Saturday, 15 October 2011

Very 'Silence of the Lambs' indeed

Lambing season finished, not with a bang but with a whimper. Between last night's checks, L845 gave birth but struggled with her single large ram lamb. When we found them, the lamb had died and the poor ewe was spent. She couldn't stand, though she was trying desperately with her remaining energy to reach the lamb to clean it. It was heart-breaking.

We left her with her dead lamb in the paddock overnight. It sounds macabre but we were hoping to find a orphan this morning for her to foster, and we needed to keep up the maternal bond. The closest spare day-old lamb was in the next county, about half an hour away. It was a small triplet ram, which would do better if it didn't have two siblings to compete with. Perfect.

By the time I got back with the foster lamb, Mike and our local shepherd had carried out the grizzly task of removing the dead lamb's hide, and we fit it over the foster lamb. The extra layer is making the lamb walk stiff-legged and I expect it's heavy on its tiny body. L845 accepted it with very little encouragement on our part. In fact she looked relieved. The foster lamb suckled right away, no questions asked. They're penned together and it's going as well as we could have hoped, for now anyway.

Foster lamb in its 'cloaking device'

As the foster lamb is accepted, I can cut away part of its extra coat every day, starting with the tail end, then the flanks, and finally the rest can go. Then I need to worry about fly strike again. A lamb in a carrion suit must be irresistible to flies.

Even though lambing is finished now, I'll still have night checks to do: making sure mum and adopted lamb are bonding, and ensuring that Matilda is coping on her own as a member of the flock. I put her in the paddock yesterday and she's playing happily with the other lambs.

I gained a lot of experience lambing this year. Fingers crossed that I don't have to put it into practice again next year. Now I'm off to pursue more genteel activities: taking Quincy for a walk to collect this year's sweet chestnut harvest. Skinning a chestnut is much less traumatic.


CZLion said...

I grew up in Iowa farm country and have experience with cattle and pigs but not sheep so find your experiences very interesting. I'm happy to hear they are doing so well, so far. I'm sure everything will be fine. I'm pulling for you.

Best regards,


Karen Douglass said...

You and Mike amaze me with your wisdom. Hope this little guy and his mom do well. Love the blog. Thanks for letting us strangers into your life.

Poppy Cottage said...

I think you have done amazingly well with your lambing. Bit of good, bad and ugly if you get my drift. Hope the fostering goes well xx Met someone today who suggested meeting up for a days spinning, she spins well so I am hoping that I will master the started art. Have you cast on the second sock........

Casey Harn said...

That's interesting - I never knew that would work. Awesome.

Hazel said...

You've really had the works this year, haven't you?!
Here's to next year being much smoother than this...
Fingers crossed for L845 and lamb and I'm glad Matilda is doing well.

Jen said...

CZLion - If we ever get pigs or cattle, I will be looking for your advice.

Karen - I don't think I'd call it wisdom. Blind optimism at best. We're lucky that there are knowledgeable neighbours and readers that help us through the tricky parts.

PC - I know you've been through the lambing mill yoursel many a time. Thank god Dorsets are such good mothers. If there's space on the spinning class I'd love to come, can use more instruction. Just cast on my second sock this morning!

Casey - Some farmers tether the ewe and almost force a bond. The ewe can't get away or headbutt the lamb, and the lamb. It can take up to 10 days I'm told. You feed the tethered ewe kale which ups the milk production and her full teats encourage her to let the baby suckle, for the relief if nothing else. That method seems to work, though the subterfuge of the lamb skin is less hassle for the shepherd.

Hazel - I'm sure it could have gone worse, so I'm counting my blessings. Mum and foster lamb still doing well, I've started removing the coat now.

And Matilda spent her first night out in the paddock. On my night checks I found her curled up asleep with the rest of the lambs under a tree. I had to wake her for her feed.

Paula said...

I'm glad you were able to find a foster for your ewe, although the dead ram lamb was sad. Still, that's part of farm life, isn't it?

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I've always thought a lambskin jacket would be lovely, but I just changed my mind.

I hope your foster ram thrives. I'm sure he'll be more comfortable in his own skin.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that I love about your blog -- well, maybe not love, but appreciate -- is that you don't shy away from the grisly stuff. For someone like me who is on the outside looking in, this kind of blog post is helpful in preparing me for when I get some land and livestock of my own. Thanks!

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

Wow. Lambing, raising sheep, is heartbreaking as well as sometimes backbreaking work, isn't it? I admire you for the work you do, and the care you take with it, the empathy you put into it, without being TOO soft. It's the perfect blend, I think. I'm glad that both mama and triplet baby gained from this arrangement. It makes my heart glad.