Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lambing in Alaska

Well, it's been an interesting start to the lambing season.

To begin with, I had one ewe go down with toxemia. This was an unproven ewe, and she came from a source where I got another ewe that I had problems with. I'm not sure that that has anything to do with it, but my brain is trained to seek out coincidences, looking for cause. A few days prior, S&R had moved the ewes (without me, as I was inconveniently post-kidney stone and evidently so alarming to talk to on the phone as a result of exhaustion that S&R elected to move the sheep without telling me, fearful that I would try to come help and, say, pitch over dead in the snow). One moorit ewe (possibly this one) panicked and bolted off into deep snow, where she mired herself down and struggled to extricate herself. Might that have been a trigger? Maybe - but there's no telling at this point, and it's equally likely that it was some deficiency inherent in the ewe from her management prior to my guardianship, or from some error I made unknowing, or from bad luck or circumstance. At any rate, I did all the things I knew to do to bail her out, and just to cover my bases I called the one vet in the area who is doing any livestock professionally. She confirmed that I'd done all the right things. However, the ewe still died (most unfortunately with triplets on board still about 2 weeks from maturity). Sigh. I hate this part. People who do sheep professionally will sometimes tell you that sheep are born looking for an opportunity to die; that may be a bit of an overstatement, but the fact of the matter is that these things don't get to be sayings without there being some fuel for the fire. At any rate, we harvested what we could from the ewe, so as not to waste her. That seems grim to some, but to me this is a matter of respect. I did not want to lose this ewe - or the three lambs on board - but in order to honor her sacrifice, it is best to put her to use so that her efforts were not wasted.

Well. Not the most auspicious start to the lambing season. Still, where there's life, there's hope, and I still have five pregnant ewes to look forward to. Onward and upward.

So around rolls Saturday, my short day at work, without any lambs. So far so good, and although I am impatient to see some babies (as I have the worst case of spring fever imaginable), I am pleased that so far everyone else is staying healthy. Then, JUST as I was leaving work (I was actually outside salting down the hide from the dead ewe, currently laid out in the back of my truck) someone sticks their head out and tells me I have a phone call.

Crap. I know (without knowing how) that it's S and, that being so, she's either calling to tell me we have yet ANOTHER ewe with a problem - dystocia, illness, dead lamb, bloat, death, destruction, war, devastation and horror, or else some other disaster or combination thereof - or she's calling to tell me we have a live lamb. Somewhat trepidatious, I run inside and grab the phone. It IS S (surprise!), who tells me, "The black notched-ear ewe has a ram lamb." That's Jacinto, and she's exactly on her due date, almost to the hour.

"She has a LIVE lamb?" I ask, cautiously.

"Yes," she says. "It must've happened fast, too, because I went down and checked on them and nothing was happening, and then 30 minutes later YS went down and he was already standing and dry and starting to nurse."

Big sigh of relief.

"Okay, thanks for telling me; I'm on my way out to look at him," I tell her. "Is that all out of her?"

"Well, it's been half an hour and there's nothing else, so I think she's done," S says.

Hmph. Well, a live singleton is better than dead triplets, so I guess I have to be content. As I am driving out there, though, visions of lambs dancing in my head, I suddenly start thinking: maybe there being more lambs down by the time I get there; it's not impossible, as it's been 40 minutes or so since S called. But no, as I walk down the hill I can see all the ewes and they're out loafing around the pasture, all except Jacinto. There's a little white lamb in a dark sweater nursing away at her flank. I slip-slide a few more steps down the hill toward the sheep pen, peering through the trees as I negotiate the pitted snow of the hill. In between picking my steps, I look up to inspect the lamb, only to realize that there's no sweater; I must just have been seeing the lamb partly masked by the mother's flank. Unfortunately, for an hour-old lamb he seems to be having more trouble than I'd like him to have finding the teat, and he's a bit wobbly. I go to the gate, frowning a bit about this, debating going in to have a closer look (in case he needs help... and I DO have a camera with me, after all.) The ewe seems to be quite attentive, nuzzling and licking him, nudging him toward her flank periodically, as he seems inclined to lip at her wool, or to wander under her chest, butting fruitlessly at her armpits. I peer at the lamb, nosing inexpertly along the ewe's flank... and suddenly I realize the lamb WAS wearing a sweater after all, and his coordination is just fine. The reason I thought he was a little slow and poorly is that there are in fact TWO lambs, and this second one is less than 40 minutes old.

YAY! Twins! Now I suddenly feel aaaall cheerful.

I am halfway up the hill to get another sweater and the iodine when I see S, coming down. She gives me a big, we-have-a-live-lamb smile.

"She has another one," I tell her without preamble, earning a slightly startled look from S.

"Oh!" she says, about-facing to the house to grab another sweater (made by cutting arm-holes in olive-drab Army-surplus neck gaiters.) We go down and catch the lamb - easily done, as he is tottering around on brand-new legs - and dip his umbilicus in iodine, drying him off better and slipping him into a nice cozy neck-gaiter. The ewe is blatting anxiously, watching us closely and sticking nearby (even though she'd like to be away from us with her other lamb). S sets the second lamb on his feet near her and the ewe recommences to licking him, bleating intermittently in her deep bullfrog voice. She divides her attention between the two lambs, paying closer mind to the younger twin; the older one is kneeling in the straw, nursing again.

Well. Isn't THAT a pretty picture.

So that's the kickoff to this year's lambing season. I needed a victory. Two live ram lambs are a welcome change of pace from everything dead, or difficult - or both. There are four ewes yet to lamb, two well bagged-up and looking ready to roll at any time. The goats are getting portly as well - all except Peanut, who (while copiously bred) does not appear to be pregnant.

Wildwood Farm will soon be hopping with babies, absolutely crawling with them like ticks on a hound dog. Only way cuter.

[Author's note: I intended to post photos, but Blogger is not cooperating. Complain to them. I tried six times. I may try again later, but depending on how long Bogger is in its unspecified funk, we may have to live without.]


Beth said...

I love planned lambs :) There is nothing cuter. Now unplanned lambs are just a shock (I swear that they were all wethers!)

Anonymous said...

I hate that you had to start out on such a negative note!! But I am so glad that you have two alive babies!!!

Is the weather cooperating at this time?

Congrats new lamb momma (is that even right?) :)p

Dragon43 said...

Just because it is un-manly...

::: Squeeeeee :::: babies ....

I was wondering where you been.....

write more, work less. Your brother is working nuff for both of you.... ;)

AKDD said...

Beth - you're right. There really IS nothing cuter than lambs. You might love your own baby more, but it isn't as cute as a lamb. At least not for the first three to seven days (however long it is before their faces aren't all smashed-looking and their heads don't look all pointed and lumpy any more). :)

Beth K - yeah, that was a real bummer. Very sad and kind of depressing. But that's life with livestock: These things happen. And now there are five lambs down out of three ewes, and two more that (I hope) are still pregnant. They're the skittish two, though, so it's hard to tell at this point.

Dragon - only a REAL man can feel secure enough to go all mooshy over newborn lambs. You know who you are. As for my poor brother - you got that right. I'm glad to have a job these days, but there are down sides to employment. Poor man.

Gennasus said...

Glad you have some live ones, hope all goes smoothly with the rest. Will look out for your photos, if Blogger is speaking to you!

Some of my work colleagues have lambs arriving just now, Blue-faced Leicesters. They have a small flock and it hasn't been 100% success for them so far. One silly ewe even sat on one of her triplets and squashed it, something she has done in the past! I'm aiming to see them this weekend and get some photos.

Definitely spring now!

MaskedMan said...

Thanks for the concern Fradon, Sis - I'll survive, I 'spect.

Meanwhile, a bit heartbreaking about the wone ewe... Sorry for the bummer.

But at last! Lambies! Little hopping bundles of fluff and silliness! w00t!

MaskedMan said...

Ah.. I can see that commenting in the early hours is contra-indicated. Can't type, and can't check my own work, either, apparently.

Holly said...

and such is the way of a livestock breeder....some loss, hopefully no more. I too would have salvaged what I could from the dead ewe, it is wasteful not to.

But there are live babies and healthy mothers to celebrate, hope booger...oops blogger lets you post some pix soon.

Holly said...

Patricia McConnell is also in the midst of lambing, she had 2 born on the 30th.