When I rolled open the barn doors yesterday morning I heard the high-pitched crying of lambs. Smoky had lambed in the early hours in the big sheep stall. An experienced mother, despite the jostling crowd she had the lambs up, dried, and fed before I arrived. What a good girl. Smoky will not turn three until next month and she has given me four lambs.
The twins are a ram lamb, 9 lbs 3 oz, and a ewe lamb, 7 lbs 13 oz. Both appear healthy and strong. Looking at my records I realized they arrived bang on their due date; I’d just circled the next day on the calendar.
I fed Smoky some grain in the sheep stanchion and clipped the inside of her flanks and hindquarters so the lambs could more easily find her teats. Clun Forest sheep have wool-free udders, a great boon to a shepherd, but Smoky is only half Clun. Dirty wool in these areas forms small dreadlocks, called wool tags. It’s not uncommon to find new lambs sucking with hungry enthusiasm on a wool tag. Trimming them off makes everyone’s life simpler.
When Smoky pulled her head right out of the locked stanchion I realized I had built it using one of my Romney ewes as a model. Clun Forest sheep have narrow heads (the reason why they typically give birth so easily). Yesterday I was able to tighten the stanchion with baling twine but I will have to take it apart and tinker with the dimensions.
Meanwhile, because I didn’t get the barn lean-to addition built this fall yet added four yearling ewes, I am cramped for space. The next ten weeks, as my sheep population explodes with lambs and before the flock goes out on pasture in May, will be a test of my ingenuity as I move animals around. For now the new family is in the lambing stall.
The moment I put them in, Smoky rushed over to her bucket and guzzled down more than a gallon of fresh water. Giving birth is thirsty work.
And so the lambing season begins. If the crayon marks from the ram harness are a reliable predictor — which I know they are not, exactly — I should have a two-day window, then four ewes giving birth at spaced intervals over the coming week, and then five giving birth the week after.
My last ewe, Raspberry, is the wild card. If the glancing smudge on her rump was a true mark, her lambs will arrive three weeks from today. If she was bred before the ram’s slipped harness was restored, it could be any time.
It will be fun to compare the reality of the birth order to my records of the marks. Such are my nerdy farm pleasures.