Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 38

The last two ewes are still holding out - I'd hoped they'd lamb before the Giants opened the regular season (baseball, not lambing).  Now I'm just hoping they'll lamb before the home opener!

The bottle babies continue to provide comic relief.  They are voracious and vociferous - I hope the neighbors don't mind!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 37

I'm not sure what these last two ewes are waiting for - they seem to be holding on for the rainy weather we're expecting again on Saturday.  One of the ewes has a small vaginal prolapse today - I expected to find her straining or to find a new lamb (or two) this afternoon, but no such luck.  The other ewe is so large that I suspect she's either going to have twins or perhaps a baby rhinoceros.

We are moving my in-laws (Sami's doing most of the moving), and I found a bottle of single malt Glenfiddich scotch yesterday.  As soon as the last ewe has her babies, I'll be raising a toast to the sheep!  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 36

No new lambs today - the last two ewes must be holding out for this weekend's "Sheep Camp."  Our current and past interns, along with family and friends, will join us for a camp out here in Auburn - with the sheep.  We'll cook our dinner over the campfire, tell funny stories, and generally enjoy the onset of spring.

The sheep are still on the corner of Mt. Vernon Road and Joeger Road.  I hope they don't cause an accident - everyone slows down to look at them.  I think I saw one woman drive by twice this evening!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Sometimes we intervene with nature - sometimes we don't.  I always wonder if the ewes that I decide to assist could have delivered their lambs on their own.  I'll never know.

Sometimes we can see the success (or failure) of our interventions.  The owner of a property that we lease in Lincoln offers such an example.  When we first leased this ranch, we discovered a burrowing owl nesting in an old piece of 6" iron irrigation pipe.  We'd see the owl just about every time we walked by that part of the ranch. I reported our "discovery" to our landlord - they were as thrilled as we were.

Being ecologically-minded, our landlord decided to improve the burrowing owl habitat (and remove the old junky pipe).  They constructed new burrows - based on the latest conservation science - and hauled the old iron pipe to the landfill.  We haven't seen the owl since!

No owls here!

A Lambing Journal - Day 35

Driving by the ewes this morning on the way to school, I thought I saw a new set of twins.  Sure enough, one of the 3 remaining ewes had lambed during the night - a nice ewe lamb and a good-sized ram lamb.  We moved everyone onto fresh feed this morning, everyone seemed happy.  I went back this afternoon to process the new lambs, and the sheep were obviously enjoying the first real spring day!  Just 2 more left to lamb!

The sheep are on the corner of Mt. Vernon Road and Joeger Road in Auburn - a very visible corner.  During my two visits to the sheep today, there were probably half a dozen people who pulled over to see the sheep.  Sometimes the public nature of our operation creates headaches; today, it was fun to share the enjoyment we get from the sheep!

We also moved the yearling ewes in Rocklin today, and I moved the cows we manage in Lincoln onto fresh feed, as well.  Everyone (me, the sheep, the cows, the dogs, etc.) seemed to be thrilled with the dry and sunny weather!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 34

The last 3 ewes are holding on - maybe they're waiting nicer weather.  They all look extremely pregnant!  Lara and I expanded the paddock today - the ewes and lambs were happy to have access to fresh grass.

During our second check of the sheep this afternoon, I found another dead lamb.  This lamb was also about 3 weeks old (same as the lamb I found earlier in the week).  No marks or signs of illness.  If we have one more, I'll take it to the diagnostic lab at UC Davis.

We're supposed to have dry and much warmer weather this week - a welcome change.  The warm temperatures will spur grass growth - we'll be able to see the growth happen, probably.  This is the time of year that livestock producers need 10 times as many animals (just for 4-6 weeks) - we won't be able to keep up with the growth!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 33

Saturdays are farmer's market days, which means I don't normally get to my sheep chores until the afternoon.  Today, thankfully, my intern Callie was able to staff our market stall while I went back to the sheep and moved the ewes and lambs.  Everyone had weathered the overnight rain just fine.  As we made our second round through the sheep this afternoon, I was especially glad that I'd moved the ewes this morning - the rain came back this afternoon!

While the sheep were bunched up, I was able to catch all of the ewes that haven't lambed yet.  Of the seven ewes left to lamb, four are open (unbred).  The remaining three look very close.  I'm hoping we'll be done with lambing soon!

While raising sheep means much more to me than dollars and cents, I do keep track of our statistics - it's kind of a report card for me.  This year, we exposed 125 ewes to the rams, 113 of which were bred.  We're pretty pleased with a 90% conception rate.  Most of the ewes that did not get bred were maiden ewes.  A few of these will get a second chance.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 32

Despite my prediction to Paul and Alice that we'd have several more lambs today, I found no new mothers during my afternoon rounds.  There are two ewes in particular who look very close - maybe they'll lamb tonight (during yet another rainstorm).

Unfortunately, I did find a 2-week old lamb that had died during the day.  Sami examined him - she thinks he had a broken neck.  We're not sure of the cause - it could have been that he was playing and fell.  We're just not sure.

I'm always depressed by the death of a lamb - it feels like a failure in some ways.  I can't be with the ewes and lambs all day, every day; even if I could be, there's no guarantee that I could prevent every death.  While the loss of a lamb has an economic impact, it runs much deeper than that for me.  These are animals that are in my care - I'm responsible for their well-being.  To me, the term "animal husbandry" - an old-fashioned term - encompasses the responsibility and emotional attachment that goes with my job.  "Shepherd" is another word that I like - it implies a deeper level of caring that simply the dollars and cents of my business.

Here are some photos I hope you'll enjoy!  Check out the ears on these lambs!

We also moved the sheep at Whitney Oaks today, which involved a 100-yard ramble down Park Drive in Rocklin.  The dogs did fine, but two of the new yearling ewes couldn't figure out where to come through the fence.  We had to catch them and haul them in the back of the pick-up.  With all of the moisture we've had recently, the grass is going to explode as soon as we have a few warm days - stand back!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thank you, Taff and Mo

We've been moving sheep quite a bit lately - yearling ewes to Rocklin, lambs and their mothers to new pasture, loading fall lambs in the trailer.  I'm so grateful to our border collies, Taff and Mo.  They've worked so hard over the last months.  The level of trust that we've developed is amazing - I'm confident that we can put sheep just about anywhere, all because of the trust we have in each other.  Thanks, Taff and Mo!

A Lambing Journal - Day 31

We had no new lambs today, which was a blessing.  This morning, I dumped 1.2 inches of rain from the rain gauge (the haul from the previous 24 hours).  Tonight, there's at least 1.2 inches more, which brings us to more than 11 inches for March!  We're over 40 inches since October 1 - our normal precipitation here is about 30 inches.  Everything is so soggy - our pond overflowed today for just the second time in 11 years.

We also had amazing wind today.  I haven't seen any reports, but I'm certain we had 30 mph winds in Auburn - maybe stronger.  We spent much of the day making sure our portable electric fences were still standing.

The lambs dealt with the weather just fine.  They are on very good pasture (at our friends' Bud and Jean Allender's).  When I walked through them this afternoon, they had found all of the sheltered spots in their paddock (including underneath a rototiller attachment for the Allender's tractor).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 30

A month into lambing, and we're nearly done!  No new lambs today.  Despite the cold and wet, everyone seemed to be coping this evening when I stopped by to feed Buck the guard dog.  The lamb that I pulled last night was doing great.

We spent the day moving sheep to the Whitney Oaks community in Rocklin.  It rained most of the day - the dogs and I are both exhausted tonight.

Thought you might enjoy some photos and videos of bottle babies!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 29

This was a fairly quiet day (at least on the lambing front) - just one new lamb this morning.  Paul and I moved the ewe that lambed yesterday back to the rest of the flock, and Paul processed the new ewe lamb this afternoon.  I'm now debating whether to go back and move them tonight before the storm comes in.  Paul says they're just about out of feed - I could hear them insisting on being moved when Paul called me.

The big event today was that we started moving the yearling ewes onto a targeted grazing project in the Whitney Oaks community in Rocklin.  We took 3 loads today, and we'll finish moving the yearlings tomorrow.

I was whining to my sister last night about the challenges we've had with lambing this year.  She suggested a celebration when the last lamb arrives - what a great idea!  We'll at least enjoy a shot of whiskey!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 28

Hard to believe - we're 4 weeks into lambing (and nearly done!).  The dogs (Taff and Mo) and I moved the ewes and lambs onto a property to the north of Thompson Ranch this morning.  The dogs performed wonderfully - soft and easy on the lambs, appropriately stern with the stompy ewes.  We accomplished the quarter-mile move in about 30 minutes.  The lambs are finally starting to understand the routine.

The new property is fairly brushy with a fair number of trees, which should provide decent shelter during the rains of the next several days.  Rain is in the forecast for the next week, so it appears that we'll continue to need shelter for the ewes.

Just one new lamb today.  I finally caught up on processing the new lambs at the ranch (we'd been waiting for the weather to improve a bit, which it did today).  Now we just need to process the new bottle babies here at the house.

Tomorrow, we'll be checking the ewes and lambs in between trips to Rocklin with loads of ewes.  I thought things were insanely busy before...!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 27

I was pretty drained last night when I finally got home.  I knew I should probably go back out during the night to check on everyone, but I was so tired, I didn't wake up until about 6:30 this morning.  I hoped that moving everyone into a more sheltered location would be sufficient.

I drove into the ranch with some trepidation this morning - I expected that I might have some problems.  To my surprise and delight, everyone was doing fine.  There are still a few lambs that may have problems, but the sheep seemed to handle the wet and cold fairly well.

I had to pull another lamb today.  His mother (a maiden ewe) was pretty clueless, so he ended up coming home. So far, all of our lambing problems have been lambs that have presented correctly (front feet and head first) but that seem to be "locked" at the shoulders.  The terminal ram we used this year is pretty big - maybe too big for our first-time mothers.  Sami and think we'd be better off breeding all of our maiden ewes to the Blueface Leicester rams in the future - their lambs seem to be much easier to deliver.  Some of our mothering problems are probably due to the lambing problems, too.  We'll adjust our system next year.

Here are some photos that the Mountain Moms and Little Folk group sent from their tour last Sunday.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 26

In New Zealand last September (March in the Southern Hemisphere), a blizzard killed 1 million lambs.  I can only imagine the stress and devastation on families.

Things aren't that stressful here, but the weather the last two days has not been kind.  We lost two lambs today, and we brought 5 lambs home to be bottle-raised.  No new lambs today, thankfully.  The dogs and I moved everyone into a more sheltered location in anticipation of the heavy rains and high winds tonight and tomorrow.  Sami and the girls brought hay and took care of everything at home.  It was a long day for everyone.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 25

Here's today's tally - 3 ewes gave birth (2 sets of twins, one single).  A maiden ewe was nursing new lambs when I arrived this morning - they're doing great!  When I moved the ewes and lambs at mid-day, I found a new lamb whose mother had left him for new feed.  I found her (she's a border cheviot), and noticed that she was going to have a second lamb.  I also noticed a third ewe who was in early stages of labor.

In the hour or so that it took me to move fence, the cheviot had her second lamb.  The third ewe didn't progress much.  The other development in that hour was that it grew colder and started to rain and blow.  Sami arrived at about 1:30 p.m. to help me pull the lamb from the third ewe.  We decided we'd keep an eye on the cheviot twins - their mother wasn't much interested in them.

On my first trip home, I brought one of the cheviot twins home.  After running a few errands, I stopped to check on everyone again.  By this time, the temperature had dropped further and it was trying to snow (great lambing weather).  The second cheviot lamb, and the big single we'd pulled, were in trouble.  Their mothers were off grazing, and they were obviously VERY cold and hungry.  They came home, too.  All three lambs will spend the night in the living room near the woodstove.  They've figured out the bottle and seem to be thriving.  As of tonight, we have 10 bottle lambs - too many, but what are we going to do?!  As we jokingly tell ourselves, if sheep raising were easy, everyone would be doing it!

Mercifully, it's quit raining and sleeting.  The weather is still cold, but at least it's not as wet.  I'll head back to the ranch after dinner to check on everyone.

Finally, during my last trip to the ranch this afternoon, I wore a Filson wool coat (from my Dad) and a Pendelton wool shirt (from my uncle).  These garments are probably at least 40 years old - and still in great shape.  What's more - I stayed warm despite being soaked.  Wool is wonderful - thank you, sheep!!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 24

We had two new sets of twins today.  A maiden border cheviot ewe had a nice set of twins overnight, and a second year ewe had twins late this afternoon.  The afternoon twins were a surprise!  When I returned to the ranch from picking up meat from our processor in Reno, I found ewe 715 laying down with an enormous head and set of front feet showing.  Paul and I caught her, and I was able to pull a very large ram lamb.  I left them together and went to pick up Lara at track practice.  When we returned, she'd had a second (and much smaller) lamb - everyone seems to be doing fine tonight!

One of the twins born yesterday didn't fare so well.  He was fine when we checked him this morning, but Paul noted that he was weak when he processed him this afternoon.  When I got back to the ranch late this afternoon, he was very weak and was limping on a front leg.  Sami and I think that he may have been trampled or rolled by another ewe.  I went back to check on him at about 9 p.m. tonight and sadly found him unresponsive.  He died as I was carrying him to the truck to bring home.  He was the first lamb we've lost since we started giving selenium and vitamin E.

We have a maximum of 16 ewes left to lamb.  Of these, I would guess that 2-3 are not bred.  Walking through them tonight, I would also guess that 2-3 of them will have lambs by morning.  We're getting close to being done!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 23

After yesterday's rain (2.9 inches in 24 hours), we arrived this morning to find all but one lamb doing just fine.  One of the lambs born yesterday, however, was quite cold.  I wrapped him in my coat (maybe I'll get to make an add for Carhartt!) and then asked our landlords Rich and Peggy Beltramo if they'd keep him in the house near a heater vent until Sami could come by and pick him up.  They were so gracious - they even asked tonight how "Curly" was doing!

Curly is doing great tonight!  Sami brought him home and put him near the woodstove on a heating pad.  When she got home from picking up Lara this afternoon, he was wandering around the living room.  As of tonight, he's had 12 ounces of milk, and he's ready for more!

We normally don't name the sheep, but the bottle babies do get names.  So far in 2011, we have Waylynn, Cooper (the Pooper), Baab, Fletcher, Buster and Curly.

On the lambing front, we had to pull two enormous lambs tonight.  Thankfully, Sami was able to come by the ranch and help me - I couldn't have done these two lambs on my own.  As we pulled the second one, it hailed momentarily.  Thankfully, everyone (lambs and ewes) seemed to be doing fine when we left at about 7 p.m.  In addition to the lambs we pulled, we had one more single and a set of twins.  I expect we'll have several more lambs come morning.

The lambs continue to be comedians!  They were playing a game of Race Around the Guard Dog today (we put Buck back in with the lambs in anticipation of taking Clara the llama to Rocklin next week).  Here's a video of their antics.

We also put all of the new yearling ewes through the footbath today, so that we could combine them with our yearling ewes.  Our friend, partner and farm advisory, Roger Ingram, has helped us design a corral system based on Bud Williams' design.  I've included a rough drawing of the set up below.

These new sheep have never been worked in something like this, and they've never been worked by dogs (until last Friday).  The corrals are set up to take advantage of the natural behavior of livestock (cows, sheep or goats).  Sheep naturally want to go back the way they came, so they flow easily out of the "Bud Box" into the alley (which I misspelled in the drawing!).  Motion draws motion, and they all walked easily into the footbath.  We worked 140 head in 4 hours (25 ewes at a time, soaking for 30 minutes in the footbath).  Our sheep know this system - it was great to see new sheep work so efficiently and stress-free!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 22

What a soggy day!  We've measured 1.95" of rain since this morning, and it's still raining (at 7 p.m.).  I hate to say this, but I'm ready for a break.  The forecast shows rain or showers through next Tuesday - I hope the weather people are wrong.

Just two new lambs today - both singles.  Everyone seems to be coping with the wet conditions okay.  I put the ewes and lambs onto fresh feed this morning, which should help them maintain body temperature through the night.

I checked my list of ewes yet to lamb, and I also checked the appearance of those ewes this morning.  I think we have 16 to 18 ewes left to lamb, and maybe 4-5 that are not bred.  I expect we'll be done lambing in the next 10 days.  Now we just need a bit of sunshine!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 21

We've been lambing now for 3 weeks - time flies when you're having fun!  Just 3 singles today, but I think we'll have a few more lamb during the night.  According to my records, we have about 33 ewes left to lamb.  I'll try to check ear tags over the next several days to see if they are bred.

The green grass is really coming on - the hills in Auburn are so green it hurts my ewes!  I thought I'd share a few landscape shots of the sheep and the green grass!  Hard to believe, but we've got more than 450 sheep at the moment - including the lambs!
Mo - waiting for further instructions!  The ewes and lambs are in the background.
The Blueface Leicester rams (and Yola, our Friesian ewe).
Our yearling ewes.
The new yearling ewes.

We began the process of getting our sheep ready to move onto a grazing contract in Rocklin today.  I brought our yearling ewes and the goats back to the corrals and put everyone through the foot bath.  On Wednesday, I'll put the new yearling ewes through the foot bath.  Early next week, we'll start hauling sheep to the Whitney Oaks community.

As you know from reading (and watching our videos), the lambs are going through their rambunctious phase, which includes climbing on their mothers!
"Queen" of the mountain!

Bottle babies waiting for dinner.

I've also included photos of two ewe lambs that represent our target cross-bred ewe.  As luck would have it, both lambs belong to our daughters!
Lara's ewe lamb, "Chewy" - she's a Dorset Mule (Dorset x Blueface Leicester).
Emma's ewe lamb Fiona - she's a North Country Mule (North Country Cheviot x Blueface Leicester).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 20

Sunday - a day of rest, right?  Not during lambing season.  I'm dragging a bit today - probably ready for a day off.  Oh well!

I hosted a group of families with young children this morning - it's always interesting to see what we do through the eyes of other folks.  The kids liked the lambs, though some of them were a bit nervous around livestock.  We had fun!

As of 3 p.m., we had 5 new lambs (from 4 ewes) today.  Everyone was fine.  They were very happy to move to new feed.

The older lambs are forming gangs - they are hilarious.  Here's another video of them playing "king of the mountain."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sheep in France

Check this out!

A Lambing Journal - Day 19

Today was a farmers' market day, so Emma and I left a few minutes earlier than normal - we needed to check the ewes before the market.  We found 2 new single lambs and 2 new sets of twins this morning - everyone was doing fine.  After the market, we went back to Oak Hill Ranch to check on the ewes again.  We had 2 additional single lambs and one more set of twins.

Ewe 319 (who Sami named "Ellie" several years ago) had one of the sets of twins today.  She's twinned every year we've had her (this is her sixth lambing season).  She had a nice ewe lamb today, but the twin ram lamb had a congenital birth defect.  He was born with a front leg folded up and with deformed musculature in his hind quarters.  Sami checked him out, and we decided that the most humane thing to do would be to euthanize him.  This is part of my job that I hate - especially with the losses we've had this season.  I found a spot that I thought was peaceful and pretty, I said a prayer, and I ended the lamb's life.  It's not very macho, but I'm tearing up as I write this.  It was the right thing to do, but it certainly wasn't the easy thing to do.

After I moved the ewes and lambs, I moved the new yearling ewes, as well as the group of yearlings and goats next door.  Just another relaxing Saturday!

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 18

We purchased a load of Columbia yearling ewes today - had to go to Los Banos early to pick them up, so I checked the ewes before daylight.  We had one new set of twins (in addition to those that were born last night), and I observed one more ewe getting ready to lamb.  We left her to her own devices and headed for Los Banos at 6 a.m.

We returned to the ranch at about 2 p.m. After unloading the new ewes, Paul and I went through our lambing ewes again - the ewe that we'd left had given birth to twins, and we found one more in the process of lambing.  I took a VERY amateur video of some of the lambs getting their exercise!  You can also check out a video of how we take care of newborn lambs on my youtube channel.

Tomorrow, we'll be at the farmers' market in the morning, and we'll be moving sheep all afternoon!  Another busy day!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 17

Thanks to our apprentice, Paul, and his family, I didn't need to be present at the ranch much today!  I spoke at the Nevada Small Farm Conference in Fallon this afternoon.  On the way there, I dropped off a small load of ewes at Wolfpack Meats in Reno - we'll have sausage soon!

We had 3 sets of twins and two single lambs today.  Our lambing percentage has improved from last year - we're at close to 140%.  I expect this number to increase over the next several weeks.

Tomorrow, we're purchasing 130 yearling ewes for our grazing contract in Rocklin - looks like another busy weekend!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 16

The estrus cycle of sheep is 17 days, which means we've just about reached the end of the lambs that were conceived in the first cycle of our breeding season.  As a result, we've seen fewer lambs born the last several days - just one new lamb so far today.  There are still about 50 ewes left to lamb, so we'll start seeing more new arrivals in the next 3-4 days, I expect.

We moved the ewes onto a larger paddock this afternoon - it's about 6-7 acres on a hillside.  The lambs loved having the extra space.  We'll move them again on Friday.

Sami and the girls are taking care of 4 bottle lambs at the moment - two from sets of triplets, and two that were abandoned by their mothers.  Here's a video of Sami getting the newest bottle lamb to take a bottle (which is not always easy).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 15

Not much activity today - one set of twins and two singles (as of 5 p.m.).  The ewe that was in labor last night had two nice ram lambs.

I moved them onto fresh feed today.  Taff did great - he's usually intimidated by ewes with lambs, but he got them all moved.  The lambs are starting to learn the system - I'm always amazed by how quickly they figure it out!

We're off to the Foothill Farmer's Market Association Annual Meeting tonight - a fun potluck dinner.  We'll probably check on the ewes on the way home.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 14

Just two new lambs this morning, which was a good thing (the skies opened up at about 4 a.m. - I think we received 3/4" of rain in about 45 minutes).  One of the lambs was the largest we've ever had.  He was a single out of one of my sister's Corriedale ewes, and he weighed 18.5 pounds!  He's a moose!  I'm amazed that the ewe was able to deliver him without assistance.

I was able to catch all but two of the lambs that we had not yet processed fully.  The two that I missed are just too fast - I'll have to wait until I can catch them sleeping!  I'll head back to the ranch around sundown to check for more - looks like we'll have several more ewes lamb this evening.  I'm also worried about a ram lamb that was born on Saturday - he's a twin, but his mother doesn't seem to recognize him.  I may bring him home to join the other bottle babies tonight.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 13

We had 2 more sets of twins and a single born during last night's rainstorm, and another single was born while I was at the ranch this morning.  Everyone is doing fine, despite the excitement of yesterday's lambing school.  We've now had 67 ewes give birth.  Combined with the 7 ewes that Samia found to be "open" (or not bred) yesterday, that means we have at most 57 ewes left to lamb.  We'll probably have more born tonight!

One of the lambs that was born on Friday was consistently away from his mother all day yesterday.  The smaller of a set of twins, he seemed to prefer hanging out with the other lambs and stealing a drink of milk from whichever ewe was close at hand.  I tried to put him back with his mother several times last night and finally had to give up when it got dark.  I decided he'd either figure things out or I'd find him dead today.

When I arrived at the ranch this morning, he was once again away from his mother.  However, he was impossible to catch - which means he'd had plenty to eat during the night.  I watched him nurse off of several ewes.

Most ewes will not let any lamb that's not their own nurse.  Every year, however, there seems to be one or two lambs that everyone takes care of.  I wonder what it is - maybe there's something about that particular lamb's smell or persistence.  It's pretty funny to watch!

Our goal is to have a 150% lamb crop - that means that out of 100 ewes, we'll get 150 lambs.  At the moment our lambing percentage is about 139% (our survival rate is lower, but the conception rate tells us something about our management prior to and during breeding).  To reach our goal this year, the last 57 ewes will need to have 104 lambs.  We probably won't quite get there, but we should have another 75-90 lambs born in the next 4 weeks.

Questions of Scale Revisited

Since posting my essay "How Small is Big Enough" ( last month, I've continued to seek the thoughts of others about the proper scale for a full-time farming operation.  I haven't come up with a definitive answer, but several themes are beginning to emerge.

First, it seems that scale is both an economic and a philosophical question.  Perhaps one of the answers is to match economic need with philosophy.  While I need more sheep to pay myself a living wage, I don't want to have so many sheep that I can't do most of the work myself, which suggests that there is some sort of "sweet spot" in terms of scale.  My management skills have improved to the point where I can manage 200 ewes in the same amount of time it used to take me to manage 50.  Following this logic, with the right management systems and skills, I should be able to increase our scale to 400-500 ewes without having to hire outside help.

Second, I have been reminded during this lambing season that even with 130 bred ewes, I recognize many of the individual sheep in our flock - I remember their past lambings and their behaviors.  To me, this is part of being an observant shepherd.  I'm somewhat surprised that I continue to recognize these individuals even as we grow in size.  Perhaps proper scale is that size that provides sufficient income while allowing me to still pay close attention to individual animals.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 12

Today, we held a "Lambing School" at the ranch.  This was part of a grant program through the Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.  We had nearly 50 folks come to learn about managing newborn lambs - it was a great day!  Enjoy these photos!

On the lambing front, we had 3 sets of twins and 3 singles today.  When the ladies got home, Emma discovered that her ewe (a North Country Cheviot named Falfa) had lambed.  Emma's message on my cell phone was priceless - she's definitely a stock-woman!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 11

Finally - a normal day of lambing!  We had 3 sets of twins and two singles today.  We moved them to a new paddock this afternoon (in preparation for tomorrow's Sierra CRAFT Lambing School), and everyone did just fine.

I am very fortunate to have several very good border collies.  New mothers are the most difficult sheep to move,  but Mo and Taff did a great job today.

We finished our work by about 4:30 this afternoon.  For the first time this lambing season, I was able to sit and enjoy our new lambs.  They are starting to form "gangs" - they terrorize their mothers and bounce around playing with each other.

We don't have results from UCD yet, but the combination of Vitamin E/Selenium and LA200 injections seem to be helping.  I'll actually get 6-8 hours of sleep tonight!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 10

It's 6 a.m., and I'm getting ready to head back to the ranch.  While our loss of lambs seemed to slow a bit yesterday (only lost one), I'm still concerned.  I realize that part of my frustration comes from fatigue, but every ewe that calls for a lamb that has died reminds me of my inability to solve this problem (so far).  We should have a preliminary report from the diagnostic lab at Davis today, which will hopefully give us some clue as to what's going on.  As I've said before, lambing is normally my favorite time of year.  This year is different.  I feel powerless and ineffectual.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 9

While it's far too early to tell if our efforts yesterday made any difference, we did not lose any lambs last night.  Fortunately, the weather was not as severe as expected; even so, arriving this morning to a bunch of active vigorous lambs (and several new lambs), was a good feeling.  I hope it continues!  In the meantime, we're giving each lamb a small dose of LA200 and an injection of vitamin E and selenium.

I'm taking one of the dead lambs to the food animal lab at the UC Davis vet school.  We should find out what's going on, which will allow us to take further specific steps to improve survivability this year and prevent this from happening again in future years.  I'll post our results when we get them.

When I get back today, I'll check for new lambs and finish setting up a new paddock for the ewes (they'll go onto it tomorrow).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 8

One of the challenges of operating entirely on leased land at this time of year is that we don't currently lease any property that is set up specifically for sheep, nor do we have any long-term leases that would make it feasible to put up sheep facilities.  Consequently, we're always adapting or making do with less-than-perfect circumstances.

Tonight's forecast is for rain and wind (up to 30 mph), with showers and even stronger winds tomorrow.  I'm off to the ranch to check on the ewes and then to try to come up with some way to shelter all of the sheep over the next several days.

In the future, we may decide to lamb later in the year to minimize the likelihood of weather related problems.  For now, we're adjusting on the fly.

More updates tonight!