Thursday, March 3, 2016

Out of Practice

If we can believe the weather forecast, our abnormally warm and dry February is about to transition to a wet March.  We need the rain - after four years of drought, an above-average rainfall year would be most welcome.  But if the drought has had any silver lining, it has been the "nice" weather we've enjoyed during our lambing season (late February through the end of March).  In the last two years, especially, we've had very little inclement weather during lambing.  And since we lamb on pasture (rather than in a barn), the nice weather has been a benefit.  With rain predicted for the coming week (and lambs likely to arrive in the midst of the storm), I hope I'm not out of practice when it comes to lambing during "normal" late winter and early spring weather!

Since we moved the ewes onto our winter ground last December, we've been planning for the possibility of stormy weather during our lambing season.  Mostly, this has meant passing up areas with lots of tree cover until lambing started.  Our ewes are conditioned to shelter under trees and brush during lambing, and we wanted to make sure that these sheltered paddocks had plenty of forage available.  Thanks to the warm weather we had in February, they do!

With shelter available, the lambs that are already on the ground should be able to handle the weather.  We check them frequently before and during storm events, just to make sure they are getting enough to eat (a belly full of milk makes for a warm lamb!).  We also keep an energy/vitamin supplement on hand that we can give to any lambs that look like they need an extra boost.

For the lambs that will be born during the storm (and a drop in barometric pressure seems to stimulate parturition), we'll keep dry towels on hand to help the ewes clean them off.  Over the years, we've selected for ewes that drop vigorous lambs - the sooner a new lamb can get up and nurse, the better!  Typically, most of our lambs are trying to nurse within 10 minutes of being born.  During storms, we'll check them more frequently just to make sure they're up and going quickly.

Finally, we pay close attention to our paddock design and fencing during wet (and especially windy) weather.  We avoid fencing in small creeks that might rise rapidly in heavy rain - we don't want a ewe to get separated from her lambs by a creek that was dry before the storm.  We'll also check for branches on the fences, and if the ground gets especially soggy, we'll check for blown-over fences.

Much of our pasture lambing system comes down to trusting ourselves and trusting the ewes.  Our ewes, for the most part, are exceptional mothers - and they've shown us in years past that they can handle just about any kind of weather our foothill climate can throw at them.  While we may be out of practice, we're ready for the rain!  Bring it on!


  1. Truly enjoy the lambing stories, how it all functions and the details of it all. I have no affiliation with lambs other than sheer fascination. Just want you to know I simply love the wonderful photographs you post daily. I raised a litter of Bedlington pups....(wonderful lamb-looking dogs). That's about as close as I'll ever get to shepherding. Thanks for keeping those of us interested in the loop!

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