Posts Tagged: sheep

Snow Day!

LLF snow in Feb and first lamb in March 2011 012This is a story told mostly by Tater, through photos of himself and his girlfriend Moralecia, because no one quite appreciates snow like a horse locked up for endless rainy days in a loafing shed.

The blanket has become itchy; the ground in the turn-out area muddy and deep; the donkey is cranky; life has become boring; and, the sheep are just plain stupid IMO.

And then one morning we wake up to six inches of snow. Oh, glory be! Every animal and person on the farm breathes a sigh of relief. The brown is gone, covered by a crystal white as pure as light in a short winter’s day. The mood is lifted. Even the donkey’s. Of course, the sheep are still stupid because they don’t seem to notice anything different.

Is there really anything better than a roll in the snow? No snow angels here but horse angels instead. A face full of the white stuff feels good. It’s cool to the touch. It’s in my nose. It’s on my belly. Legs in the air!

LLF snow in Feb and first lamb in March 2011 004 LLF snow in Feb and first lamb in March 2011 005

LLF snow in Feb and first lamb in March 2011 011 LLF snow in Feb and first lamb in March 2011 010

What’s that sheep looking at? Stupid sheep. They have no horse sense.

LLF - snow, flooding, sheep, front door, horses rolling Jan 2012 006

Photos: Tater and Moralecia playing in the snow. Katahdin ewe doesn’t get it

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2012 Scottie Jones

March Went Out with Lambs

March may or may not have come in like a lion but it went out with lambs. I mean, we had lambs everywhere and mostly over just one weekend. On April Fool’s Day, the joke on us was whether we could be sure who’s lambs were who’s because we hadn’t had a chance to tag in two days and there seemed to be babies everywhere!

We have white lambs and black lambs and brown lambs and spotted lambs. We have twins and singles and even a set of triplets. But we usually lose a lamb or two as well. It seems the ewes know which to suckle and which to leave, and though we may intervene at times, nature often has her way. I love this time of year and I hate this time of year. Even my guests will nod their heads with understanding. Farm life is about life and death and the circle it forms.

It’s not that city life is really that different, or suburban life, or any place you go. It’s just that the circle is so close to your face on a farm. We have livestock and any breeding season with more than a couple animals means there are chances for things to go terribly right and terribly wrong.

Lucky for us, most of the time things go well and we have bouncing baby lambs all over the place. Lucky for us, this is the time of year that guests love to visit to be a part of it all. We need the extra hands and eyes just to catch the little darlings and to make sure that everything is going okay.

So, this weekend, the tagging and docking is on. We will have to hope that the babies we pick up for their shots will call to their moms and we can straighten out who belongs to whom. I thought I had it figured out at the beginning, but once they are all in the jug for a few days and start mingling and playing (yes, they play as early as Day Two), things get complicated!

We will have to rely on Shepherd Annie who is keeping a sharp eye on the flock for her records. She’s off to a good start this season with decent weights on the young’uns, and healthy too. Hopefully, she will be able to sort it all out. If not, the ewes will!

Photos: Ewes and their lambs…all over the place

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones

Oops Lambs

I’m a little late with the news, but then, the lambs were early and they were a surprise.

I suppose I should know by now that, if we are in a hurry, something unexpected will likely upset a typical morning routine like feeding. This particular morning Annie was getting ready for a vet school interview and we had left time to go over hypothetical questions and practice answers. Wishing to get started, Annie offered to help me feed the sheep and horses.

I ran up to the hayloft to throw down bales of hay. Annie proceeded to the back of the barn for a overview of the loafing shed. I heard her call from down below and stuck my head over the drop chute.

“What did you say?”

“Lambs,” she said.

“What do you mean by ‘lambs’?” I said.

“We have lambs!”

No, I must have heard her wrong. The rams had not been placed in with the ewes until October and, with a five month gestation, we weren’t expecting lambs until the end of March. It was mid-February. Only the shepherds in the valley had lambs this early in the season. It was still cold, snowy, and rainy and not a good time to be having lambs in the Coast Range.

I trotted back downstairs and walked to the back of the barn. I followed Annie’s gaze over to the two small brown lambs lying next to their mother. They looked healthy, but our protocol for new lambs was to bring them into the barn for several days with their mom just to give everyone a positive start on life.

I looked at our lambing stall and realized it needed a clean bed of hay. We needed water for the mom and a working heat lamp for the babies. We were definitely not ready with tags and shots and all the other tools of our trade. Damn. Surprised again and all on a day when there was a pressing vet school interview to deal with!

Although she had just showered in anticipation of her interview, Annie jumped down and grabbed a lamb as I grabbed the second one. We walked them into the barn with the mom close behind. Installed in the stall, mom and babies looked healthy enough.

This was one of our older, experienced ewes, and apparently a hussy at that! When could the tryst have happened? Annie reminded me of the gate knockdown in September that allowed the rams access to the ewes for about two hours. Two hours?! That was all it took for this ewe to get knocked up?

I could hear Annie sighing as once again her records were going to be incomplete for the year. “Who’s your daddy?” was starting to be a familiar tune at Leaping Lamb Farm! Their brown coloring probably meant Red’s babies, but long ears were a give away for Duke. We would have to see how they grew.

Back in the house we practiced mind-numbing questions like, “Why do you want to be a vet?” and “Why should we pick you over anyone else?” Annie dressed and left for her interview. She had already been accepted to another school so she should have been calm, but nerves were in the air and the lambs had been a distraction.

I understand the interview started with the story of the wayward ewe. Imagine vets all around, nodding their heads, remembering other lambing stories with surprised owners, surprised lambs, surprised ewes. “That’s sheep for you,” said one. And the interview went downhill from there.

Photos: (top) twins; (bottom) mother looking over her babies

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones

All the Sheep Were Lost

In the summer when the grass has dried and gone brown, we have had cases of disappearing sheep because our fields are not fenced against the mountain. So, it was with some surprise to realize we had lost sheep on this winter day.

When I went to feed in the early evening it appeared only half the herd had shown up at the barn. There’s a regular routine of fields to rotate through, back to the barn for a siesta, more fields to graze in the afternoon, then back for a dinner of last summer’s hay and a quiet, safe bed-down for the night.

It’s called a routine for a reason. There are certain expectations for all concerned. Today only half the sheep seemed to remember my concerns: predators in the woods versus a restful night’s sleep for the shepherdess. Okay, and I had also left feeding until later than usual!

With the daylight of spring still far off, dusk was rushing in and, by my count, we were missing 18 ewes, all of them pregnant. Do the math and we could be talking an additional 30 potential lambs. As I stomped from field to field whistling, clapping my hands, and grumbling under my breath, I saw no sign of moving bodies, even bodies bedded down for the night. The sun seemed to drop precipitously behind the mountains and our valley was full of shadows.

I walked from the end of our lowest field clear up through the underbrush to our neighbor’s property and then farther to the next. No sounds, no movement, no flashlight. I returned to the house for one and solicited our daughter, Annie’s, help. She took off in her car in one direction. Our neighbors, who had now been called to be on the look-out, hopped into their truck to check out some of the logging roads at the back of our properties. This is where country neighbors really rock and neighbors who know the back roads are the best!

Since walking up in our woods can get a little scary in the dark, and Greg had just returned home from work, he offered to change and come out with me. Had I checked up the hill in the clear cut? Well, I had made it up part-way but turned back figuring they wouldn’t have gone that far. Hmmm, Greg was not convinced and started up the Mule so we could drive. Forget the hiking. This was taking too long.

We four-wheeled it to a fallen tree. We looked with flashlights. We whistled. We started hiking up the hill. I went ahead and then turned back. But, “Had I checked in the clear-cut?”

“Well, not exactly.”

I turned around with Greg behind me as we tripped over fallen branches and squeezed around road blocks. As we shined our flashlights up the hill, all of a sudden there were dozens of eyes reflected in the light. A herd of deer? A large band of raccoons? Something more sinister – weren’t cougars loners? The mind goes wild in dark woods. Was this our missing band of sheep?

The dog took off after them, pushing them up the hill away from us instead of back down to the trail. I yelled before we lost the sheep again. Thus began a tripping, falling, scramble to move the sheep through the woods, over the dead fall, and back to the barn.

At one point the flock divided into two groups. We yelled. We clapped our hands. We hoped the groups had figured out how to join-up, but sheep in the night are worse than sheep in the day – unpredictably dull-witted.

We drove the skittish animals off the mountain as best we could and returned most to the light of the barn, dry digs, and a hay dinner. The few that were left in the dense underbrush were just going to have to keep their heads down for the night and hide silently as they had done from us.

The good news is that the stragglers appeared in the morning outside the gates and begged back in. The shepherdess had learned her lesson about the lack of forage in the fields and opened up the planted pasture earlier than planned but with fences on all sides.

Other lessons learned or re-learned: the light fails fast in winter, sheep will go just about anywhere for food especially if there are no fences, sheep bed down at dusk no matter where they are, reflecting eyes in the dark are really cool but best if they are sheep and not a herd of cougars (as if!)!

Photos: daylight reflection (red-eye) sheep make them look as scary as anything else in the woods. Imagine this magnified in the dark!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones

The Old Switcheroo

We were very careful this year with our rams and our ewes. Red is related to half our flock, as in paternal relations. It would be no good to breed him to his daughters and granddaughters, especially when our vet-in-training is trying to improve the herd, not create freaks of nature.

But, as the saying goes, “the grass is greener on the other side” and Red and Duke (our other ram) decided, just for an afternoon, to pull a switcheroo and mess with Annie’s charting. Really, it didn’t seem quite fair since the girl had gone to all the trouble of keeping good records and having a plan.

People in the know (that would be those who have raised or been around sheep) will nod their heads in sympathy and understanding. “That’s a ram for you!” “Always messing with the system.” “Doesn’t follow the rules, only the ewes.” “It’s all about the ewes.” “What a bunch of hussies!” (That last comment would be mine)

We keep our rams in with the girls usually for about two months. At six weeks, we were feeling good about our system. At six weeks and a day, we almost didn’t have a system. It was only about four hours that the flock intermingled when the gate popped open. Except it wasn’t obvious until feeding time when it seemed there were way too many ewes in Duke’s group. At which point it became an overnight slumber party, because I had left the feeding until almost dark and I couldn’t tell one ewe from another. No one seemed to mind.

Annie came home late from work. I almost couldn’t choke out what had happened over at the barn. No, I couldn’t separate them in the dark. No, I wasn’t sure how the gate had popped open. No, I had no idea when this had actually happened except sometime before feeding.

The next morning we scanned the crowd. The sheep weren’t inclined to gather back in their original groupings. We cut Red out of the flock and shuffled him back into the barn field. A few of the ewes followed him and we had to hope these were the original group because, without getting right on top of them to see their ear tag numbers, we could only tell if they ‘sort of’ looked like his original harem.

We did the math. Everything lamb born before 4/29/2011 could be predicted. Those born for at least two weeks after were a crap shoot for the ‘who’s your daddy’ prize. Just like last year, we were going to have to look for droopy ears and white and black coloring to tell if the daddy was Duke. Small ears and brown coloring – probably Red.

Our records are better than they ever have been and I suspect that most breeding records have some guesses in them. Sheep can be relentless when they want to get somewhere and fencing and gates are merely an inconvenience that will wear down with time. The baling twine breaks. The fence wire pops. And, soon enough, there is the mingling of sheep in a late season romp. All in the name of the lambs.

Photos:(top) Piglet (couldn’t find a duo photo with Duke) and Red in their 10-month-a-year retirement pasture; (bottom) eager young rams (before they were sent off to graze the power lines in WA)

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones