Monday, 22 October 2012

Let's try this again, shall we?

Yesterday was the annual Harvest Festival in our village, a pot luck supper in the village hall where we "locals" come together to complain about crop failures and new government regulations. I love a good whinge as much as the next person, but supper coincided with our semi-regular, themed dinner party with friends and I couldn't miss out on Paella Night!

Most of the guests at the dinner party have livestock so there was still plenty of commiseration to go around: a couple of sick chickens, my lamb, stories of smaller egg harvests and unproductive vegetable gardens, even a tale of donkey training which, so far, has been neither easy nor successful!

We had to leave early as we're still on lambing duties, and I was already falling asleep in my creme brulee. The alarm went off at 4 a.m., and I pulled on enough clothes to be warm and decent, and walked across the road to check the ewes. I could see one separate from the others already, a common behaviour in a ewe about to lamb. A lamb would be a mixed blessing in this warm but drizzly weather, born in the dark to a tired and disheartened shepherdess. On the other hand, lambs are like burps: better out than in.

I startled a fox in the paddock and it shot across my path like the devil was hanging onto its tail.


In my sleep-addled condition, my pessimistic nature combined with a bad start to lambing caused me to panic and assumed it had killed a lamb, that I was too late, oh woe is me. But, my timing was pretty good, and ewe 2844 was just starting to lamb. An orange dot on her neck reassured me that we were expecting a single lamb, and even a hungry fox is no match for 90kg of maternal howling fury defending one lamb.

I wandered back indoors to make a cup of tea. I returned only minutes later to find her licking a little ewe lamb dry, nickering to the lamb, its wobbly head just visible over the long grass. It must have shot out of her like it was on greased tracks.

Everyone's still tired 

Only eight hours old - how can you not worry about something so tiny?

The loss of our first lamb this year has made me a paranoid wreck. By 9 a.m.  I had already been to the vets for advice, colostrum replacement (dried milk with antibodies), and more needles, syringes, and stomach tubes. It's important that the lamb get colostrum in the first 6 - 12 hours, to avoid an early death and an upset woman standing in a paddock in her pyjamas. I tried to observe the lamb suckling but no dice. So I panicked erred on the side of caution and stomach tubed her with the replacement stuff, then jabbed her with antibiotics for good measure.

She will probably be fine. She's a strong, single lamb on an experienced ewe with lots of milk. It's my inexperience that's the biggest problem. And that damned fox hasn't helped my humour any; twins or triplets would be vulnerable.

I couldn't find a foster lamb for my grumpy ewe. All the other shepherds are having runs of single lambs this year, even the big commercial farms. Much to Grumpy's disgust, I have put her in a pen next to the rest of the flock, and I'm milking her once a day. As she's loathe to cooperate, I have to tie her head to the fence and get one of the boys to hold her by a bag leg so she can't kick me in the face, which is the only part of the whole process that she enjoys.

I should rename her Milky - she's giving about half a litre per milking. Her milk is valuable as I can freeze it and use it later to feed other lambs. If both sets of triplets survive, I hope to leave them with their mothers, but I will need to bottle feed the slow growers. Grumpy's milk with be just the thing. And I've found another use for Chinese take out containers -

Ready for labelling and freezing

Tomorrow is a shoot day, so I will quickly milk Grumpy at the lunch break. I'm willing the remaining five ewes to keep their legs crossed for me until Tuesday afternoon, but I predict a set of twins and a set of triplets before the start of next week. When Eunice - my only first-timer and expectant mother of twins - is laid on her side, you can see the lambs kicking and twisting about in there. She looks at that spot, then at me as if to say "It's been doing that a lot lately. I'm as surprised as you are."

Let's hope any more surprises are good ones.


Poppy Cottage said...

Keeping my fingers crossed. This weather isn't kind to man, beast, veg plot or PJ clad woman!!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

"Lambs are like burps, better out than in."

May I take this opportunity to wish you a fine burping season? I'm sorry that Grumpy doesn't have a lamb, but I'm harboring hope that you won't need all the milk for the purpose for which it is intended, and you'll have a little left over to make some kind of nice sheep's-milk cheese.

In your spare time.

Peruby said...

I was thinking the same as Poppy. My fingers and toes are crossed for you.