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!

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!

When Abortion in Sheep Can be Prevented

This is Duffy’s story:

Duffy

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 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.

The Lord Will Provide (a lambing story)

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives….that God will provide all we need.  He tells about the birds of the sky.  They don’t plant or harvest, or have barns or storehouses to put away food for winter, yet they have enough food to last until spring.  He also tells us about the lilies of the field.  They can’t work or spin fiber, but God has clothed them in beauty.

In conclusion of this parable, Jesus asks us this: if God care for the birds of the sky and the grass of the field, doesn’t He care for us even more?  “Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt 6:26)

I can’t tell you how much I worry.  Especially this time of year when we’re expecting lambs.  I constantly think about the “What if’s”.  But the Lord will provide.  This is such a certainty that one of the names of the Lord is “The LORD Will Provide”, Jehovah-jireh.  And every time He is faithful, I am in awe.

Yesterday our ewe, Rosy, lambed.  I took Hannah and Noah outside after lunch to tidy-up a bit for the field-trip this afternoon.  We were also waiting for our friends to come over.  I let the girls out of the barn to eat some of the nice green grass that’s now growing.  The new little lamb even came outside for the first time…that’s always a joy to see!

When Jen arrived with her daughters Rosy went into the barn and laid in the stall.  Very unusual – Rosy loves to eat.   Jen and I talked while the kids played together, but I kept an eye on Rosy.  After a little while she began labor and we got her into a lambing stall.  We watched her and soon it was apparent that she needed assistance.  The lambs head was emerging, but no feet were in sight.  I checked things out and found another head and feet but couldn’t find the feet from the 1st lamb.  And I couldn’t push the lamb back in far enough to find them.  In my mind I was flipping through all the birthing diagrams and instructions I’ve studied, but was still perplexed.  I called and left a voicemail for out vet to “Please call ASAP and talk me through this!”

When he called back I had found the legs and was attaching my lambing cord…or trying, at least.  The lamb kept pulling her feet out of my hands!  We delivered her fine and let Rosy clean her up while we waited for #2.  Soon all 4 children were gathered around Jen and were watching with amazement.

The 2nd lamb was delivered quickly but it was much smaller.  It was very still and its nose was cool.  I cleared the nose and rubbed its chest, then tried “swinging” it to clear its lungs.  Still nothing so I tried mouth-to-mouth.  Nothing.  I wrapped him in a towel and moved him aside so Rosy could keep cleaning her little girl.

While we were watching the little lamb try to stand Genna said, “I think she’s having another lamb!”  I told her it was probably just the afterbirth, but when Rosy laid down and started pushing again we all looked at each other!  She was having another lamb!  This one was a normal presentation (head and 2 feet).  Rosy was obviously tired so I helped the lamb out.  This ram lamb was huge!  I wiped his nose and brought him around so Rosy could clean him.

Rosy with twin lambs

The ewe lamb weighed 9.75 lbs, the ram lamb weighed 12.5 lbs and the stillborn lamb weighed 5.5 lbs.

I am so thankful that Jen was here to watch over the kids while I helped Rosy deliver her lambs.  And I’m thankful that Rosy went into labor when I was home.

The Lord will provide.

Whew!

Last night Dave couldn’t sleep because of his cold so he went in the living room and watched some tv.  Well, at 12:45am he woke me up because one of the ewes went into labor and he could hear her pushing over the baby monitor we keep in the barn.

We got out to the barn pretty quick with my lambing box and discovered it was Abigail who was in labor.  We moved her into a smaller lambing stall (or jug) and persuaded Rosy and Annie to return to their “ladies in waiting” stall.  We got some things together and sat by the straw bales to wait.  Midnight and Tiger were very happy that we finally decided to come join them in sleeping in the barn.  🙂  Not much happened so we decided to go back to sleep for 30-45 minutes and do another check.

At 2:15am, I mean 3:15 daylight savings time, we went out again because we still heard pushing.  I checked and only saw 1 hoof….not good.  I felt around and found the other foot quickly.  It was bent at the “ankle” and corrected easily, but the emerging legs didn’t look like front legs.  I felt around again and found a tail….not good.

The next time Abigail laid down to push, Dave knelt down and held her for me.  I attached my lambing cord to the lamb’s legs and, with each contraction, pulled.  Poor Abigail was a trooper through the delivery.  Dave said she chewed on his jacket when she was pushing.  We had to get that baby out quickly so that it didn’t start to breathe while still in the birth canal.  Pneumonia can develop when fluid gets in the lungs.

We got the lamb out – a ram – and cleared its nose…after a little chest rub he started breathing and shaking his head.  What a big boy!  After mama cleaned him off and he stood up I weighed him… 12lbs!  No wonder he didn’t have a twin!

I finally got back to bed at 4:15 daylight saving time.  What a night to be out in the lambing barn!  And I had to teach Sunday school this morning, too!  Whew!

Noah & Hannah with Abigail and ram lamb