There is no time to rest with young lambs around. And it’s not just about keeping a constant eye on our lambs to ensure they are getting enough to eat. The lactating ewes need plenty to eat as all of their resources are going into making milk. And the lambs like their milk!
And this is complicated by the fact that those ewes that lost their lambs need to be underfed to avoid mastitis.
Anyway, the lambs are doing well but one or two of the ewes were beginning to suffer. This is despite twice daily high protein sheep nut supplements. They had pretty much eaten all the grass in our paddock, so we decided to move them up to our other field. This hadn’t been grazed since last summer, so there is plenty of grass. It’s also much bigger and has two fallen trees (courtesy of the winter storms). Great play areas for lambs.
We decided to move them by trailer, the prospect of keeping the lambs from disappearing through hedges a bit too worrying.
We also took the opportunity to spray them to prevent fly strike, fly strike being a horrible thing to happen to a sheep of any size.
All of the sheep and lambs wouldn’t fit into the trailer. Even with two trips! So some lucky lambs got to go by car. Driven a few hundred yards in the lap of luxury, well the back of a Freelander!
Well, they all love it up there. There’s lot’s of space, lots to eat and lots to do.
And we quite enjoy the short bike ride when it’s bottle and nuts feeding time :). As do the dogs, Haribo proving to be quite the expert at loping along beside the bikes. He’s even taught George, who was scared of bikes, that this is good fun, so they now both run alongside with big doggie grins on their faces. Even Maxi seems to enjoy trotting along, albeit a few metres back and on the lead!
It’s Easter Saturday and I type this in a state of tiredness such that I can hardly think straight. To say I have a new found respect for sheep farmers would be an understatement. There’s a saying in this world that a sheep’s ambition is to die and it spends it’s life looking to do this as fast as possible. It even came up in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (Granny Aching). I think Terry Pratchett must have known something about sheep!
Good Friday started with a miracle. For once, it was sunny and warm (you might think so, but that’s not the miracle). I was sitting at my computer and keeping one eye on the paddock with the lambs. I noticed one of the ewes was chasing our dog, George, all round the field. In case you’re wondering, George is a natural at guarding livestock, it’s what his breed are for. And a George in the field will certainly keep foxes away as well as next door’s dogs.
Anyway, I went down to investigate. The sheep all know George and are highly tolerant of him. This was unusual behaviour. What was even more unusual was that Selene was chasing him. Selene is one of the most serene of our sheep. By then Nicole had joined me and we put George out of the field. The energy was not helped by next door’s yappy mutt barking at the sheep, so I chased it away and turned to see what was what.
Now, you have to understand that we believed Selene was not pregnant. There had been no raddle mark, she had not seemed to fatten up and there were no physical signs. So, when we saw a burst water bag hanging from her behind, we were somewhat puzzled. It took quite a few moments for us to realise that not only was Selene pregnant, but that she was about to give birth.
Now, having been “not pregnant”, Selene had been turned out a while back and so had not had the supplement given to pregnant ewes. Overfeeding sheep nuts helps sheep to achieve their life ambition, so you have to be really careful.
Having not had this supplement, Selene popped out two lambs in quick succession. The lambs were smaller due to the lack of extra feed.
This was our miracle and we were elated.
This is just the beginning of the story. At first all seemed great. Selene was super attentive and both lambs were showing a good and strong instinct to feed. The weather was warm. All was great. So we sat and took a moment to enjoy our good fortune. Given the seemingly immaculate conception and it being Easter, we named them Witchy and Warlock.
Later that day, Nicole noticed that Witchy was looking a bit lethargic. We took her inside. She would not feed. In fact, she showed a remarkable lack of will to live (see sheep’s life ambition above). Well, we had already lost Wicca earlier in the week to an infection (Watery Mouth). This had affected us both deeply. We did not want to lose another one.
Nevertheless, despite multiple tube feeds, lamb pick me up and life aid being administered, Witchy continued to remain lethargic. All through the night Nicole nursed her. I have to say I am in awe of Nicole. I was so tired I stayed in bed. I was awake and ready to help, but Nicole never asked. I don’t know how she did it. At 5am, I told her I’d take over and left her to sleep.
Witchy was hanging in there, but at best I was giving here 50/50.
Of course, a storm was approaching so we had decided to bring the lambs into the shed. That caused something of an uproar in the flock. Nicole had been halter training them, but they knew was something was up and did all they could not to become ensnared. However, one by one, Nicole dragged them in from the field while I ran ahead my arms full of wriggling lambs. One ewe lost the plot and it took ages before we managed to lead her in; by placing her lamb in front of her nose.
Of course, once in the shed, they realised they were out of the crap weather and they were so happy. In fact, the atmosphere in there today has been really great.
Except in one corner where Selene lay with Warlock (Witchy was still inside with us). Selene was ill. Having not fed her up, we had overcompensated and given her too many sheep nuts (they need the nuts to hep milk production). Now she had tummy ache. This is life threatening for sheep (see sheep’s life ambition above). Nicole rang the vet and the vet talked her through a plan of action. Life aid (basically electrolytes) was administered and painkillers and antibiotics injected. In the meantime, Warlock was now cold and so he came in for a warm up. I may not be great at staying up all night, but I can warm a lamb up quickly as I generate a lot of heat (we have an emergency lamb warming box, but I prefer the body heat method).
To our huge relief, Selene recovered quickly and they were soon reunited.
In the meantime, Witchy slowly seems to be improving. She is still reluctant to feed, but is taking some in. We keep telling her she must drink or it will be the tube, but she doesn’t listen. Thankfully, she’s taking in around 50ml a feed and she needs around 100ml every 4 hours, so there’s hope yet.
I can’t believe how tough lambing is turning out to be. We have been doing 4 hourly checks for what seems like forever, but is in fact just 3 or 4 weeks. On top of that, every ewe that has lambed so far has presented with problems of one sort or another. Mainly, they just can’t seem to get the poor wee lambs out.
We have had amazing support from our friends who have come over at each birth and helped rescue the situation. Of the 7 ewes that were expecting, 4 have now produced lambs.
Our best surprise was Bluemli. She’s our youngest and is a first time mum. We were expecting problems (you can do just a little too much reading you know). Well, last night she did have trouble squeezing her lamb out, but with a little help, out popped a very cute ram lamb. And Bluemli was licking it straight away, the first of our ewes to do so. In fact, she’s besotted with her little lamb and talks to it constantly. Having learned that this year, the RFBS deems names to start with ‘W’, we have named him Wart. And this is not after those annoying little growths we sometimes get. It’s after the nickname given to the the young King Arthur (before he was king) in T.H. White’s classic novel.
The best part of this is that we had Bluemli’s due date completely wrong, sometime in mid April). Crafty Ginge, the ram, had obviously managed to have his way without leaving a mark a bit earlier than we had realised.
And then today, around lunchtime, Sky went into labour. Now, Sky had been behaving a little strangely and truth be told, I had a strange feeling all was not well. She had been headbutting Bluemli while Bluemli was giving birth and then seemed fixated with her lamb – we had to put her in a pen for a while. Sadly, my fears turned out to be true. The first lamb was still born and it seemed he had been dead before she went into labour. We suspect that Sky was aware of this and hence the odd behaviour.
Thankfully, she was having twins and out popped a beautiful baby ewe lamb. She has been named Winifred (after Nicole’s aunt) and is already Winnie (for short).
In the meantime we discovered a great device for feeding our orphan lambs. As they grow, they are getting more and more frantic at feeds. We now have a rack into which we can put their bottles and they can help themselves as and when they like. Of course, the first attempt didn’t go too well, not helped by my not hanging it correctly and Larry (or wlarry as must his name must start with ‘W’ :)) kept butting it. But, this evening they have got the hang of it and are starting to take smaller feeds on demand which is just great.
After the introduction to the deep end of lambing on Thursday, we spent Saturday waiting for Shelby to give birth. We were hopeful it would not be a repeat of Thursday. I mean, we love hand rearing the first two, but ideally they should be raised by their mother.
Well, around 7pm Nicole spotted that Shelby was in trouble. We called a friend who also breeds coloured ryelands and asked for advice. He had been quite “vocal” in telling us not to ring the vet if there was a problem, but to ring him. Despite having 22 ewes of his own, he and his wife came round to help. If Scarlett’s experience was traumatic, then I don’t really know what word to use to describe what Shelby went through. Her cervix was even tighter.
It took some effort to get the first lamb out. And then, well over an hour, nearer two, to bring out the second. Working in such a tight, constricted and slippery place, it was proving almost impossible to get both front legs and head lined up correctly. But he carried on and with the help of Nicole and some baler twine, finally we had number two.
To be honest, I couldn’t believe she was alive, but she was. The best part of it all was the totally calm atmosphere throughout. Shelby didn’t struggle, she just lay there as if she knew we were helping. The other sheep kept a respectful distance. Both lambs were presented to Shelby and despite being exhausted, and sore I bet, she immediately bonded with them.
But, she was so was so exhausted she just lay down. We constructed a pen around her and the lambs where she lay so as she would not have to move. Then we withdrew and left them in peace for an hour. In the meantime, I drove over to our friend’s house to get some antibiotics and a decent syringe. We have a huge lambing kit, but we had no antibiotics – typical! When I got back, we gave Shelby a jab. I say we, but Nicole actually did the injection, she is much braver than me.
Then we checked the lambs and decided to give them some feed by bottle. We were able to milk Shelby to get some of her colostrum and then topped it up with some we made up. Bottle feeding newly born lambs is not that easy, they don’t expect a rubber teat! One of them just wouldn’t even try. I popped her under my jacket and Nicole warmed up some towels on the aga. Soon, she warmed up and began to wriggle and we were able to feed her too. Then, once again we were up every two hours checking and giving them supplementary feed. We were also really worried about Shelby.
But, the good news is that all three survived their ordeal and seem in good health. Nicole has been training the young lambs (Camille and Florence) to use their mother’s teats to feed. And they are learning, though still getting the odd top up. And Shelby is proving to be a wonderful mother, she’s a joy to watch.
So today, being a lovely sunny day, we turned them out into the paddock. The other ewes were curious and Peaches seemed a little put out and tried to head butt one of them (we couldn’t tell which one as they are virtually identical). Before Shelby could intervene, the young lamb went head to head with Peaches and sent her scurrying backwards.
Checking later, they are all happy in the spring sunshine.
And Larry and Lisa continue to grow stronger every day. I have taken a bit of time off work so will build them an outdoor pen in the paddock tomorrow so they can be outside among the others but safe. Of course, we’ll be bringing them in at night into their luxury indoor bed :).
We have been on lamb alert for almost two weeks now. We started 4 hourly checks a week before we thought the first ones were due. They finally arrived 6 days after the due date, on Thursday evening. It was, however, not plain sailing.
In our first year of lambing, we have done everything we can to learn as much as we can about what we need to do. Nicole has researched all the ins and outs and prepared laminated sheets and instructions. We have both been out making sure everything was ready, lambing shed, pasture, emergency heating box and so on. I only just finished the emergency heating box Thursday afternoon.
Later that Thursday, as I headed out to one of my Maths students, Scarlett’s waters broke. Nicole had it all under control, so I headed off, after all I was only away for an hour or so. When I got back, nothing had happened and the vet had been called.
It turned out that Scarlett had a very tight cervix and this was stopping the lambs from coming. The vet duly delivered both lambs, but in the process, the whole bonding process was shattered. And so, Scarlett would not accept her lambs. The vet just shrugged and disappeared, but we kept watch. An hour later with the lambs not getting any feed and just being pushed away, we tried to help. We managed to get both to suckle for a short period, but Scarlett just would not accept them.
We took them indoors, made some emergency colostrum and bottle fed them. We felt it was too risky to leave them with Scarlett, there was every chance she might accidentally crush them. So we set up a pen in the living room, found a comfy quilt, turned on the under floor heating and set our alarm clocks for 2 hour intervals. I was on 11pm, 1am and 5am bottle feeding duty!
Well, today, still not yet 2 whole days old, the lambs are prospering. We tried many times to repair their bond with Scarlett but in the end we have decided to hand rear them. And we have both bonded with them rather strongly it should be said. They are a little ewe and a little ram, called Lisa and Larry respectively.
Today we built them safe quarters in the lambing shed where we will put them in daylight hours – it will be good for them to be among the sheep. We also took them for a walk in the paddock. Like all living creatures, they love the outdoors and need to feel the sun on their backs. We had a lovely time and they were already skipping about.
Then after the 5 o’clock feed, we all fell asleep on the couch, myself and Nicole each with a sleeping lamb on our chests. It really is quite magical.
Both myself and Mrs D have worked non stop this weekend. A lot of our motivation is to get everything ready for our lambs which should start appearing around Friday. The sheep are already in the lambing shed, so that’s all done. This weekend was all about getting the outside areas ready for when we turn them out.
Following a recent robbery, we decided to put a hedge at the bottom of our field. As well as making it hard to get in (it’s all thorny bushes) this would have the added benefit of blocking the view of our field from the road. However, sheep are very partial to thorny bushes, so with the sheep indoors, now was the perfect time to plant the hedge and fence it off. It was only about 35m, but still a lot of plants (83 in total).
On top of that, there were 25 apple trees waiting to be planted. Being bare root, they had to go in soon. These trees were going in the orchard and as this is also used for grazing, had to be fitted with tree guards, Rather than buy hugely expensive ones, I fashioned some out of some galvanised wire mesh. Those jobs kept me occupied!
Mrs D had already cleaned up the field and was now working on securing the fence. Sadly, our neighbour has three rather aggressive border terriers. They truly are bad cases of “small dog syndrome”. The last thing we want is for them to take an interest in the lambs and try to get into the field. Which, truth be told, is quite possible, dogs being dogs. So Mrs D has been on her knees making sure any rabbit scrapings or gaps under the fence are well and truly blocked.
And in between, we found a small dunnock lying on the ground. So that was duly nursed back to health.
Still, nearly there, preparation for lambs is looking good.
As the ghastly winter rolls on towards spring, lambing time is fast approaching. Our first lambs are due on 4th of March (give or take). But the weather presented us with a dilemma.
Sheep like it outside. But they, like the rest of us, can get a bit tired of the wet, especially if it gets through their fleece and onto their skin. Generally, sheep are brought into the lambing shed about 2 weeks before the first lambs are due. But we were not sure whether to bring them in early due to the constant rain. If we brought them in too early, might they get bored?
Sheep are delicate creatures at the best of times, so any stress this close to lambing can be a bad thing. Sadly, our hand was forced when one of the ewes miscarried about 4 weeks before she was due. The vet suggested we could bring them in at nights until closer to lambing.
So, it was rubber gloves on, disinfectant solution prepared and the shed got a thorough clean. Once it had dried, we put down a thick bed of straw and set up the hay feeders. We brought them in early and they were ever so happy. Dry feet (the paddock was very wet and muddy in places), out of the wind and rain and a plentiful supply of food and water.
Then, a quick trip to the local Agricentre for a trough for their high protein pre lambing nuts and we were all set.
And now, they are happy as larry in their shed and getting lots of attention. Mind you, at nuts feeding time, it can turn into something of a scrum (see the picture!) as you try to spread the nuts into the trough. They like their sheep nuts!
And for us, it’s fingers crossed that things will go well from here.
The weather has been causing us all sorts of problems. Not flooding, thankfully, though it has been close. But the recent heavy rain has also turned everywhere to mud, flooded the drive and turned the garden into a marsh. We have had to resort to pumping water out into the drainage ditch and banning the hens from the lawn (as they were gleefully tearing into the soft ground and adding to the carnage). We grow weary of this wet, windy and dark winter – bring on spring!
And the poor sheep – their field is soaking. Thankfully, they have hard standing around the hay feeders. And they’ll be coming into the lambing shed next week so will be able to dry out.
And with lambing fast approaching, we have plenty to be doing without the weather adding to our woes. Nevertheless, one of the recent storms took down another apple tree in the orchard. Sadly, this one was the tree with the little owl box. This was the second tree with this owl box to be blown over, not a lucky box so far. Before we owned the field, little owls used the box regularly. But when we took ownership, it was just lying on the ground so I refurbished it and put it back up.
Anyway, with it once again blown over, we surveyed our trees to find a new home. If trees could speak, they’d probably be saying “not me”, fearful they may be number 3!
So, this time, we picked a huge tree with a massive trunk. The tree benefited from having some ivy removed. It was probably less impressed when I had to hammer in some nails “sorry”. But the little owl box is now back and ready, maybe even in time for this year. We shall watch and see.
I also took the opportunity to scurry up the ladder and secure the bat box which had been buffeted somewhat by the wind.
I was lucky enough to be given a hedgehog house for Christmas. Keen to avoid the bat box scenario (where I took months to decide where to put it), I started to look for sites straight away.
In my experience, hedgehogs like to build nests under dense bushes and or wood piles. Spreading conifers are ideal. But I found it hard to find the right spot. We have no spreading conifers. Our shrubbery was only planted last year and so the bushes are still small. The hedge is too close to the road. The veggie patch too busy.
This was proving harder than I’d thought it be. I could have put it in the field, there’s plenty of mature hedging there. But I wanted it to be nearby.
Then finally, a solution. We have a number of wood piles which are there for wildlife (not heading to the wood burner!). And part of our garden is fenced off to keep the dogs and chickens out, so is nice and quiet. These fences already have hedgehog tunnels.
So, today I put the hedgehog house in place. I covered it with a good layer of twigs for insulation and cover. Can you spot the entrance in the photo above? If not, you can see it before I covered it in the photo below.
Now, just have to wait and see if a hedgehog appears. It’s fingers crossed because, truth be told, I have seen no sign of them since moving here.
Haribo has been with us just over a week now. I am happy to report that he has settled in well. He gets on well with our large dog, George. Our terrier, Maxi, pretty much ignores him as she does most dogs. She did that with George when he first arrived, but now she follows him round so we hope she’ll warm to Haribo in her own time.
Haribo, as one would expect from a collie, has lots of energy and a desire to please and work with people. He particularly likes playing ball and will run and fetch a ball till he drops! No surprises there, most collies like to play ball. So, he gets to play a little ball on each walk. Sometimes George joins in, but he seems to be going through a bit of a lazy patch. It may be because he’s on a diet (having put on a bit of weight).
In our orchard, the grass is quite long so Haribo gets to chase the ball but more often than not, then has to find it. It’s great stimulation for dogs to use their noses to find things.
Haribo is also undergoing some basic training, improving his sit stays, recall and downs. Sometimes he’s so keen he just can’t stay in one place and seems to glide around the floor like a dalek. However, a quick learner, he is beginning to realise that the motionless dog gets the reward.
And he loves his food. Well, they all do. This picture shows them sitting waiting to be allowed to eat their dinner (which is on the floor in front of them, just out of shot). You can see from the intensity of their expressions that they can’t wait!
And after dinner, they all retire to their beds for a well earned rest.
And tomorrow, I’m back at work at Pawplay after the Christmas break, so lots of doggie fun and play awaits.