meeting one of our most recent invasive pests, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB).  It had spread to at least 29 states since it was introduced in a shipment to eastern PA sometime during the 1990s.  They were first collected in Allentown, PA, in 1998.

BMSBs are a major agricultural pest in Asia, feeding on fruit crops and their population in the US has reached numbers to make it a real problem to American orchardists, too.  They don’t eat entire fruits or even make them inedible.  They disfigure hundreds of individual fruits – like apples – so that they cannot be marketed for fresh fruit sale.  Instead these apples and other fruits can only be used for cider or juice. 

Adult BMSB
Now that spring has arrived (in most of the country, anyway) we will be seeing more adult stink bugs waking up from hibernation in our homes.  Our family flushes all that we find so they don’t stink up our vacuum cleaner!  I have been wondering, lately, if they could be used for anything else…say a food source for something.  I happened upon a forum today with some interesting ideas for “disposing” of BMSBs.  Here’s the link: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/pagard/msg101628188305.html; the discussion thread is called “Fun Organic way to Deal with Pesky Brown Stink Bugs.”  I particularly like that one person’s pet turtle loves them!  I’m considering catching some in a jar, freezing them and feeding them to our chickens.  I’ll let you know if they eat them!

In addition to waking up from hibernation, BMSBs will also be reproducing soon.  Here’s a photo from the Penn State Cooperative Extension, York County of stink bug eggs and the hatched larvae:

BMSB eggs and larvae
The Penn State department of Entomology describes the eggs as, “elliptical (1.6 x 1.3 mm), light yellow to yellow-red with minute spines forming fine lines. They are attached, side-by-side, to the underside of leaves in masses of 20 to 30 eggs.” The adults reproduce from May to August and produce one generation per year in Pennsylvania , depending on the temperatures. Here is an image of BMSB nymphs

BMSB Nymphs

If we educate ourselves to the different stage of the BMSB, we can work at reducing their numbers – from egg stage to adult!

Right Now?!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks everything always happens at once.  Does the phrase, “Never a dull moment” describe anyone elses’ life perfectly?

Today I had an appointment with the state veterinarian at 11 am to complete our annual inspection for the USDA Scrapie Eradication Program.  Hannah and I had been outside feeding the critters earlier and then came in for a break for a while.  We bundled up (it was 20 degrees colder today than it was yesterday!) and ventured back outside at 10:30.  While I brought fresh swimming water to the ducks I saw the vet’s SUV coming up the drive.  OK… I had wanted to get the ewes into the barn before he got here … luckily he had some paperwork to finish so I had time to persuade my girls to come to the barn.

I got as far as the gate when I heard it.  Little, tiny, adorable lambie baa’s.  I was expecting our ewes, Beatrice and Camille, to lamb at any time but I had let them out of the barn for some exercise and fresh grass.  Beatrice was on the other side of my garden with 2 still wet lambs!  One was standing; the other hadn’t been cleaned off yet.  I quickly fetched 2 towels, helped dry off the 2nd lamb and brought mama and babies into the barn.  Once I had them together in a lambing jug (or pen), I went to gather the other ewes into the barn.

Our inspection went well and once I had made Hannah lunch I went to check on Beatrice and her twins.  The ewe lamb weighed 9.5 lbs and the ram lamb weighed 8.75 lbs.  I made sure the both knew where to nurse and headed back to Hannah in the house.

A New Adventure

Monday morning, around 6:15am, the phone rang… the dairy farm we had contacted about Jersey bull calves had 2 waiting for us.  

I had built a large wooden box for the back of our mini-van so that we can transport a couple animals without hitching up the trailer… actually Aunt Celie’s trailer.  Anyway, we loaded the box in the mini-van and after dropping Noah off at school, Hannah and I went to Gap, PA to pick them up.   I think the family we purchased the calves from might still be talking about us putting calves in the back of a mini-van

One of the calves was 1 day old (born on 2/13) and the other was 10 days old (born on 2/4).  This week was a great time to get them because Dave is taking classes in Philly so I’m not working this week.  The older calf needs to be bottle fed twice a day and the younger calf will get 3 bottles a day till he’s a week old.  I wanted to call them Thing 1 and Thing 2, but Noah decided they should be named Burger and Sandwich. 



We castrated them by banding them Tuesday night before giving them their bottles.  It’s definitely more involved than banding tails to dock them.  We don’t castrate ram lambs so I didn’t realize how tricky it is to get both testicles on the right side of the band!  The calves didn’t even flinch when I got the band on and they’re doing fine today. 

Stay tuned for more calf stories!