weekly wrap-up: the lambing season

Posted by in farm, homeschooling

I can’t remember Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. Monday is always Classical Conversations and piano lessons, so I know those were done. Tuesday and Wednesday were marked off in my planner as “done,” so I know those were done.

But then Thursday happened. I woke at 6:00, as usual. The day was starting off to be dry and bright, so I knew I’d have enough sun by 7:00 to check on the barn animals. I’ve been heading to the barn earlier than normal (normal is anywhere between 8:00 and 9:00) because we’ve been locking up the sheep in their pen for the past few days. Last Wednesday, Kenny noticed a full udder in two of our sheep (the two bred for meat, not wool) which means that they were pregnant. Last Saturday, we had all four sheep sheared, and the shearer confirmed it as well. Locking them up at night would ensure that any lamb born overnight wouldn’t get lost in the pasture, or stomped by protective donkey.

So by 7:00., the sun was bright, and I walked into the barn saying my “good mornings!” outloud to the girls. I noticed the four sheep up and walking, waiting at their gate so I instantly thought that there were no lambs overnight. Until I caught a small black shadow walking from the corner of the pen over to the door where the ewes stood waiting for me to feed them.

The first thing I felt was shock and that immediately turned into instant relief that I didn’t have to witness the birth. While the birthing process is incredible to witness, I am a tangled mass of nerves thinking that at every step, something is going wrong, and I am going to have to get the plastic glove and help out. So I was glad that one of the two pregnant sheep got along just fine without me.

Of course, it happened on a day (again!) when I am here alone – Kenny in the office, Dad in the office, and this year, Mom was out of town. There are a few things that we have to take care of to ensure a healthy lamb, even after the lambing process (like cutting the cord and dipping it in iodine). I still had to take care of that myself. Fortunately, I had my cell phone on me, so I called Kenny, who was already in town and told him the good news. I asked him what I actually had to do and reminded me of the “dull” scissors, told me where the iodine was, and that I should get some food and molasses water to the mama sheep as soon as possible.

So I let out the three sheep (who had not given birth), fed and watered them, and ran back to the house to wake up the boys. Rowan came back to the barn with me to help me cut the cord and clean it, and to make sure the lamb was eating. We helped her nurse a few times, and Rowan named her Rose (Rosie, for short). Then we went back into the house to get Sawyer and Adam. We all made sure the rest of the animals were fed and watered, we all helped to feed and water the new mama, now separated and alone with her lamb, and then remembered to take care of the chickens. Sawyer took care of getting eggs and watering them and we finally made it back to the house to feed and water ourselves!

We spent the morning going back and forth from the house to the barn to make sure the lamb was nursing. Although she was bounding about the pen like a rocket, I hadn’t actually witnessed her nurse. Iris, the mama, was famished and didn’t stop eating each time I was there. She was doing a great job encouraging her lamb to nurse and the three boys did a great job helping me by yelling out the times they witnessed the lamb’s tail wag (a newborn lambs’ tail wags back and forth really fast when she is getting milk) as I was laying down straw and getting the barn “in order.”

At 11:15, I went to the barn alone. As I stood at the sheep pen door observing the lamb and mama Iris together, I noticed Cosmos sitting in the donkey pen (adjacent to the sheep pen). My stomach sank as I noticed the tell-tale “sheep-in-labor” sign of her leaning against the wall, nose in the air and breathing heavy. I noticed immediately that she was, indeed, in labor (a hoof was making its way out of her birthing canal). So I ran (like the dickens!) into the house to call Kenny and BEG him to come home, and to tell the boys. All three of them wanted to watch this year. They were all a bit disappointed that they didn’t get to see Iris lamb Rosie, so I gave them the choice, and they were at the barn with me in no time.

From what I remember, labor in sheep is short. And this was no different. Cosmos was walking around in the donkey pen (I had locked her in so the donkey and the other sheep wouldn’t “join her”), breathing, and pushing every now and then. I knew it would happen fast. I kept warning the boys that it might get a little intense, but they were adament that they wanted to watch. As soon as the face appeared, she delivered her lamb (lambs appear so limp  and they fall to the ground like a wet rag). I went into the pen to clear the mucous from her face as Cosmos’ job is to lick her clean, but she was busy licking the lamb’s back. The lamb immediately started to move, and within a few minutes was up and walking around.

It took about 10 minutes, but we decided her name would be “Poppy” as our red poppies in our side garden are some of our favorite spring flowers.

An hour later, Kenny joined us and an hour after that, my Dad was here to share in our excitement. We had to built a temporary wall in the sheep pen to separate the mamas and their babies since they weren’t too happy about being in the same pen together. We will slowly introduce them together.

I’ve also been making a point to take the lambs (in my arms) over to Geneva the Donkey. She sniffs them, nuzzles them a bit and then I have to walk the lambs back to their mamas who are yelling at me to “get back here right now!”  They know when their lambs are missing, and they don’t like it! Hopefully, by the time they’re all out in the pasture, the donkey will know to bond with the lambs, and we won’t have the same trouble with her that we had last year!

So that was our week in review. I think we covered biology, farming, and domestic help quite well this week. I was super impressed with how well the boys handled the whole situation, how helpful they were to us when we had to spend most of the day in the barn with the lambs, and how gentle and loving they are to those animals. At one point, Rowan looked at me with a smile on his face and said, “I just love our farm!”