Monthly Archives: May 2008

Three Foster Lambs

We have three healthy foster lambs now. (We lost a couple, and 6 have gone to another home on the Island where they will be raised all summer.)

They stay in a big blanket-covered dog cage on the verandas at night. The wind still blows cold off the lake, and this gives them warm cuddle space. I move out there about 6:30-7 am, with my coverall pockets stuffed with warmed milk replacer, and my balaclava on my head (almost the end of May!).

When I opened the cage this morning, two lambs jumped into my lap in the big old scruffy armchair. The whiteface lamb is a Cheviot cross, whose sire breeds smaller lambs than the others we seek. We always put him to the first year ewes, for easier birthing. Another characteristic of this breed is their feisty, eager life force. This little guy sucks so hard he tends to aspirate the liquid, so I had to change to a new hard nipple with a tiny hole to keep him from drowning. He is thriving now, and almost too eager to get what he wants. After a few minutes intense pushing, he settled down on my lap, downing his bottle.

The black faced lamb is a Suffolk cross. They tend to make good calm mothers, and are very steady. A Suffolk lamb tends to be a bit dozy at first, slow to learn to recognize the nipple, and to open his mouth. Once I convince him that this IS what he is looking for, he’s like a steady little vacuum.

The third lamb this morning was new yesterday. Mom had three, and he just wasn’t getting enough milk. (That’s our most common reason for getting fosters.) He didn’t recognize me or the bottle yet as the source of all good things, so I had to burrow into the cage to lift him out. The best position for feeding a lamb is to tuck him under your left arm (if you are right-handed) with your hand under his chin, and thumb lightly around his nose. Usually I have to tuck a finger into the side of the mouth of the learner, as the rubber nipple doesn’t feel right to his instincts. Nipple inserted, I hold his muzzle gently but firmly, so he can’t lick or chew, but has to suck. Sometimes I’ll squeeze just enough to trickle a bit of milk replacer into his mouth. Today, that did it. He was off and sucking, and downed the entire bottle.

The other two meantime were kicking up their heels on the veranda, cavorting in that utterly joyful lamb-like way.

The three are outside now, wind-protected, enjoying morning sun. They’ll be calling for more in a couple of hours.

Foster Lambs

During lambing at Topsy, we often have ewes who birth triplets-potential foster lambs. Some ewes who are in great shape and have lots of milk, are able to raise all three. This only works if the lambs are of similar size. If one is much bigger, or more frequently, much smaller, one must be taken away for the health of the others. Chris, our main shepherd, has been very successful in arranging adoptions with a ewe who only had a single lamb. Occasionally, a small hungry lamb has no acceptable mother. So, our son Kyle and I are back in the foster lamb business. One Mother’s Day present was sitting with a blatting baby curled up on my lap (butt end wrapped in an old blanket) learning to suck, then proceeding to do so, busily. I started at 5:30 am on a gorgeous spring morning, sitting outside, listening to the dawn chorus of birds and watching their busy mating rituals and (for the early birds) nest building and/or feeding squawkers. There is so much COLOUR right now. Our huge wild plum tree is a mass of white flowers, that are just starting to scatter its confetti-like petals when the breeze hits. We have a big wire dog cage set up on the front verandah for overnight warmth for the foster lambs, and put the babies outside in the daytime in a small pen with the front yard ewes and lambs nearby. The second day, a couple of three year olds and their moms came to visit the Wool Shed. Kyle gave them all bottle-feeding lessons, then they trailed after him, Pied Piper-like, as I visited with their moms in the Wool Shed. Grandson Nathan was leading the tour to visit the egg-laying hens, but stopped at the highest point of interest, a parked tractor, and announced “that is the Alice Chalmers 185 but we don’t climb in it as it has a tippy seat.” (He just turned three.) Day three, we have 5 healthy fosters.

Fitting land

The 4 fields have now been prepared for seeding , called fitting land. We hired some of our neighbours with bigger land working equipment to help us get the land worked properly. The first field was sown this afternoon but rain prevented more work being done.

Fitting land – as it is called – is really like preparing a lawn or garden but on a large scale. Ploughing is akin to spade work. Disking is akin to hoeing or rototilling. Cultivating is akin to raking. A cultipacker or roller is used after the seeding to compact the soil around the seed.

This is a very expensive process and we avoid it as much as possible. There is, however, a real feeling of accomplishment when one looks at a well worked and planted field. Once a field is planted there is the waiting to see if there will be enough moisture for good seed germination followed by enough sunlight and rain for growth but not too much of either.

Pasture lambing

A direct consequence of not being able to use our barn for lambing until it has been sterilized is that the sheep are all lambing on pasture.

We have been blessed – our luck is changing I think (knock-on-wood) – with weather that is close to perfect for lamb survival. The 10 day stretch of fantastic weather in mid-April has produced the best early growth of pasture that we’ve seen in our 36 years of farming here.

Christopher is finding that pasture lambing has a lot to recommend it. We may never go back to using a barn for lambing.

Yesterday, Ian started to disc up some land that we first started to rent last year. We haven’t worked land in a while as all the rest of the farm is in permanent forage. One of our friends says that this is a form of permaculture as it is sustainable indefinitely. Our mostly shallow and poorly drained soil on our drought-prone island is not suitable for grain growing.

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