We are lambing entirely on pasture. The fields are glorious in this early spring, with the sheltering trees well leaved out, and the lake, to the west and the north of the fields, shining with deceptive warmth. The pasture is early, but already showing the effects of the lack of rainfall, especially on our shallow soil.
We used to lamb in the barn which was much more labour intensive, but we are all still working hard.
Christopher, our primary shepherd, checks the ewes in the several fields at least at dawn and sunset and after lunch. He is looking for any birthing challenges; any ewes in difficulty needing help, or any new lambs that are apparently not getting enough to eat. Time is challenging, as the ten guardian dogs must be fed and patted and checked, regular chores done, and labour continues intensely on the Predator Control fence that we’ve been erecting around the approximately 4 km perimeter of the home farm. Brush and limbs were cleared, post holes drilled and posts erected and braced at the corners, the 4 feet of woven wire has been strung and tightened and attached – so at least we can keep the sheep in. Now we are finishing adding 18″ of electric wires, (total height, 5′ 6″) and building gates. Its a big undertaking, trying to reinforce the dogs’ efforts to protect the flock from the coyotes.
But the weather has stayed glorious (easier for lambs in warm dry weather, but ominously dry for the abundant hay crop we always yearn for). We have the “ewe lambs” – first year mamas, bred to a smaller ram known for it ‘survivability’ characteristics, so hopefully, each first year ewe will have a single good sized lamb with not much birthing difficulty. They are grouped in two fields, not adjacent, so if a lamb slips through the fence, it can be retrieved and returned to its mama.
The mature ewes (ages two to about seven or eight) are in three other fields. We breed these ewes to purebred rams who have the genetic qualities we seek in our flock – good birthing, good mothering, good meat confirmation, good fleeces, good milk production etc. Each breed tends to have one or two of these strengths, so our females are now a mixed “Topsy” breed.
When possible, Chris will organize an adoption, if there is a feeding problem with a lamb. Most often this will happen if a ewe has triplets, and one of the three is much larger or smaller. The ewe may not nurture that one well. He’ll take that hungry lamb and convince a new mom with a single that she’s actually had two. There are various techniques for this – a little more challenging in the fields.
If that is not successful, and the lamb continues hungry but otherwise healthy, it comes to me as a foster lamb, to be bottle fed until it is well enough established to go to a new home. More on that in the next instalment.