So Much for My System

I have six ewes still to lamb. Three of them are due today: Blackberry, Briar, and Madeleine. I kept them in the barn yesterday, just for insurance.

Since the numbers were shifting in favor of mamas and babies, I wanted to reconfigure the big sheep stall. Yesterday afternoon, attended by curious sheep and lambs, I took down my 2×4 divider and re-installed it at a different angle, creating a small triangular stall for the three ewes due next week, and a roomy, large stall for the maternity ward.

I only have two jugs. Before letting the rest of the flock in, I put Briar in one jug overnight and Blackberry in the other. Madeleine is so tame that I knew I wouldn’t have trouble pulling her out of the maternity group if need be.

My plan worked perfectly. When I brought all the animals in for the night, the seven ewes still outside rushed in to the small triangle stall. The four yearlings backed out to wait at the triangle stall’s door. The horse and cows trotted by. I let the yearlings out and penned them at the end of the aisle. What a genius!

I was just congratulating myself on my fabulous and resourceful shepherding skills when my big two-year-old Clun Forest ewe, Black Raspberry, who is a heavy-set carbon copy of her father, my old ram Ioan, looked over the barrier at the hay in the far feeder of the maternity ward. This hay was exactly the same as the hay in the feeder in front of her nose, but Raspberry did not think so. She lifted her front legs like a steeplechaser and sprang at the wall.

Well, not exactly like a steeplechaser. 150 pounds of ewe landed squarely on the top 2×4. Its deck screws gave way with a splintering sound and the rail hit the bedding. The barrier was suddenly reduced from 3.5 feet to 2.5 feet. Raspberry and the other three ewes popped over it casually.

I now had nine ewes and seven lambs bouncing around the big stall. There would be no re-sorting. My system was officially shot.

With a sigh I retrieved my screw gun and removed all the rails. Ironically, now that spring is on its way, we are due to get six to ten inches of snow today. Only the unbred yearlings will be going outside now.

*   *   *

After stowing the 12′ 2x4s in the hayloft I stood leaning against the gate watching the lambs at play (one of my very favorite time-wasting activities at this season). My eye was caught by something hanging under lamb tag 19. My goodness, what could that be? I peered more closely. Well, even an idiot could see that it was a scrotum full of testicles.

I have no idea how I could have scrubbed a lamb dry, weighed it, jacketed it, and banded its tail, without noting a woolly bag the size of my thumb. But I clearly had. 19, whom I had recorded as a ewe lamb and tagged in “her” right ear as a ewe, is a ram.

I can only think that my lack of sleep this week due to insomnia has fogged my brain. 

Meanwhile, when I took the cozy fleece jackets off 19 and his twin sister 18, now three days old, I discovered they both looked peaked. Their skin still had the baggy folds of a newborn. They looked … under-inflated. They stood with their backs curved in a slight hunch. This miserable look is almost always due to starvation.

I had seen both lambs nursing their mother, Blossom. She has tiny, tiny teats, but her milk supply had seemed adequate. But for whatever reason, these lambs were not thriving. I milked Katika into a baby bottle, knelt in the maternity stall, and offered it to the twins. They were so hungry the lamb not nursing the bottle sucked frantically on my knuckles.

With any luck, just a couple of days’ supplementation will get these babies over the hump and they will be fast and aggressive enough to get adequate milk from their mother.

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