Thursday, 1 March 2012

Lambing Live

If you have not seen the annual BBC program where Kate Humbel heads to a few sheep farms and broadcasts live during the hight of lambing season, you should do. I learned quite a bit about the process last year.This year I had the opportunity to visit a friends small holding (small farm) in the midst of lambing season.

Mr. & Mrs. B only have 5 pregnant ewes, so my chances of seeing lambs being born was limited. There was no one in the house so I headed towards the field. As I approached, I saw lambs in the field. I was already excited, but knew that was 1 less ewe in the draw to lamb today. I found Mr. & Mrs. B in one of the out buildings.

Along with them were 3 more lambs and another ewe. These were born about 30 hours prior to my arrival. They were absolutely gorgeous. One was bleating much louder than the others. This little female was already rejected by the ewe. Although some will try to nurse all three, this mum knows she can only handle two. Sad as it may be, for the time being she is in sight if her brother and sister, but is kept separated for her safety. I had the opportunity to bottle feed her twice. She has quite a strong will and I hope it gets her through this toughest part of her little life. It was very difficult for me to not take her home and snuggle and cuddle her through her 12 weeks of bottle feeds. I look forward to checking up on her in a few weeks.

Well now, 2 ewes have lambed, the one due today was my mum with triplets. The next ewe was due the following day. Knowing the due dates are just estimates from the first time they were possibly mated, I was convinced I would not see any actual lambing. It was ok, I had plenty to keep me occupied with the lambs already born.

We checked on the other ewes and one had started to separate from the rest. This is a sign that she is getting ready to begin the birthing process, but could still be a day or so away.

I was shown around the rest of the property and introduced to the other sheep, including the big daddy ram. We headed inside for a cuppa (tea for everyone but me, I stuck with my typical water). The set up is ideal for a hobbyist farmer with a small flock of sheep. There is a field just off the house and the expectant mothers are kept here. The large glass doors leading to the patio from the lounge make the sofa an excellent spot to keep an eye on the activity outside. It is a type of shepherding I could get used to! Mr. B was up and down scanning his flock like an expectant father pacing in a hospital waiting room.

For about an hour we watched the geese fly by and the ewe on her own had moved spots a couple of times, but did not appear to progress. On the next glance out the window, however, it was different. She was now lying down and appeared to be pushing. We were all up in a flash getting our boots on and heading out.

We managed to get her into the barn where she continued to push. Also in the barn was the rejected triplet. While initially mum was getting on with the business of having her own lambs, the bleating orphan confused her into thinking her pushes were much more productive than they truly were. She stopped pushing and attempted to groom and bond with her. We quickly removed her from the main barn and put her into a different stall outside. Fortunately mother nature took over and mum started pushing again.

In less than 30 minutes her first lamb was born, a little male with little horns already protruding from his head. Cleaning her new little lamb, the pushing continued. In another 30 minutes, a little female was born.

I knew it was unlikely this mum would have a single birth or triplets, I was secretly hoping for either. The way she responded to the rejected lamb, if she only had one, there was a chance she could foster the little orphan. On the other hand, if she had triplets and also rejected one, the little orphan could have a constant companion. Both notions were a bit far fetched, but I am an idealist and can think of my fairy tale endings.

We watched the newborn lambs for about an hour. Mum cleaned and cleaned her little lambs. In this time both little lambs made it to their feet and took their first unsteady little steps.

Once on their feet, both lambs tenaciously looked for their first feed. Head-butting every part of the poor mum until they got it right. Knowing both were active and have fed well, we could leave mum in peace to bond with her lambs.

All in all it was a great day, I want to thank C for coordinating a day with her parents. A thank you to Mr. & Mrs. B for feeding and entertaining me all day. And a big thank you to mother nature for working with my schedule!

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