Now that Peg has “unleashed the hounds” on Lambing Season 2015, I thought I’d share some thoughts and memories.
First, sheep are prolific. We bred 15 ewes with two rams last November. Today, there are 18 lambs frolicking in the pasture, from 10 moms. Three ewes – Eleanor (for the third time), Louise and Cedar – never got pregnant. Dolly, who delivered a total of 5 lambs in 2013 and 2014, had triplets that didn’t survive. Jackie had stillborn twins in March. One mom – Willow – had twins but the second one didn’t survive. If all the lambs had made it, we would have 24 lambs from 12 moms – an average of 2 lambs per mom! I’ve always told folks the ratio is typically 1.5 lambs per mom, or every other mom has twins. On the fields today are two sets of triplets, five sets of twins, and two singles. Wow!
Sheep also pretty much know what they’re doing. Most lambings happened with very little or no human assistance. For the most part, the weather cooperated, and we didn’t have to step in with towels to dry off newborns. Moms, for the most part, instinctively begin licking their young immediately after they hit the hay covered barn floor. It will never cease to amaze me that newborn lambs are up on their feet between 15 and 45 minutes after birth. It is really our impatience getting the better of us when we step in to get the lamb onto mom’s teat. For the most part they figure it out on their own. Our most important task, other than tying the umbilical cord and dipping it in iodine, is to get mother and child into a jug to bond for a few days away from the rest of the flock.
Technology helps lambing, but we can’t rely on it. This year we purchased two “lamb cams”, which I placed about 10 feet up on opposite corners of the eastern side of the barn, providing pretty good coverage of the inside of the barn. While they are wireless, the receiver/monitor couldn’t be any further away from the barn than the den in the house, and the internet router (so we can see camera images on our smartphones) is in the office another 25 feet from the den. So I laid Ethernet cable across the foyer and secured it with packing tape. The first weekend of lambing, I noticed “something” on the barn floor early Saturday evening, and announced, “we’ve got a lamb,” and we rushed up to the barn to do what we could to help. But we still took turns doing middle of the night walk-to-the-barn checks.
Related to that, lambing – for the most part – doesn’t happen in the middle of the night. After about 10 nights of checking the barn, one of our mentors Lise told Peg, “Our lambs are never born in the middle of the night. They either come early in the morning, or just after breakfast.” As we thought about that, we realized most of our lambs were indeed coming in the early morning hours, with a handful coming in the mid/late afternoon or early evening. We decided to stop the middle of the night checks (or at least just looked at the monitor in the den).
The third weekend of lambing season, Peg had to be off the farm on Sunday night. While we had agreed that neither of us would travel during lambing season, it couldn’t be avoided. Kate, Colin, Lori and Jason were all visiting the farm that weekend – Kate in particular desperately wanted to witness a lambing – and after a bit of discussion Colin agreed to stay on the farm with me Sunday night. While I assured everyone nothing was going to happen, it was nice to have the company and assistance. For some reason, I decided to do a middle-of-the-night-walk-to-the-barn check around 2 am, and sure enough Hillary had dropped a lamb. I rushed back to the house, announced the news to Colin, and we watched Hillary do a great job. While one person can do the umbilical cord work and maneuver a mom and lamb into the jug, it is MUCH easier with two. Also, Colin held Hillary while I tried twice to get the lamb on the teat. It worked the second time and we went back to bed around 3:30. It’s a bit ironic that veterinarian Kate didn’t get to see a lambing, but her husband did. In three years of lambing, that was the first and only middle-of-the-night arrival.
Multiple births can take time – a LOT of time. About ten days into lambing season, on Monday April 20th, Peg was up in the barnyard doing early morning chores around 6 am. She had taken her phone, and called the house to say, “we’ve got a lamb up here.” I got dressed, walked up and saw Hannah’s white lamb. I was a little concerned about the timing, as I had an important meeting in Hanover at 8 am. We got everything squared away by around 6:45 so I felt pretty good about making the meeting. When I walked into the conference room at 7:55 folks around the table asked. “how are the lambs?” I announced we were up to 13, including the one born only two hours earlier.
Around 8:05 my smartphone started beeping. Then I heard my office phone ringing. I stepped out of the conference room but missed the call. Then my smartphone rang. Hannah had dropped another lamb. Twins. I walked back into the conference room, said my apologies, and headed back to the farm. Two hours later, around 10:15, Hannah had a third lamb. Over four hours between the first and the third lamb.
Here is the email I sent the next day to the chair of the meeting I walked out of:
“If I’d known @ 6 am yesterday morning that the newly arrived lamb was the first of three, I would have let Bob know I’d have to miss the meeting. #2 arrived shortly after 8, #3 @10:15 – and that one needed help to get his body temperature up. It was a “two person” day at the farm – the life of a wealth manager/farmer. Oh, if you want to see a scrambling mass of cuteness, we welcome visitors to the farm.”
Finally, it takes a village. The last set of twins was born to Rosie on Thursday morning, April 23rd. Peg’s father passed away on Wednesday, April 29th and his funeral was on Tuesday, May 5th in Connecticut. We had to be off the farm for a day, and we had two bottle lambs that needed feeding. Thank God we weren’t still waiting on lambs to be born. Peg sent an email to the Jericho community list serve asking for help. JoAnn replied she’d love to help, and she came up to the farm for training with her granddaughter Kenzie on Saturday afternoon. Kenzie was so excited to help she was going to take the day off from school. Also, on Sunday evening we had Steve and Maggie over for dinner and got them bottle-certified.
Peg left for Connecticut on Monday morning, and I held down the fort – heading home at 10 am and 2 pm for quick feedings. Tuesday morning I did an early feeding at 5 am and hit the road.
Email from JoAnn @ 10:44:
“Todd, 10:00 feeding accomplished and all went well. We checked and double checked the gate when we left to make sure it was secure. Instructions were great! Thanks. JoAnn and Kenzie”
Email from JoAnn @ 5:25:
“2:00 feeding went without a hitch. Topped off water buckets and left the rinsed out bottles 3/4th full in frig for the 6:00 crew. Meant to write sooner but went out for a bike ride as soon as we were done and forgot to write. Cheers, JoAnn and Kenzie”
Text with photo from Steve @ 6:24:
“6pm feeding. All is well.”
Email from me @ 7:48:
“Hi everyone: I got home about 15 minutes ago and got into my barn clothes and headed up to check things out. First thing I noticed – how quiet it was – no one complaining – that’s a GOOD thing. Second thing – how secure the gate was – no one was getting in or out!
Peg and I want to thank JoAnn, Kenzie, Steve and Maggie for their help and support today. We had a marvelous celebration of Jack’s (Peg’s dad) life and felt comfort knowing we had good friends back home we could count on. Cheers!”