Sunday, February 18, 2018

All Set Up and Ready to Go

Tomorrow - February 19, 2018 - marks the 142nd day since we put the rams in with the ewes. According to the principles of ovine biology, tomorrow is the earliest that this year's lambs could arrive. While I'm not certain that lambing 2018 will begin tomorrow, I am sure that some time in the next 96 hours, lambing season will get underway. The ewes have "bagged up" in the last several weeks (in other words, their udders have swelled with milk), and their bellies have "dropped" (a sign that their lambs are moving into birthing position). And so we spent today making sure we're ready for the onset of our busiest 6 weeks of the year.

These preparations began several weeks ago, when I went through our lambing kit to make sure we had the supplies we'd need. I checked our inventory of lamb ear tags - the 125 or so we had left over from last year should be enough. I purchased elastrator bands. Every lamb will have its tail docked; most of the ram lambs will be castrated - all within 24 hours of birth. I made sure we had enough scourable marking paint - single lambs are marked with their mother's ear tag number in blue; multiples (twins or triplets) get mom's ear tag number in red. And I made sure we had a good supply of iodine for dipping navels and vitamins for treating any weak lambs. Finally, I set up our Write-in-the-Rain lambing journal - we record birth date, maternal traits, and a variety of other parameters for every lamb.

Today, after we moved the ewes to their last pre-lambing paddock, we set up the first lambing pasture. We try to save pastures with plenty of tree cover and other natural shelter for lambing. As a pasture-lambing (as opposed to barn-lambing) operation, we pay close attention to the weather forecasts during our 6-week lambing season. Tree cover, brush, and other wind- and weather-breaks can be critical during a cold storm. The pasture we built today, at 7.74 acres, should last the "drop bunch" (sheepherderese for lambing ewes) for 5-6 days. But sometimes, lambs need a little extra help. We also parked our gooseneck stock trailer nearby just in case we need to "jail" a ewe and her lambs. By jailing, we simply mean putting a ewe in a small pen to make sure she bonds with her lambs - and to provide a space with a bit more shelter than the trees and brush can provide. We don't use this often, but we want to be ready.

Moving ewes with new lambs can be a bit chaotic. Lambs don't know the routine; ewes are reluctant to leave their lambs even though they know we're moving them to fresh forage. Because of this, we don't do any long-distance moves during lambing - rather, we drift the sheep from one paddock to the next. In our operation, this takes some planning; we don't want to run out of forage into which we can drift the drop bunch. For the next 6 weeks, we'll need about 60-70 contiguous acres for lambing - all of our grazing since December has been focused on making sure we have this forage available now.

And so now we wait. These next couple of days, for me, are like the week before Christmas. Beginning tomorrow (Day 142), we'll check the sheep 2-3 times per day. Depending on the weather, we might also check them at night. With the drop bunch about 7 miles from our home, this means 2-3 trips (usually first thing in the morning, around lunchtime, and before sunset). Sometime in the next couple of days, I'll notice that the guard dogs don't greet me when I drive up to the pasture - and that's when I'll know that lambing has begun! For now, we're ready to go!

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