Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Separating the Men from the Girls

The last lamb was born on Sunday, a single ewe lamb to Ewe 00025, with no intervention, just more dancing from the shepherdess. That's the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it.

We had a good lambing season overall. 29 surviving lambs in total, 16 ram lambs and 16 ewe lambs. 19 ewes were scanned pregnant; Ugly Sheep died giving birth (rest her woolly soul) and I finally culled Ewe 0005 who mis-mothered her only lamb in four attempts to conceive and give birth. Plus my two horned ewes had another 3 ram lambs between them in January. Even Ugly Sheep's son Buddy (23, with a dot to remind me he's adopted) is doing great -


(P)rick, our new ram, produced a strong crop of lambs overall, healthy and growing well. I will keep the best ewe lambs to replace my oldest and culled sheep.

Ewes and lambs on the spring grass

I've had worse seasons.

Lambing seem to get easier, possibly due to a combination of luck and more experience on my part. Unfortunately, like so many things, I learn most from my mistakes. I often play those mistakes over and over in my head, and they are hard to forget. And now I have goat kids to begin a whole new crop of mistakes.

Goat Kid Mistake # 1: Remember my last post, I thought both kids were does? The brown one is a buck. The white one is a doe.

How on earth could I not notice that?! Well, you're talking to the person who didn't realise her goat was even pregnant, so let's assume my powers of observation are questionable, especially after a month of lambing sleep-deprivation.

In my defence, the vet who came and disbudded the kids didn't notice either.

The kids are anaesthetised with Propofol - we call it getting "Michael Jacksoned"

A heated tool is used to cut away the growing point of the horns

I'm used to looking at lambs' testicles (who isn't, right?) and if you have never seen a lamb's scrotum..well, they are big and obvious. Heck, the purse I carry is smaller than a lamb's scrotum.  A cursory glance when I'm putting iodine on the lambs' navels is enough to tell the hims from the hers.

Not so much goats.

Goats testicles are discreet. I only noticed he was a boy when I caught him having a wee. It was not the girl "squat and wee behind" but the boy "stand and wee from the middle". I picked him up, and had to turn him over and search to find the testicles.

So now I know.

I spend time in the goat pen every day, letting the kids climb on me and get used to being handled. They are curious and far more personable than lambs. At least I know now to get the buck separated earlier, before he gets too "personable" with his mother. I may put him to the other unrelated nanny to keep her in milk. However, the end of the road for him is the freezer, and beaters' lunches this winter.

Our very basic goat milking station: a rope, a bucket of food, a jug & and milk churn

Lastly, the winner of the hot water bottle cover is Laura Orabone. Underkeeper Ian picked her name out of a pheasant feed bag this morning. Laura, please email me your mailing address, and whether you need the hot water bottle to come with it, and I will put it in the post for you. I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, 21 April 2016


The last ewe still hasn't lambed, but one of the goats stepped up to fill the birthing gap -

The above photo is seconds after I discovered them inside the goat house, so you're seeing exactly what I saw (minus my jaw hanging open, obviously). I had zero idea that she was pregnant. We don't keep any bucks, nor do our nearest neighbours. There was a ram in with her but shoats (sheep/goat hybrids) are too rare to be a possibility. If I do the maths, she was covered in late November last year, just before I took her son away. The kids, both does, have Boer goat markings like him.

So far the kids seem healthy, despite having a brother for a father. I think the saying goes "If it works, it's line breeding and if it doesn't, it's inbreeding". Then you eat your mistakes and try again.

Delivering a Lamb Backward

That was the last of the twins. Both are doing great.

Three more ewes with singles (the "One and Done"ers) lambed on Sunday. Right after it snowed. First time mum 0005 finally produced a lamb after four chances, but lacked the mothering instinct inherent in Dorset sheep. I found her lambsicle frozen to the ground, not even licked clean, with mother grazing a few yards away.

To add to her crimes, she then attempted to steal a baby from the next ewe to lamb, a good old experienced mother. I had to put a pen around them to keep 0005 away. I took 0005 straight to market as a cull ewe the next day. No bad mothers allowed in the flock. Not like Richard Rountree in "Shaft" Bad Mothers (we keep Grumpy after all), but like Joan Crawford "Mommie Dearest" bad mothers. Like wire hangers, those are not allowed.

The snow stopped, the sun has come out, and I have one ewe left to lamb, So I guess I'm "One and Done too"!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

More Dancing & Pheasant Chick Prep

A few ewes lambed over the weekend:
- Ewe 21 had a large ram lamb
- Friendly Ewe had twin ewe lambs,
- Ewe 7 popped out a set of twin ewes
- Ewe 132S has a ewe and a ram lamb.

Last night I checked my sheep after my night shift at the pub, and eventually found Ewe 2841 in the rushes by the dew pond with twin ewe lambs at foot. I did a little dance, still wearing my apron and (not waterproof) work shoes. Lambing went so well over the weekend that I'm running out of dance moves.

There are only five ewes left to lamb, and one of those ewes keeps wandering away from the flock, restless and looking for a suitable birthing spot. She's not a big girl so I expect to help with the delivery, hopefully before dark.

Last year I kept all my birthing records on my phone. The problem wasn't the smart phone, it was the dumb shepherdess who always forgets to carry it. When I do remember, it's only long enough to lose it. This year I went low-tech and bought a 50p notebook and put it with a pen inside a plastic envelope (my attempt to keep it dryish in a wet climate) and left it wedged in the front pocket of the Land Rover. It works great. It's always on hand and I don't have to worry about cleaning off the blood and sheep juices - though that does cause the pages to stick together.

Grossness aside, my birthing records are bang up-to-date, which is more than I can say for housework, farm accounts, or ironing.

Yeah, like I iron anything.

For a change of topic, let's look at the pheasant chicks: The boss decided to move his shooting a week forward, so Mike has to move his hatching earlier to match. He's setting his first batch tomorrow.

Good hatching requires good hygiene. The guys use an industrial steam cleaner to heat-treat the inside of the incubation and hatching rooms including floors and ceilings. Mike applies a virucide (Virkon) and fumigates the area. He also treats every machine thoroughly, all 8 of them -

The machines are tested by a specialist, and set to go. Ian steam cleans hundreds of plastic trays and inserts that hold the eggs upright in the incubators, or the chicks together inside the hatchers -

It takes a few days' work and must be thorough. Pheasants are weedy creatures, less robust than chicken chicks, and prevention is better (and less expensive) than cure.

I help with the daily washing of the eggs, but I was excused from the pheasant deep clean as I'm busy in the garden. I finished some major pruning work -

The P. laurocerasus on the left used to be the same size as the one on the right.
 I burned the C. selloana in front - an approved pruning method for the plant.

These thugs were taking over the garden. I'm still losing my fight with the bamboos. 

I even got a chance to dig over the small veggie patch -

With a lot of "help" from the free ranging poultry. 

The guys kept bonfires going, a job guys love to do. We cleaned up a forgotten corner of the garden, once used for dumping refuse in the "good ole days", and it opened up all you can see in the photo below -

I said "More room for sheep!" Mike replied that "Sheep are stupid and heavy." Maybe just a few wildflowers then.

Speaking of sheep, I can see from my window that my restless ewe seems to have settled on a spot. I'd better go and check on her. Here's hoping we can both do a little dance to celebrate!

Current tally: 14 surviving ewes, and 26 lambs. 5 ewes still to lamb.

UPDATE: Make that 15 surviving ewes, 28 lambs and 4 more to lamb. Ewe 36 just had twins - a ewe and ram.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Over the Halfway Mark in Style!

Mike did the night check for me last night, so I got a full eight hours sleep. During lambing. It was the best thing ever.

Since my sheep escaped moved into the nearer field, I can see them from my window, at least when it's light enough. This morning I could see a small white blob next to a large white blob: lambs!

I quickly dressed and walked across the lane with my lambing kit in hand. There was Gregor with two perfect little lambs, a ram and a ewe. Then I saw that ewe 160S also had two small white blobs with her, a ram and a ewe. Two easy births, four lambs, no fuss. I did the Cabbage Patch dance and a little bit of Running Man while singing "Go sheepses,go sheepses!" and I don't care who saw it.

I moved them all into the maternity orchard (our garden) behind some electric fencing, just until the lambs are big enough that a fox won't take them. Ewe 160S has a touch of mastitis, but that's manageable. 

What a great start to the day! Our new total: 10 surviving ewes, 18 lambs.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Lambing - almost at the halfway point!

Nine ewes have lambed so far. I have had to assist with most births as this year's lambs are bigger than any I've had before. This could be the genetics of my new ram, my feeding regime, or a combination of both. It's made lambing a bit tougher on me, and a whole lot tougher on the ewes, particularly the small girls and first-time lambers.

I hit a sad milestone: I lost my first ewe from giving birth. It was poor Ugly Sheep. She was carrying twins, and I saw her water bag break at dusk. I was called away to help a neighbour's ewe (stuck twins / new mom). When I got back and checked Ugly Sheep there was no progress. A shepherd once told me "If you don't see anything after an hour of the bag, best you go in there for a bit of a rummage around."

Glove on, I began a tentative "rummage". I couldn't find anything in the birth canal. Elbow deep (it's a long glove) and I could find a shoulder but no head. Four front feet, one back foot, no head - and there should be two in there. By now Ugly Sheep had been in labour for a few hours. She was tired and gave in to my assistance, which I hoped was less painful than a stuck knot of twins. I tried to work one twin forward, tried to put legs with the right lambs, but I couldn't shift either. Mike tried. I tried again.

By now Ugly Sheep was panting in pain, and shivering. Probably going into shock. The lambs were sluggish when I moved them, no longer pulling their tiny feet away from me. And there was too much blood coming from the ewe. It's now midnight. Everyone in the county is lambing so vets will be busy (the wait can be up to four hours). Vet help was out.

I'm not a vet, and my knowledge is limited. Like so much in life, you have to make a decision based on what you know right now, limited or not. The ewe was bleeding out and the lambs were dying. I asked Mike to go home and get a rifle. He shot the ewe to end her suffering and maybe save her lambs. He checked she was gone, I turned her over and cut around her udder, through her side, and carefully into her now exposed womb.

The first lamb - a big ram - was dead. I pulled the second lamb and saw small signs of life. Another ram lamb. His lungs were filled with amniotic fluid. I cleared his airway with my finger, and swung him to shift the rest. I took my coat off and rubbed him vigorously. Come on..come on...come on...

He survived. I call him Buddy.

Bloody Buddy

One out of three. Not great, but way better than none out of three. I put him in our log basket on an old dog bed in front of the fire to warm up. I peeled off all my blood-soaked clothes. My white bra was completely red. I found some sweats and, loaded up with more towels, cleaned the blood off Buddy. 

I slept on the couch that night, next to Buddy and the wood stove. I fed him every hour or so and he got stronger. By morning he was out of the basket and bellowing for milk and attention - so I guess his lungs cleared up alright.

At dawn, the underkeeper knocked on the door to say all my sheep were in the road. Sigh. I needed to move them to a new field anyway, so we sorted that in a few minutes. Minus one ewe. I found her in the corner of the old field, with two healthy lambs, born without help from anyone.

Good old experienced ewe. This is how it should be done -

We had another easy twin birth yesterday, followed by a difficult single just as I was heading to work, (the ewes' usual MO). The mother of the single lamb was a young ewe in great condition with extra milk. Perfect for a foster lamb like, say, Buddy. She took to them both and now Buddy has a mom again. And I can go sleep in my bed. Everyone wins.

I've just checked the remaining 12 ewes left to lamb, and all were laid up and chewing their cud. That's a good sign that no one is in a hurry to lamb this morning.

Running tally so far: 8 surviving ewes, 14 lambs.