Whelp, our first lambing season is officially over.
It has been an emotional roller coaster ride full of anticipation, anxiety, hope, sadness, and a couple surprises.
I started watching for the first lamb a full month before she was even born. We turned the ram in with the ewes and saw him make advances the very same day he came home. That ewe had taken on some characteristics I’ve seen in our cows before birth- hollowed out sides, dropped tail, the ram once again was interested in her when she relieved herself…. I was sure it was go-time.
We penned her and her oldest daughter up so we could better observe her and keep an eye on her and the lamb(s) before, during, and after lambing. It’s said that Cheviots are hardy and can do well in the cold, but it was such a bitter cold late winter that I wasn’t comfortable taking chances. Of our 4 ewe’s, only those two were penned because their bellies were visibly rotund, udders were developing, and vulvas swelling.
Week after week went by. Nothing. No changes & no lambs.
Finally, worried that they weren’t getting enough exercise, we let them back out with the other sheep. And it’s a good thing we did to as the area they had been in the barn completely flooded during the thaw and spring rains and was a very unhealthy environment for anything to be born in!
The penning was re-situated in the upper barn and we coaxed the 2 ewes back inside a few days before they really did have lambs.
First up was Blaire. She’s the oldest ewe and mother of the other 3 (from 2 different births.) She’s pretty skittish and only has interest in getting near us if we have treats. She’s a bit jumpy if we hang around, but will tolerate us reasonably well.
We noticed a change in her behavior the day she lambed (and no physical changes- at first.) She kept arching and humping up her back and then would follow that behavior by curling her lip up like a camel. It would happen every few minutes and I figured surely that must be contractions. After a while I realized her udder, while not any larger, was bright pink. Knowing how nervous she was with us being around (and the children no longer staying still & quiet), I suggested that we went and moved fencing that we were needing to get done. After all, there was no bag, no changes, just that back arching & lip curling.
We were gone no longer than 30 minutes, but apparently that makes all the difference because when I went to turn on the electric, I couldn’t help but sneak a peek for progress, when lo and behold, there sure was! A little black lamb was laying at Blaire’s feet! With much squealing and excitement, I called everyone inside where we watched the second lamb quickly be born a short time later.
Immediately after his birth, with one lamb in front of her and one lamb (obviously) behind her, she became torn between the two, and quickly turning back around to her first lamb, she stepped on the second!
The crunch was audible. And horrifying!
We were certain he was dead (or would be soon). But he kept moving… and eventually he stood up… and though he ended up needing assistance to find the teat, he ended up nursing. Maybe there were internal injuries and he’d die in a few hours or days. I fully expected it.
Otherwise, everything went smoothly as we could ever hope for with our first lambing! She cleaned out, we dipped the umbilical cords in iodine, threw together a 2nd pen because Leanna, the other ewe, didn’t care for the lambs and was ramming them, did chores, and went to bed.
One of the lambs was a ewe which Chloe named Jilly. The other a ram Rebekah named Joey.
Obviously, from then on, spending time in the barn came a bit more easily, it’s so enjoyable to observe the lambs! Leanna’s behavior was carefully scrutinized for any of the same actions that Blaire had done during her labor.
Thank goodness for the curled lip, otherwise we might have missed that one too!
Instead of standing and arching like Blaire, Leanna laid down with her back legs outstretched during her labor. She was up and down like a yo-yo. But she wasn’t interested in us at all. Unlike Blaire, Leanna is a sweetie and loves to be scratched, but that day she wouldn’t come to the fence for them. Pawing at the ground and such, but the curling lip was a giveaway… and this time, I wasn’t leaving!
Her water presented, but with the up and down, she broke the “bubble.” She smelled the fluid that subsequently leaked out and began vigorously licking it. It would often re-form while she was standing and licking, but lying down broke it again. Repeat.
I think that licking of the fluids triggered her mothering hormones early and she wanted Blaire’s lambs badly. She was bleating for them, trying to get through to them. They were calling back, making anxious Blaire call them back. The ram and 2 younger ewes out in the pasture got all torqued up, were calling back as well, and chasing each other around their paddock. It was chaotic!
Meanwhile, I noticed that Leanna wasn’t laying down anymore to have contractions and I knew we had to settle the situation. A piece of plywood was hastily thrown up to serve as a petition between her and the other lambs and everything quickly quieted down and she went back to her licking & laboring.
Eventually, a white lamb presented properly and through all of poor Leanna’s straining (this was her first birth and it went more slowly than Blaire’s) we speculated over whether the lamb we saw was black or white. It was finally born- a little white ram who didn’t mess around getting up to eat!
At first, Leanna had turned around to go back to licking the water from her last contraction and we had to put him under her nose so she could go for the real deal instead of something that smelled & tasted faintly like him. After a few minutes Leanna started pawing at the ground again, another bag appeared and she had her second lamb- a bright yellow ewe.
Benjamin named the ram Skippy Jon Jones & Lydia named the ewe Daffodil.
There. That was done. No malpresentations. Nobody dead. Despite some hiccups, you couldn’t ask for anything to go more smoothly. Lambing season was temporarily suspended and we’d casually keep an eye on the two younger ewes that were in the pasture with the ram over the few months for signs of pregnancy and pick it up later in the summer.
A couple days later, on a visit to to watch the lambs, I noticed that one of Blaire’s lambs was sleeping, curled up, with her little head tucked along her shoulder. But there was some straw kicked up on it. And it made me wonder if it wasn’t alive anymore. Sure enough, it was floppy and not breathing. Surely, this was the little ram that had been stepped on and wouldn’t nurse right away! Dead, just like I had anticipated. But I was shocked to find that it was Jilly, Rebekah’s ewe lamb. No apparent cause of death. Another animal to add to our growing burial grounds. Though she’d have to wait, we promised Rebekah she could have the next lamb if another was born in a few weeks or even months depending on when those two younger ewes were bred.
What a surprise it was when Lydia came in from morning chores two days later and said there was a black lamb in the paddock in the pasture! How on earth, I wondered…. and don’t laugh at me here…. could Joey have gotten out of his pen, out of the closed barn, and not only into the pasture, but into the paddock fenced with netting??!
Yes, I seriously thought that for a moment or two before dismissing it, but only to replace it with a micro-moment of speculation that Jilly wasn’t really dead. Which was, of course absurd, she was buried. But what I really couldn’t believe was that one of those small ewes that didn’t have bags or bulgy vulvas or swollen bellies had been pregnant!
It was a beautiful morning and going out to inspect, it was obvious that Kenzy had a little black lamb and she was sweetly mothering it. She hadn’t passed the placenta yet, so maybe we’d get two.
What followed was several hours of anxiety and stress as we realized the ram was jealous and calling Kenzy over to himself. He’d go over and butt the lamb. It wasn’t eating, Kenzy wasn’t passing the placenta or having another lamb. Belle our dog wanted in to investigate and wasn’t taking no for an answer. We had to separate the new mother and lamb as soon as possible. But trying to go between them and the ram and the dog, and move fencing, and set up a third pen in an unused shed… it wasn’t going well.
Sometime during the untangling of netted fencing and wishing death upon the dog, the lamb still not nursing started laying out flat on her side. So in between all the scrambling, finding someone to give us a baby bottle was added to the chaos.
With the netting finally in place to guide Kenzy out, the ram and other young ewe separated, we were able to coax her into the shed by carrying the lamb in front of her, but along the way she stepped on her trailing afterbirth, pulled out her placenta, and started bleeding.
Thankfully, the bleeding, though fresh, didn’t last more than a few minutes and slowed down. Bill was able to flip her, express colostrum, making sure that the teats weren’t blocked, and milked some into the bottle and fed it to the lamb… a ewe that Rebekah named Rosey. She eventually perked up now that she was undisturbed, and nursed on her own after having had one bottle. Thankfully, she ended up doing well and Kenzy didn’t have any other complications from the placenta being pulled out.
Later that day, we worked on getting the final young ewe, Fiona, into a pen. She didn’t look like she was going to have a lamb anytime soon, but we didn’t want to take any chances. Bill flipped her to compare her udder to Kenzy’s and though it was much smaller, it was somewhat developed so we knew for sure now that she was pregnant.
The ram, now all alone in the pasture was having none of this nonsense. He wanted his girls and he wanted them NOW. For two days, we fought him in his craze, as he jumped barbed wire fences and leaped over 4 ½ foot stalls and pushed open barn doors. We put hog paneling over the door-less building the two young ewes were in. He jumped it. We took him out and put a steel barrel in front. He jumped both. At one point he had even been hog tied and carted down to the barn in a wheelbarrow so that we could pen him up. He was out somehow by morning. He won. We let him stay with Fiona and didn’t hear another peep from him. When we released Blaire, Leanna, and their lambs to the pasture, he happily went with them.
Nearly a week later and still no lamb, it became apparent that she didn’t take the first time around with the ram. Since the first three were all within 5 days of each other we figured we could start looking for her lamb to come about 2 weeks.
We checked on her a few times every day and though we never saw any signs of impending labor, we kept our eyes on her and could see the lamb kicking her sides.
In the end, she surprised us too. Though I personally had checked on her after lunch, at chore time Hannah came running back to the house. I joked, “She’s coming to tell us Fiona had a lamb.”
I was right.
She had a little white ewe, this one faintly stained yellow, and had cleaned out already by the time we found her. We had only to watch her nurse, dip her umbilical cord, and make sure they had clean bedding, water, and feed then leave them to bond.
And with that, lambing season truly and officially ended. Ever so thankfully, they all are doing really well, enjoying being out in the pasture, running, skipping, jumping, and playing. And the ram is glad to having all his ladies with him one again.
Shearing school has paid off and Bill & Jared have shorn the sheep themselves, having done much better than whoever did the shearing before we bought them! There were only a few nicks… one of which was Jared who cut the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger. He can attest now that though it might bleed, the cuts from the shearers don’t hurt too badly.
I had hoped to use the wool to learn to spin & then have the joy of knitting with our own wool, but apparently I should have jacketed them at least during hay season! (It helps to not do your research last minute. Tough lesson.) I’m taking a few minutes here and there and though it might take me all the way to next shearing day, I’ll cleaning all the vegetable matter from the wool and pulling apart the fibers, fluffing them up, and will use them to stuff pillows for a few of us. That way at least the wool isn’t going to waste.
Now the only thing to worry about is re-breeding. Had we known that all 4 girls had been bred, we probably would have sold the ram already. It’s probably not good that the ewe’s get re-bred too quickly, but I’m having trouble doing research about it since most sheep folks seem to breed according to when they want a lamb rather than (like a cow) so many days after the first lambing. I don’t want to run the risk of him breeding with his daughters whom we’ll be keeping so The General will be getting a new home over the next couple months.
Otherwise, we can return to our relaxed and easy going summer routine with the sheep of moving paddocks daily and simply watching them for the pleasure of doing so.