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.

lambswool2

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.

20170219_125755.jpg

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…

~~~~~~

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!
~~~~~~
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.

A Watched Pot Won’t Boil

… and most people will tell you that a watched ewe won’t lamb either.  Our first 4 lambs were born pretty close together.  Saturday (3/2) through Monday (3/4).  You can read their story here.  Twins, Beatrice and Bertha were the next 2 ewes to lamb, and they did so within 18 hours of each other!

Beatrice had her single ewe lamb close to midnight, Tuesday night (3/5).  Everything went well.  We woke up to baby-lamb baas over the baby monitor sometime before 1am and I went out to the barn.  The lamb was already standing and nursing so I decided it could stay with Beatrice in the big stall until the morning when I was more awake.  I dipped the lambs navel and weighed her (9.25 lbs), then went back to bed.

Beatrice lamb

Wednesday afternoon (3/6), we had a pediatrician appointment after school and got home around 4:30 to Bertha cleaning off twin ram lambs!  I got out to the barn quickly to make sure both were nursing, and to weigh them.  The older one was 8.75 lbs and was lighter in color; his darker twin was 9.5 lbs.  Since I still had to get ready to leave for work, I hurried back to the house and Dave took care of moving Bertha and the twins to the lambing jug.

bertha lambs

The first 5 ewes to lamb were 4 sisters and 1 daughter.  I’ve heard that related ewes go into heat around the same time … I wonder if that is true.

Thursday and Friday didn’t bring any lambs, but Esme had a single ram lamb (10.75 lbs) early Saturday morning (3/9).  We got out to the barn around 1:50am and got her and her lamb to the jug.  This is her first lambing and she did very well.  Esme seemed a little nervous about her lamb nursing but quickly settled down and we were back in the house in just a half-hour.

Esme lamb

We’ve past the last possible lambing date from the ewes being exposed to the ram lambs and Camille is still definitely pregnant.  We’ve estimated that she will probably not have her lamb(s) until at least 3/30 since after being exposed to the ram lambs, she was exposed to our ram, Ezra beginning on 11/1/12.

Stay tuned!