I didn’t intend to be lambing in winter. Aren’t lambs naturally supposed to come in the spring time? Isn’t that just the way that nature works or something?
Oh wait. Shouldn’t I also know by now that nothing just ‘works’ like that? There’s always a few twists and turns to keep us on our toes as farmers. And when you keep your ram in with your ewes 365 days a year, well, I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I?
I knew that Noel was close. So much so that a few days before we left the old farm, I made Stu venture out with me into a blizzard, in the pitch black, so that we could rope Noel (who was ranging on a 2 acre parcel of land) and check her. It was a disaster, but in the end, I was able to tell her milk hadn’t quite come in yet – despite her extremely swollen lady parts and belly.
Fast forward two weeks.
I stared at her backend for at least twenty minutes a day. Gooey. Saggy. Swollen. Red. Check.
I checked her udder. Large. In charge. Looking for babies. Milk in. Check.
… and so we wait.
Since this was Noel’s first time lambing, and only our second experience with lambing ever, I was practically paralyzed with fear. We lost Pocket last year after we panicked that he’d been born on the open pasture in the cold and brought him in to warm him up and wipe him clean. In taking him too soon (granted, at the time, we didn’t know how long he’d been on the ground), we broke the bond between Rosie and him which eventually led to his death. We shouldn’t have taken him. And if we felt it absolutely necessary for survival, we should have bottle fed him. We made painful mistakes. And we learned.
This go round, I remembered the pain of losing Pocket. And I was almost afraid to do anything. I just kept my eyes open and my attention on Mama.
As these things go, Stu and I were in the middle of a disagreement. I’d called in an emergency babysitting session so that we could have a nice dinner out and discuss it all without the stress of three little ones tugging on my apron strings. As we were headed out of the driveway, one final check on Noel revealed (TA DA!) two little lambs!
Lord have mercy! She did it! And all by herself! It hadn’t been more than an hour since I’d last seen her.
I had dressed up in my favorite going-to-town boots, a fresh face of makeup, and a clean black petticoat. Not ten minutes after putting the final powder on my nose, I was on my knees in the lambing pen watching… observing… trying to move slow. One of the lambs was large and up suckling already – a great sign! The second was still covered in mucous from the birth and Noel hadn’t taken to her quite yet.
I watched them for about 30 minutes before I felt confident leaving. We decided that we’d run into town to grab an extra bale of straw for bedding, some colostrum replacer (just in case), and a few lamb nipples. We fenced Noel off from the rest of the sheep, as a precaution, and gave her food and drink.
And then, we let her be.
Oh – the agony! The pain! The horrendous effort it took to walk away! But walk away I did. And walk away I must. Because as a Mama myself, I know it’s not very comforting to have someone sit and stare at you. Especially right after. Mamas need to just be, yo.
We were back two hours later, bellies full of steak and fries, hearts full of good conversation, and a car full of sleepy kids from Nan and Papa’s.
After putting the littles to bed, we excitingly threw on our coveralls (stiff with caked on mud and poop) and waddled out to the barn like penguins.
Noel. Check. Lamb one. Check. Lamb two… where was lamb two? WHERE THE HECK WAS LAMB TWO?
… I’ll tell you where she was. She was in the pig pen, laying on her back, legs up in the air, being nuzzled to death by three, gigantic Old Spots. I still don’t know how she got through the hog panels. But she did. And while they weren’t maliciously attacking her, they had obviously taking a healthy interest in her presence. So much so that I thought she was dead.
I screamed. SCREAMED. Words I shan’t repeat. Quickly, I grabbed one of her legs and threw her back into the lambing pen before hopping in myself. Within a few minutes, Noel had cleaned her up and she was up suckling.
A BLOODY MIRACLE, I SAY! I don’t mean bloody. I mean, like, the British say. (British accent: A bloody miracle, I say!). We clear here?
Things settled down, as they do, and by the end of the night two healthy lambs were nuzzled in with Mama, bellies full of colostrum, in the fresh bedding. A triple-checked-and-secured heat lamp for extra comfort on the chilly night. A bucket of fresh molasses water and high-quality alfalfa hay for the new, lactating Mama. And extra pieces of plywood along the pen to protect any further escapes into the pig paddock.
Thankfully, at the new farm, our animals have a three sided shelter that has already served us very well through lambing in the winter and for general, winter, animal keeping. We are able to easily keep it clean and dry which makes life much better for this ‘ol farmer. And even though we’re still very new to this specific farm, with each experience like this, we’re able to target in on future projects and explore how the land and outbuildings will serve us and our animals best.
In the meanwhile…
..and “Baby Dill:
… have continued to be a huge blessing to the homestead. When I’m having a hard day, which these days is pretty much every day, I venture out to their pen and plop my big ‘ol pregnant body down next to the lambs. They’ll carefully creep over to me before spooking, jumping straight up into the air, and sprinting back to Mama. Sometimes I steal them so I can snuggle them (love me, lambs! love me!), but for the most part, I let them stay happily suckling – which they seem to do almost 24 hours a day.
Glad to know it’s not just my newborns that do that.
I know how you feel, Noel, trust me. I do. My nipples hurt just watching them nurse. Sorry – but truth. Please don’t remind me that I’ll be going through that again in 8?9?10? short weeks.
Confession: I have no idea how many weeks pregnant I actually am. Are you even supposed to count the 4th time? I can barely remember all my kids’ names at this point. Arbitrary numbers are unimportant. But I digress.
I do have a few points. Really, I do. Ahem.
Here is the checklist I’ve created for myself, for future lambing. Particularly lambing in winter.
- Colostrum replacer or frozen colostrum, just in case
- Lamb nipples/bottles, just in case
- Molasses, for an extra boost
- High-quality hay, to nourish Mama
- Gloves and towels, for delivery assistance if needed
- Iodine, for dipping the umbilical cord
- Feeding tube, for force feeding if necessary
- Thermometer, for monitoring temperatures
- Castration equipment, if desired
- Record book, for recording births
- Scale, for recording weight
Lambing in Winter Extras
- Heat lamp
- Extra thick bedding
- Solid sided shelter
Lambs are fickle little creatures. As are sheep in general. And each day when I waddle out to find Dill and Gwen happy (and alive) I’m extremely thankful.
1 ewe down. 2 to go! I’m praying that the rest of the 2016 lambing goes well.
Because I need more lambs in my life. Even if it’s winter.
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