Thursday, 14 November 2013

Of Tags and Testicles

This year's crop of lambs are looking strong and healthy. They've finally outgrown the diseases and common accidents that befall baby sheep. It was time to make them official members of the flock by giving them ear tags. Ewe lambs get one in each ear - flock number plus a unique identifying number. My ram lambs get the "pirate special" - one earring with my flock number only, indicating that they're destined for ice camp. No unique numbers for the campers.

I was waiting for a dry spell of weather to tag the lambs. The thick surface of mud in the handling yard makes it messy, and less hygienic for putting holes in one's livestock. Dry or frozen mud would have been preferable, but it continued to rain. I resigned myself to the weather, put on my plastic pants and got the big bottle of iodine to dip ears and tags as a precaution.

As a side note, I'm wearing the cardigan I knit for this shooting season -

It's becoming a tradition to knit one in time for the cold winter nights and days out in the field. In the few days since it's been finished, my cardigan has been out picking up pheasants, killing meat chickens, splitting logs, and now tagging lambs. It's destined for a life of muck and work, and it's holding up so far.

Back to the tagging - All my lamb tools fit in a plastic box that I rested on a hay rack within reach.  It was easy enough to catch a lamb, and hold it between my knees for tagging and a basic health check. I wrote down tag numbers as I put them in so I can keep track of mother-daughter family lines.

I tagged most of the lambs on my own, but Mike and Ian came up to the field and helped me catch the last few lambs, and take some photos. The process went so much quicker with an extra set of hands (and freed-up knees)

All lambs get ears, eyes, teeth, and feet checked. The ram lambs get an extra check, to make sure that the rings I put on their testicles did the job. I took a knife to anything still hanging on. 

This made my helpers whimper and go a bit grey.

I did manage to mis-ring one ram - one of the horned ewe's boys. He had been limping, and I couldn't find the cause. I even had a shepherd stop by for a second opinion. We couldn't find anything in the leg or hip joints. 

I expanded my examination and found that I'd only ringed one testicle. No wonder he was walking funny! I made what is know as a "rig". I had no choice but to cut off the rubber ring. Within 48 hours he was sound and a lot more comfortable. Only now I have a fertile ram in my flock. He will have to be separated out before he hits sexual maturity which, in a sheep, only takes a few months.

All my lambs get a quick hug before I set them down to run and find their mothers. 

I'm not sure that my affection makes up for, say, knifing off their withered scrota, but finding mom and drinking a bellyful of warm milk makes it all better.

There is only one more lamb to tag: the ram lamb from Eudora's triplets. I mismanaged the situation, ignoring all the books that said a ewe can't feed three. She seemed to be managing, so I thought I could beat the system by simply supplemental feeding the smallest with a bottle. 

The morning after our first frosty autumnal night, I found the smallest lamb looking hypothermic. And really tiny. It was like he was melting away. All of a sudden he was snack-size for a fox again. His ears were cold, and he'd lost his suckling reflex. He was hours from death.

I stuck him in the truck, in the front seat with the heater on full blast. A cold lamb can't feed until it's warm. 

Tink had to give up her dog crate in the living room, and move into the kennels with Spud and Quincy. The crate became a lamb ICU and as it was so close to Halloween, we named the ram Pumpkin.

It took Pumpkin a week of intensive care and a trip to the vets for vitamin jabs before he started to show any signs of recovery. Even then, at a month old, he only weighed 4 kilos.

He's doing very well now, and has just started going outside in a pen to graze. He has to wear Podge's dog coat to conserve his body heat but he's eating grass now so his rumen is working. As are his vocal chords. He blares at anyone passing, demanding his bottle -

In another week, Pumpkin should graduate to a dog kennel outside for a few nights to harden off. When he's self-reliant and has some muscle tone, he'll be returned to the flock with an ear tag. Mike wants me to give him two tags - and a free pass - but I'm not budging. In a year's time, when he weighs 80 kilos and still screams at me for milk, he's off to camp.


Maria said...

Love the video! He's looking pretty good (to my completely inexpert eye), for having been close to dying. Don't be too hard on yourself about ignoring the books - we all do it sometimes, and you caught him before it was too late.

me said...

As usual, I'm in awe of your skills. I could never, never do what you do. I'd be reduced to a quivering lump of mush at the first sick critter.

Janice Bendixen said...

Oh ha! You talk like the tough, wizened shepherd you are now. Full disclosure in a year says, Pumpkin will remain with us. Thanks for the update and thanks to the Lamb Gods for a safe and mostly successful lame season. What's your flock grown to now? And, I must say, you look happy and very relaxed. This change appears to be working out very nicely. Good for you all. Keep writing; we're reading.

Janice Bendixen said...

*successful lamb season* stupid autocorrect!

Anonymous said...

I can understand why Mike says to give Pumpkin a free pass, but as hard as it will be, I too would say to give him the chop (at least in theory and until the deed is imminent). Tame lambs grown into full blown sheep with no fear or hesitancy around humans can be a PITA even if they are still adorable.

Fran in OZ

Jennifer Montero said...

Fran - You obviously speak from experience! My hand reared ewes bump me and leave bruises when I'm trying to feed them, which I can just about tolerate. A strong male doing the same could really injure me. Our breed society president was sadly killed two weeks ago when a tame deer in his park put an antler through him during the rut.

Jennifer Montero said...

Janice - We're at 49 sheep now, 38 of which are breeding ewes. They're all coming to the new place with us.

Jennifer Montero said...

me - You underestimate yourself. Quivering lumpishness affects me all the time when dealing with sick critters. it's a sign that you care.

Scrotum treatment said...

Those are some of the things no one thinks about immediately when they imagine what it must be like to raise sheep.