April was a bit of a blur” said a blogger I follow. I concur, wholeheartedly. She goes on to say “I thought I’d dig through my photos and figure out what I’ve been doing for the last month that so profoundly curbed my writing activity.” I could add March into that, but it wasn’t the blur that April was. And going through a few photos quickly reveals what created the blur. And here were a few nights where the red wine was getting a workout.
In my post of December 17, I mentioned taking Colin the ram home, and hoping he was able to connect in a meaningful way with all my ewes. Shearing day for everyone was March 1, and tipping the girls to shear them it looked like at least three were expecting (based on udder development). As the days of March progressed it was obvious Cinnamon and her daughter Lorna would be first. Both were huge, and I joked that it looked like Cinnamon was expecting triplets.
Late in the month I could see udder development on Pebbles and Nona too. Minnie seemed to be the only holdout, though a decent view (she was somewhat coy) like a probably with her too.
On April 7 I came home from work on a mild afternoon to find the bees quite active and when I let the girls out to browse,
Cinnamon immediately separated herself out and went to the far corner of the pasture, under the maple and cedar cover, an area I’ve dubbed coyote corner, as it’s where I’ve seen the critters trotting by the property. Great. My feral ewe is loose and ready to lamb. I kept an eye on her into the evening, using the MacArthurs (my name for my giant antique binoculars that look like they may have been in use on the USS Missouri) to watch her from the pasture gate. Behind me the bees buzzed though the hive activity was decreased from when I first got home. Then I noticed a cluster of bees in the grass. When I peered closer, I could see it was eight or ten workers with a queen. Aha! The hive had obviously swarmed that day and this was the new baby queen. I looked up and around nearby to see if I could spot a swarm cluster anywhere but didn’t see anything. It was likely this queen was a young virgin who’d come out for her maiden flight and hadn’t gone back into the hive yet. Something else to watch over as the dusk gathered.
When it got too dark to see Cinnamon from the gate–pawing the ground, then lying down, then getting up and pawing the ground some more–I put the other ewes back in the shed, brought the dogs inside and fed them, and then went out with a flashlight to check on her. Her eyes glowed in the flashlight beam. And then another pair of eyes glowed below her. I heard a tiny baa and as I got closer I saw not one, not two, but three brand new lambs, still wet and just barely on their feet. Wee! I ran back up the hill to get a laundry basket and some towels. I got back to them and put the lambs in the basket to Cinnamon’s head butting protest, and walked back up to the sheep shed, babies crying and trying to clamber out of the basket, mama baaing and following close behind. Lambing season had begun with a bang! Two ewes and a ram lamb, all good healthy weights and strong. It was chilly that night and I turned the heat lamp on for them in the shed. Cinnamon is an amazing mother and cares for all three like the champ she is. They’re a month old now and growing fast.
It turns out Pebbles was next, with twin boys presented on a Wednesday morning, nine days after Cinnamon’s triplets. She was in labor when I went out to check on them before work that morning and I was in a bit of a panic. I HAD to be at the office that morning, with a hard copy edit I’d done overnight due that morning. I felt pretty confident that Pebbles would be okay, but it was still hard to leave her and head into the office. I dropped off my edit, loaded some documents onto my computer desktop at work and headed back home to work on them from home. When I got home Pebbles was fine, and her two boys where half dry already.
Then the real drama began. I checked on all the girls (and new babies) at about midnight that night, as I always do, and it looked
like Lorna was revving up for birth (pawing at ground, making “nests”). A side note here – about three weeks prior, Lorna suddenly looked like she’d swallowed a bowling ball. She was still huge, but her belly had dropped on the left, and gotten so huge that movement of her rear leg was impinged. She looked uncomfortable, but not suffering. I posted a note to my sheep group, and called the vet too. My description didn’t raise any red flags (though a couple people asked about bloat, since the rumen is on the left). The vet said to be sure and feed her grain, since they need the extra energy and calcium. I kept an eye on her, and since she seemed okay, I just figured it was a spectacularly bad carry. It wasn’t. I’ll save the entire story for another post, but Lorna also had triplets. I had to pull each one, and unfortunately waited too long in my ignorance and lost the third one, a nice looking ram lamb. Dang. Given Lorna’s condition it’s probably for the best that she only has two to care for (a ewe and a ram lamb). She’s a fantastic mother, though, just like her own mother (Cinnamon).
After the drama of Lorna’s all night delivery I was spent. It took me two days to recover. It took poor Lorna a few days longer, but she’s doing okay now. It was touch and go for a bit, and most of my recovery was from stress (not a sleepless night) from worrying about her. I called the vet and picked up some injections (antibiotics and B vitamins) and then called again on Saturday to make an appointment for the vet to come out and check her.
I left for dog class on that Saturday morning (Nosework training for the first time in 4 months for Daisy and Farley), having checked on everyone and all was well. Lorna was still not 100%, but she’d at least eaten the fresh browse I’d harvested for her the day before. When I got home 4 hours later the herd had increased by two. Nona, Lorna’s twin sister, had twins! They were still wet, probably about 30 minutes old, and are a black ram and ewe. That left only Minnie, Pebbles’ daughter, to go. Though I knew she was carrying (udder development), due to her small size I figured she just had one lamb in there. She’s a petite ewe; I don’t want to say it’s her only redeeming value, but she’s not my favorite ewe. Nor is she anyone else’s favorite. I’d put her in the maternity pen with the other ewes and the butt-fests ensued. Lorna was sequestered in the side pen, but it had been a week and she had recovered enough, and her lambs were big enough for them to go in with the others. So I pulled Minnie into the side pen and let Lorna go into the maternity ward with her herdmates (not to self: before you breed again, you MUST get more stalls built). Minnie’s small stature is a big plus for me, but personality-wise she’s been a pill (and I’m not so keen on her wool either, black and almost no crimp). If she was going to lamb anytime soon it was definitely only one, but keeping her in the side pen was best, since she seems to cause such rancor with the other ewes. There was a window of two weeks, so she could get bigger.
Five days later I was up and getting ready for work when Daisy got very excited, leaping on
the sofa to look outside. The Setter boys weren’t on board, so I knew it wasn’t anyone visiting the property, but Daisy was definitely worked up. I let her out and saw her run right to the sheep pen. Ruh-roh. Then I heard the loud baaaaaing. I put on my jacket and went out to find Minnie flat on her side bawling for all she was worth. Shit! I could see something poking out of her, but had no idea if it was the right thing (front legs and nose, like a diver). I ran back in the house and changed into my jeans, got a few exam gloves (figured I’d have to pull the lamb). I went back out, gloved up and lubed up, and didn’t have to go too far to realize the lamb was in perfect position. Still she bellowed. When he was a little further out I pulled, to assist her in expelling him. A little black ram lamb (he seemed large at the time). I toweled him off as she licked his little face. There was junk hanging from her rear that didn’t look like afterbirth, and OMG, after a short time, number two was out. So it really is true – black is slimming. No WAY did she look like she had been carrying two lambs. The second one was a ewe lamb, vigorous and healthy, and a miniature of her sire, like so many of her half siblings. Colin is of a color pattern called gulmoget by the Shetlanders that NASSA says is uncommon, and Colin seems to be on a one ram mission to change that statistic.
So here are the final stats: out of 5 ewes I got 12 lambs (more than I expected in my “5 sets of twins” dreams of last December). Out of those 12 lambs 7 were ram lambs (with 6 surviving) and 5 ewe lambs. And of those 7 ram lambs, 3 are solid black, one is moorit (brown), one is black gulmoget with a white flecked face (called smirslet), and one is…gulmoget for now, but has blaget markings and will likely lighten to a gray or cream color as he ages. Of the 5 ewes, 2 are black, 2 are black gulmoget (one is kind of a tricolor), and one is moorit gulmoget. This last one (actually the first one – she’s Cinnamon’s baby) is a definite keeper, and already has a name, suggested by a friend that came to visit: Nutmeg. A perfect name for her color, pattern, and family.
So what I have here, even with the stress and not entirely positive outcome, is an embarrassment of riches. Especially as I watch them now, racing around in a pack of lambs, circling the house at a full gallop once, twice, three times, sweeping by as their mothers graze greedily on the fresh spring grass. The first few times I let them all out I was glad that a) I live in a rural area (and barnyard noises aren’t something to complain about) and b) I don’t have neighbors that live that close. The constant baaing by the mothers trying to locate their babies, and the babies crying to locate their mothers after they’d strayed too far –was a cacophony of sheepy bleating. Not quite music to my ears (to be honest, the cries of the babies – any babies – upsets me nearly as much as it does their mothers). Now that they’re all a little older, the routine is more relaxed and the babies get to know the property, it’s not nearly as noisy.
So my little herd is up to 20 now. I can hardly believe I have 20 head of sheep here. So fulfilling yet it makes me yearn for more (land!). I’ll be deciding who stays and who goes in the coming weeks and months, since I really can’t keep more than a dozen head on this property, but for now I’m just enjoying these little bouncing embodiments of spring, just as Mother Nature overflows with the riches of green growth and renewal that flood the senses in this most wonderful of seasons.