Musical Stalls

I am loving having records of when my sheep were bred. Normally at this time of year I am driving down to the farm half a dozen times every day and several times every night, scanning the flock anxiously. I am always terrified one of my ewes will drop a lamb in the snow or in the melée of the group stall, the lamb(s) will die, and it will be my fault.

Of course this still might happen, but it feels less likely now. Because I have the breeding date of each ewe, I have been able to divide the flock into three main groups: the unbred yearlings, the pregnant ewes due later, and the heavily pregnant ewes ready to pop any day.

I have written already of training the yearlings to peel away from the flock; they spend their nights in a temporary pen in the barn aisle. Next I ran 2x4s across the big stall to split it in two, tying on some plastic mesh. The seven ewes due next week and the following week are in one 9’x12′ half. As you can see, these girls are crowded, but it is only an overnight space.

The ewes who have lambed or are very close to lambing lounge in the other half.

The last “group” consists of the ewes who might give birth at any hour or have just given birth. I keep them in the stall across the aisle, which has been divided into two jugs. Here is Mango (pre-mania) in a jug shortly before lambing.

Every morning I open the back dutch door of the barn and let the yearlings and the later-to-lamb ewes out into the paddock. They explode out the door in a noisy rush. It is nice to be able to have the pregnant ewes outside without anxiously inspecting the ice multiple times each day.

The system, though far from perfect (I need either more room or fewer sheep) has, so far, worked well.

According to the records, my almost three-year-old ewe, Vanilla Bean, is next up at bat. However, unlike the other ewes, who quickly settled down to enjoy the extra feed and quiet in the mothers’ stall, Bean has objected strenuously to being kept indoors, rearing on her hind legs at the stall gate to bleat, “Babies? What babies? I’m falsely imprisoned!”

Calculating on a 145-day gestation, Bean was “scheduled” to give birth Thursday. Thursday came and went. I knew she had been bred two days after Snowy; a logical lambing date thus would have been two days after Snowy lambed: that is, yesterday. Nothing. Last night I locked Bean in a jug. She looked cross. Her daughter, Vanilla Chai, is due two days after her mother. I pulled Chai from the outdoor group and put her in the remaining jug, for company. It’s musical stalls around here.

The ram harness and my records of breeding dates haven’t eliminated all, or even most, of the uncertainty around lambing. But they’ve introduced a new modicum of order, which is very soothing for a worrier and control freak. Though one still can’t know the day or the hour, it is comforting to know how the dominoes will fall.

*    *    *

Edited after morning chores to add:

… Except when the dominoes don’t fall according to plan!

This morning Chai presented me with a little 8 lb 2 oz ewe lamb, up and dried. All I had to do was dip the baby’s navel, weigh her, and slip her into a lamb jacket (it’s 16° outside).

And next door, Chai’s mother, Bean, still insists she knows nothing about any impending babies.

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2 Responses to Musical Stalls

  1. Amy says:

    It’s so nervewracking to wait on pregnant mamas. I love these photos…everyone looks so cozy! (Great sign in the barn, too!)

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Yes, Amy, it IS nerve-wracking. Thanks for your comment — they are definitely cozy, maybe too cozy, but I don’t have better options this year. Someday!

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