Three weeks from today (approximately), we'll start lambing. Lambing season is the busiest time of year for me, and also the most exciting. As I've written before, lambing is like 6 weeks of Christmas - the gift of new life - and all of the work! For now, however, I'm focused on getting ready.
We have developed a pasture-based lambing system - all of our ewes give birth in the field. Some producers will "jug" their lambs and ewes - put them in small pens to make sure the ewe develops a strong maternal bond. We depend on our selection system, which emphasizes mothering ability, to ensure that our ewes bond with their lambs.
Because we lamb in our pastures, we try to make certain that we have plenty of grass available. This is why we wait until late February to begin - usually we've had enough moisture and enough sunshine to get the grass growing. While this past January was exceptionally dry (less than an inch of rain here in Auburn), the precipitation we received in December - combined with warmer days to come - should provide adequate feed. Getting ready for lambing requires me to plan out our forage production and grazing rotation - I want to make sure we give our pastures enough rest before grazing them again. Also, ewes without lambs are easy for the dogs to move - ewes with lambs are much more challenging! We lease a 100 acre pasture from our friend Pat Shanley, which will allow us to keep the ewes in one place for 4-6 weeks - I'm hoping we won't need to graze it again until the lambs start to arrive in 3 weeks!
Before we start lambing, I inventory all of our supplies - ear tags for the lambs, elastrator bands (for castrating and docking - more on this at a later date), and marking paint are critical - we don't want to run out halfway through lambing!
For the next three weeks, I'll spend my time moving fence, moving sheep and watching. We'll watch for problems - sometimes a ewe will lose a lamb at this stage, or she'll suffer a prolapse. The ewes that are carrying twins or triplets sometimes need a little extra nutritional help - the developing lambs take up so much room that a ewe can't eat enough to take care of her needs. We make sure that we have the right guard dog with the lambing bunch - not every dog can handle lambing. And we catch up on sleep! Once lambing starts, the days become very long! I also try to get away from the farm for a day or two before lambing - I won't be going anywhere once lambing begins!