Belle’s Lambs

January 29, 2018


Yesterday my ewe Belle crowned the day with twin ewe lambs at evening chores. Belle is not quite two years old, but she’s instinctively a wonderful mother. Her half-sister Foil, initially a disinterested party on the arrival of her son, had won my praise for standing to allow her boy to nurse. Belle, however, was all out, whickering constantly low in her throat, licking the babies all over, talking, talking: Welcome to the world! I am your mama! Welcome, welcome!

Belle is a pretty ewe and I’m happy to think she might have produced a daughter who looks like her. Here’s Belle at six months.

Meanwhile Geranium in the jug next door continues to eye me like a fat Sphinx. Repeatedly I am sure that she can’t go another hour. Then she reaches out to grab another mouthful of hay. (Ewes in labor are rarely eating at the time.)

Three ewes down, five more ewes to lamb. I reposted my rams on Craigslist and may have late buyers for both.

Coyotes howling around the barn at 3:45 AM.


Catch-Up on Lambing

January 28, 2018

Life has been so rushed I have not kept up this blog. Ten days ago at morning chores I discovered that Pixie had given birth. To my relief, because I had isolated her she and her lamb were already safe in a jug. I swooped in, toweled the lamb dry, iodined his navel, and put a jacket on him. The lamb was big and healthy, about ten pounds. A single ram, I thought; too bad. I had wanted to keep a ewe lamb from Pixie and with her serious issues it seems likely that this will be her last season.

Worryingly, Pixie could not get to her feet. I hauled her up and she flopped immediately, almost crushing the lamb.

I raced up to the house. January 19! The earliest lambing in my memory. Naturally, I had scheduled time the following day to organize my lambing supplies, scattered in the move.  Now I was climbing over boxes in the garage, looking for a lambing bottle and milk replacer. Go, go, go! I was due at work in half an hour.

Ten minutes later I was racing back to the barn, a bottle of milk warm next to my skin inside my coveralls. When I reached the jug I discovered that Pixie had given birth to a second, much smaller lamb — a little ewe.

“What a good girl you are!” I exclaimed to Pixie, immediately toweling and jacketing the new shivering mite. I jump-started each lamb with a few ounces of milk replacer and then had to leave for work. (Peeling off my barn clothes, I washed the amniotic fluid and iodine off my hands, pulled on clean jeans and turtleneck, and decided: good enough! I brushed my teeth in the car and reached my classroom just in time.)

I worried about the lambs in my absence. Pixie was struggling to rise, swaying, and falling. I prayed she would not smother them before I could return. I was brainstorming slings to keep her on her feet.

I was able to find someone to cover my lunch table and returned at noon. Pixie was swaying but she was standing, and the lambs had been fed.

Still, she collapsed quickly and several times I pulled free a wiggling lamb pinned between her weight and the wall. I had all sorts of ideas involving a canvas log carrier rigged as a sling, but in the end I decided Pixie was a great mother who would do her best, and the lambs were becoming stronger and more nimble every minute.

 *   *   *

Five days later I heard the weak bleating of a new lamb at morning chores. No ewe was answering the call, so I suspected the mother was one of my two inexperienced maiden ewes. Sure enough, my young ewe Trefoil (she was a triplet) was dragging afterbirth behind her. I filled the grain feeders to distract the flock, scooped up the wet lamb, moved Geranium out of the spare jug, and put the lamb in the jug under the heat lamp. Normally when I carry off a newborn, a ewe will follow her baby, nickering with anxiety. Foil, however, remained in the main stall gobbling grain with the crowd.

I dried and jacketed the ram lamb, and dipped his navel in iodine. On the other side of the aisle, Foil continued to evince no curiosity about what had happened to her lamb, or even to realize she’d had a lamb. At this time of year I generally travel to the barn with a bottle of milk replacer under my sweatshirt. Thus I was able to feed the lamb before going to retrieve his feckless mother.

Here is Foil in the jug. She had not even sniffed at her son under the heat lamp.

She yelled on and off most of the day. Help! I’m imprisoned here with an alien!

Thankfully, Foil was clueless, not mean, and she had a sturdy milk supply. I milked her briefly to accustom her to the sensation; and, jump-started with 3 oz of warm replacer, her lamb was soon strong enough to stagger after her to nurse. By evening his belly was full and Foil seemed mildly interested in her little stranger. (Now she’s a devoted mother and would be indignant at the suggestion that it had ever been otherwise.)

The next day, as the sheep addition was crammed with the unfortunate hay delivery, I moved Pixie and her lambs back to the main stall. Sadly Pixie’s balance has not improved after lambing as I had hoped. She was immediately knocked over in the crowd and trampled, her legs thrashing in the air. Meanwhile the yearling rams were attacking her lambs and she had no ability to protect them. I spent all afternoon creating a makeshift lamb creep and dividing the stall in half with a gate from the back field, separating the rams and allowing Pixie some peace with only three other ewes.

At the same time I moved Geranium back to the empty jug. Geranium is massively pregnant. I keep thinking she can’t go another hour. Though her fleece is long, I can see moving lambs rippling across her distended sides. She grinds her teeth with discomfort. And yet the lambs still have not arrived. This photo was taken three days ago.

Damon stopped by yesterday with his son-in-law to replace the tractor tire. While he was here he kindly fixed the hay elevator chain which I’d been unable to figure out. It took him under 90 seconds. I love people with mechanical ability!

Rick had said he would return yesterday and we would move the hay together. Damon snorted. He and I have heard that song before.

By night I had moved all the bales to the hayloft and stacked them. I was tired but satisfied … until I remembered that all this work simply returned me to the exact spot I was one week ago, before the hay delivery. I still have to muck out 320 square feet of deep bedding.

Maybe Geranium’s lambs will arrive today. Last checked at 3:45 AM.

Almost the Weekend

January 25, 2018

0° F and -10° wind chill. Life is hectic.

Lambs are being born — crazy early, due to my lack of organization last summer with our move. The barn is not ready for them, ditto. I’m problem-solving on the fly and haven’t lost any lambs yet, but anxiety for them is tapping like a pulse under my day as I hurry to teach classes, grade exams, and write mid-term reports.

Yesterday after work I waded out to the back field to drag a 12-foot gate back to the barn through the snow. Rick, my hay man, due to deliver hay in early December, showed up last Sunday while I was out and rather than put the bales in the hayloft as usual, dumped them in the sheep addition, stacking it almost to the ceiling for most of the stall’s 32-foot length. That evening when I saw them I wanted to burst into tears. The sheep were due to be in that space. Just what I needed! Another big chore!

I never ask DH for help on the farm but I could not move the hay elevator by myself. He came down the next morning and I threw open the door to show him the bales. “Holy crap!” he said, now understanding my distress. We got the hay elevator into place and both hurried off to our jobs. After work I moved about 25 bales to the hayloft between snow and rain squalls. Then the chain jumped off the track. I can probably fix it, but not in the dark. Maybe Friday afternoon.

However lambs are arriving, more are due, and the two unsold rams, now full grown, want to crush and kill them. With the hay commandeering the sheep addition, I have had no spare stall to keep the rams separate. Thus yesterday I spent an hour with a handsaw and a screw gun, hurriedly installing an improvised lamb creep in the barn stall. Then I dragged the gate from the back pasture to divide the space in two. Accommodations are tighter than I would wish, but the rams and lambs are safely on opposite sides of the gate.

After checking at bedtime, I got up at 3:30 to check again for new lambs. Not yet. I’ve got a long day of double periods and am showing my 8th graders the movie ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT tonight until 9 PM. Chocolate chip bread for movie snacks is baking in the oven. From the swollen look of the ewes, I think I may get 2-4 new lambs today.

Keep moving. The weekend is almost here.


A Pick-Me-Up

January 19, 2018

I’ve been feeling under the weather this week, but Jon has emailed photos to cheer me. I particularly love this one, of my beautiful daughter-in-law Amanda and happy grandbaby, Ami.

Urged by my wise friend Alison, after work on Wednesday I actually went to the doctor’s office. The doctor scolded me as she ordered various tests. “Your chart shows that you haven’t been here since 2011!”

I knew I had fallen a bit behind on routine appointments, but I hadn’t realized it had been seven years. I am a lot better with the children and the animals.


January 16, 2018

My elderly friend Allen used to call me most days. “What’cha doin’ today, honey?”

I’d tell him about whatever preposterous project I was working on. Then I’d ask what he was up to.  Once he answered, “Oh, I’m just washin’ the kitchen baseboards.”

This struck me as so endearing I’ve never forgotten it.

Recently I’ve had a lot on my mind. It’s felt tiring, even without the insomnia that’s gone with it. I find I don’t have energy for the big tasks that require outsize commitment. I can barely goad myself through the usual slog of chores.

Yesterday in my free hour after work, I vacuumed upstairs and down, wiped the counters, scrubbed the toilets and sinks, emptied the wastebaskets. Then I went around the house and dusted all the baseboards.

It turns out that cleaning baseboards is surprisingly therapeutic.

Thank you, sweetie.

-24° F

January 15, 2018

Wind chill -40°.

I have to be at work before 8 AM so it will be a hustle to get everything done early in the dark and cold.

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

January 14, 2018

A typical bright Adirondack morning. These photos were taken yesterday at 9 and 10 AM. We got six fresh inches of snow.

I had noticed that the dozens of robins here on Thursday were gone by Friday afternoon when my geese were playing in the puddles. The robins must have known something.

Just before lunch the snow stopped, the sky cleared, and the temperature began to plummet. This morning it is -27° F.

Winter here can be a long siege.

No Heroics

January 13, 2018

The thaw yesterday was incredible. Two feet of snow had vanished in the rain and wind by the time I got home from work. The geese were happy. They splashed in the puddles while I mucked the barn. The chickens strolled the grass looking with foolish hope for bugs. I kept a watchful eye for the coyote as I trundled the heavy wheelbarrow in and out.

I straightened sagging fences, pumped up the truck tires, emptied our trash and recyclables, and drove to school to pick up four bales of mulch hay. I restacked bales of shavings that were in danger of getting wet in flooding. I re-bedded the stalls, filled mangers and water buckets, and brought in the cattle and sheep.

By the time I threw open the door to the sheep addition to start mucking, it was dark and my energy was spent.

Some of the light bulbs have burned out. I gazed down the gloomy, 320 square-foot expanse of heavy work waiting for me and my pick-axe.

I have worked alone for so many years that I can drive myself through almost any tough chore. Moreover I knew the job would be much easier in the thaw. But in the time left, I could at most make one foot of progress. My bad knee was aching. I’d been up since 3:30 AM. It was time to start dinner.

I leaned the pick-axe against the wall and closed and bolted the door.

This morning it is snowing. Tonight it will be -20° F again.

A Providential Thaw

January 12, 2018

Yesterday morning before work I spent an hour digging out the deep snowbank around the barn paddock fence. Over the day the temperature rose into the low 40s. The snow everywhere ebbed quickly.

Somehow a couple of dozen robins appeared and were hopping around the new bare patches in the fields. Robins? In January? Normally I first spot them March 30, plus or minus a few days. I found the sight of them at this season frightening, but when I inquired of a local naturalist he told me a few male robins often overwinter in town, surviving on crabapples. Though I saw closer to 20 than “a few,” I was comforted to hear that they were not necessarily harbingers of the apocalypse. (Note to self: buy some crabapple whips in the spring from the county Soil and Water Conservation service, which sells landscaping trees for about $5 each).

By evening the driveway was plate ice, running with water. Today it is raining and the high wind in the trees sounds like a passing train. The temperature is due to climb to 55°. Tonight it is supposed to switch to snow, and tomorrow’s storm is predicted to bring 4-6″ of powder and overnight a return to 15° below zero, with a windchill of -27°F.

Today is my short day at work so I should have three hours of daylight (grey, rainy, and gloomy, but still light) to work outside. Yesterday afternoon, an unexpected meeting in town bumped my “Things to Get Done in the Thaw” list, so today I have a double load. I need to:

  1. pump up the truck’s flat tire and pick up some mulch hay*
  2. rearrange materials on the front porch before it is snow-covered again
  3. fix the barn paddock hydrant
  4. straighten and hammer down snow fence posts leaning in the thaw
  5. muck the deep bedding out of the barn addition while it is not frozen.

The deep bedding in the addition should have been mucked out last June when the sheep went out on pasture, but I was moving us then. The addition is 10′ x 32′. The foot-thick bedding is now dried and petrified to something like adobe. For the past month it has been frozen adobe and in passing I’ve glanced in at it from the main barn, mentally wringing my hands. I could have lambs in as little as two weeks and will need the stall to be clean and fresh. (Ewes go from the main stall to the lambing jugs, and then from the jugs with their lambs to the addition.) Today’s thaw is a gift from God.

I think cleaning the addition will take about eight hours. (Why do I have to have a real job?) Normally I spread these hours over a week. We’ll see what I can finish in ninety minutes . . . in the rain and wind.

It’s good to have goals.


* Of course, Rick the hay man still hasn’t appeared with the mulch hay he promised to bring in early December and several times since!


January 11, 2018

For some reason this week has seemed very long. I’m trudging through my lists.

Yesterday afternoon the temperature began to climb and after work I spent ninety minutes sweeping snow off the big stack of tongue-and-groove panel boards I had stored on the porch, shaking them clean, and carrying them into the mudroom. It has been so cold that the boards were still dry. I did not want them wet, or worse, encased in ice.

Every Sunday I look at the long-range forecast and stage all the week’s chores according to the weather. This wood-moving job had been penciled in for Tuesday, but I had the students’ stomach virus that day and barely dragged myself through classes. Thankfully, the serious thaw didn’t start until last night.

However, now — in addition to moving boxes, jackets, barn clothes, boots, dog paraphernalia, and the giant air compressor and other tools — the mudroom is crowded with stacks of boards. There is a narrow path through all the mess.

I must finish the paneling. I just haven’t had time.

I had planned the work for this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, because DH was supposed to leave this afternoon and be away for four days on business. Just clearing a space to work on the walls will require a lot of shifting and stacking. Everything will look very much worse before it looks better. DH is a neat person by nature and living in any sort of mess is stressful for him. He has enough stress right now. So I had thought, Terrific! He’ll be away for the mess tornado! But now it appears his trip has been canceled.

Of course I’m happy to have DH home and not putting in exhausting hours on the road. However it means I have to figure out how to manage this job without the house looking like a FEMA site.

Before I can do that, today’s challenge is to dig out the buried barn paddock fence — now four feet deep in wet, heavy snow — before it refreezes into a permanent winter landscape feature.