“Mom, are you crying?”

Bertha seemed to be in the beginning stages of labor early this afternoon. She progressed slowly and by dinnertime she had started pushing. I ate dinner quickly and went to check on her because nothing was happening during her pushes.

I got out to the barn with the supplies I needed to check the lamb’s position. I soon realized Bertha’s lamb was full breech, meaning its tail was coming out first and all 4 legs were pointed the other way. I tried to find the legs, but it was already at the cervix so there wasn’t much room for my hand. I called our vet to come out and assist because I didn’t think I would be able to turn the lamb. Dave came out and put up a gate to keep the other ewes out of the way and Hannah came out to watch.

Bertha kept pushing so I tried again to maneuver the lamb, but every time attempted she would lay down – making it harder for me to work. I eventually was able to push the lamb back from the cervix enough to feel the lamb’s hind legs. I needed Bertha to stay standing so I could straighten the back legs and get them out.

Hannah was watching from the other side of the gate and was a bit grossed out by birth process. She knew I was having trouble, though, and asked if she could come over the gate to help… yes! I explained that I needed her to hold Bertha’s head and let Bertha lean against her while I worked to get the legs turned around. I was able to get my hand on the leg and found the hoof, then I cupped my hand around it and tried to bring the leg backwards without damaging Bertha’s uterus. It was so hard and scary but I got it turned around. I was on an adrenaline rush and both surprised and relieved at what I just did! I laid my head on Bertha’s back and heard Hannah ask, “Mom, are you crying?”

After a few tears and deep breaths, I got the other hind leg turned around the same way as the first leg, then let Bertha rest until she had to push again.

The problem that arises when lambs are born with back legs coming out first is that the umbilical cord is pinched before the lamb’s head is delivered, causing the lamb to begin breathing while it is still surrounded by amniotic fluid.

When Bertha began pushing I pulled the legs to fully extend them and pulled the lamb out quickly so it didn’t inhale any fluid. Once out, I wiped the birth fluids from its face and rubbed its side to get it breathing. Bertha’s ram lamb starting shaking his head and calling to her right away.

I was so overwhelmed with relief that I found myself crying again! I called our vet to tell him the lamb was born but asked him to come check on Bertha since he was on his way.

Bertha was perfect and neither of us felt another lamb so this little guy has his mama all to himself. Well, except for me milking her so I can make some sheep’s milk soap.

Leaping Lambs!

I am sitting here going through sections of our website, and I come to my blog drafts page.  Imagine my surprise to find this post that I thought I had published in 2014!

Enjoy these lamb pics while we wait patiently until April when this year’s lambs will be born.

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In 2014 we were blessed with 10 healthy lambs!  6 ewe lambs and 4 ram lambs; 3 sets of twins and 4 singles.  Our lambing season began on February 28th and lasted till March 9th (when we had 2 sets of twins born).

Beatrice's Lamb

Coco's Lamb

Esme's Lambs

Fiona's Lamb

Annie's Lamb  Bertha's Lamb  Erin's Lamb

Because of the extreme cold weather that winter and the icy conditions we kept the ewes and lambs in the barn until the ice melted and the youngest lambs were a couple weeks old.

It was great to watch them enjoy their new-found freedom when we finally were able to bring them outside.

They had been outside for a couple weeks and were racing a few times every day.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching them!

 

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!

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.

To Flush or Not … and I’m not Talking About Toilets

Do you flush your ewes before breeding?  Many shepherds do.   Some don’t.  Some shepherds consider flushing an “intensive farming” practice and not natural for the sheep.

Esme lamb

~~ Before I go any further, let me explain what the term flushing.  Flushing is the practice of increasing feed given to the ewe before breeding.  This is usually started 2 weeks or so before introducing the ram to the ewe flock and continued for about 45 days (tapering off gradually at the end).  The ewes can be supplemented with grain, hay or by moving to a better pasture.  The increase in nutrition prior to breeding gets the ewes into good body condition that is more nourishing to fetus(es).  It can also result in the ewes coming into estrus (heat) together and their bodies releasing more than 1 ova (egg) when in estrus.  If the ewes are overweight before breeding, flushing usually has little or no effect. ~~

Bertha's Twins

I’ve flushed my ewes and also bred my sheep some years without flushing to see if there is any difference in my lamb crop.  Since this year (2013) is only our 7th lambing, I don’t have years of data to use, but the couple of years that we haven’t flushed have produced more single births than years that we did flush the ewes.

Here are the birth results from 2 years in particular, 2012 & 2013:

2012 – Flushed Ewes.     Twin births: 5     Single Births: 1

(1 set of these twins were lost prematurely – read about it here)

2013 – Did not Flush.     Twin Births: 2     Single births: 4

As you can see the percentage of twins were higher when the ewes were flushed prior to breeding.  Our 2012 lamb percentage was 1.83% vs. 1.33% for 2013.

The decision to flush your ewes or not depends on several factors: feed/hay availability for feeding ewes carrying multiples, pasture space for ewes and growing lambs, and customer-demand for lambs.  Whether you raise your sheep for fiber, meat or the show ring, you don’t want to have more lambs than you can sell or adequately keep.  We often have a waiting list for lambs, so after looking at my data, I will be flushing my ewes from now on.