Shaye… you should go check on the little piglets.
No. It's cold.
Shaye… you should go gather the eggs because, baby, it's cold outside, and they'll explode.
No. It's 3 degrees.
Shaye… it's almost the full moon and Nöel is very close to having her lambs and you need to seclude her.
I did eventually give into that little voice inside my head, the one that was beckoning me out to the barn. The little voice has to be loud these days in order to move me to action – particularly, the action of putting on my poo-covered coveralls, gigantic fleece jacket, thermal gloves, fur hat, face mask, and snow boots. That's a lot of work. But despite the hassle of winter wear, I knew that (at the very least), it'd be nice to have eggs in the morning with breakfast that weren't exploded by the cold.
So went I did.
As I trucked up to the barn, I began to hear a distinct noise in the distance. A noise that we really only hear a few times a year. It didn't take long to start sprinting up to the barn…
… as quickly as one can sprint in a snowman suit, that is.
But sprint I did.
I was right! Surely enough, my ears had heard correctly, and laying amongst the flock of sheep were two fresh lambs. Still covered in afterbirth. Gently bleating for their Mama.
The sheep are kept in a three-sided barn these cold, winter days so that we can keep them safe from predators (that get a bit more aggressive in the cold months when food sources are drying up). The sheep are kept together and at the moment, the pen is overfilling a bit. Five of last year's lambs are due to be slaughtered this coming weekend, so the inn – as they say – is full.
The little lambs lay amongst the flock. Not a safe place to be – especially for a floppy newborn.
Nöel, our winter lambing expert, had done it again.
I quickly ran behind the barn to gather up a hog panel to stretch out – dividing the sheep pen into two small pens – so that I could seclude Nöel and the lambs from the rest of the flock.
Don't panic, Shaye. Don't panic.
Eventually, I succeeded, and was able to separate Mama and her babies safely from the other (inquisitive) members of the flock. I was then able to throw in some fresh, dry bedding, a bucket of water, a few flakes of alfalfa, and a heat-lamp for extra warmth.
Why You Need Sheep
I get lots of questions continually about our flock. What we do and what we don't do. How we enclose them. How we feed them. I hope to share many more details with you (via YouTube) in the coming months. But in the meanwhile, here are a few highlights on why you need sheep on your homestead (in my humble opinion, naturally).
-They fatten on grass.
I love animals that fatten on grass because I can grow grass. Seeds. Irrigation. Sun. BOOM. Grain is something that I can source locally, but it requires more money and more effort. I love that our sheep can grow us meat utilizing the pasture we have available and the hay we can easily purchase from neighbors each year. That's sustainable, baby.
-They're easy to manage.
Our sheep have been very easy to manage – part of this (a lot of it, actually) due to the quality breeding stock that we began our flock with. Sheep aren't the smartest creatures in the barnyard (that's the pigs), but they are fairly predictable. Once you learn your flock and their temperament and requirements, they're easy to care for. Grass. Water. Apple cider vinegar. Molasses, on occasion. Hoof trimmings a few times per year. A wee bit of care during lambing. That's about it.
-They're easy to contain.
Contrary to popular belief, sheep can actually be fairly easy to contain. We've utilized everything from hog panels to barbed wire to electric netting to electric wire fencing – all have worked with great success. They seem to train easy and adapt to new situations fairly quickly. Again, I'm sure this has to do specifically to breed and breeding stock, but our Katahdin's have been easy to keep in bounds.
-Wool, milk, or meat.
Sheep are extremely multi-purpose. I love animals that can contribute in more than one way! Our Katahdins are a hair sheep, meaning they don't grow wool, so instead, we utilize them for meat specifically. We have a growing family and fatten hogs, so a milk cow makes much more sense for us on the dairy front, but if I wanted them to – my sheep could give to us in this way as well! I would love to add some wool sheep to the herd in the coming years.
-They give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Input to output, our sheep are very efficient for us. This year, for the cost of hay, we're putting five lambs into the freezer. On average, that's around 40-60 pounds of meat each! Wow. That's a lot ‘o lamb. If you've never tried Katahdin meat, I'd encourage you to! It's our family's favorite – our “treat” meat. Grill it up. Slap a few slices on fresh pita bread. Top it off with some yogurt sauce and fresh veggies. COME ON!
But back to Nöel…
I always try to not interfere too much with new Mamas – or with nature in general. It's important to take a deep breath, take a step back, and observe before acting.
Breathe, Shaye. Just breathe.
I watched as Nöel began to lick off the little ones and as they began to stand and nurse. I observed her placenta that was still inside of her, taking note of the time, so I could ensure it passed properly. I observed her actions with them, a bit frantic at first, as many women are who just survived the pain of labor.
Two little ewe lambs – “Caterpillar” and “Jooles” are now active, healthy additions to the barnyard. Nöel always gives us the strongest, healthiest, largest lambs and I am ecstatic that this year, they're both female! If we choose, we can keep both of them for breeding stock next year.
Gwen, Nöel's ewe lamb from last year, is bred and due to lamb for the first time this spring. She's gorgeous. I can't wait to see what kind of lambs she throws us!
… and secretly, I'm trying to figure out a way to keep Dill, her ram lamb from last year. He has grown into a magnificent beast that I would be proud to use as the sire in my flock. But Hamish is still the King around these parts and has a few good years left of breeding in him. And alas, two rams for a flock of five ewes is simply one too many.
Spring starts NOW, y'all. This is simply the most exciting time to be a farmer!
Three more ewes will be lambing in the coming months.
New chicks are hatched and growing.
The cow is bred and due to calve in April.
One sow has given us a litter of six healthy piglets and the other is bred, due to farrow in April.
The garden seeds will be ordered and started in the coming weeks.
The new puppy, Rex, is getting settled into his duties.
The new flock of ducks will be arriving from the hatchery in but a few days.
It's bustling and I simply can't get enough!