Friday, February 29, 2008

More lambs--they just keep coming!

We finally got some little red lambs this morning. Number 109 gave birth to twins, a ram and a ewe. With temperatures in the low 20s and a stiff wind, the little lambs were shivering, so they got sweaters or blankets to help keep them warm. By the time these pictures were taken in the afternoon, everyone had warmed up and snoozing in the sun seemed to be the order of the day!

Here's the little tunis ewe lamb.

And this is her twin brother.

I had to move some of the older lambs out of the jugs to make space for the newer ones, so these are now out in the mixing pen, where they can play with one another. This first picture is Arabi's Lacey and her "masked" ram lamb.

These are Amelia's twins, born last Sunday. The little ram lamb has a white poll and the ewe lamb is completely black.

Chocolate Chip and her ram lamb, who will be a week old tomorrow.

And these are two views (I couldn't fit them all in one frame) of the rest of the flock out in the pasture. They will be brought in as they lamb.

That's all for today!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Finally, another ewe lamb

I got back from taking the dogs for their morning walk and saw three sheep down in the woods so I went to check on them. They all came out and headed back toward the main flock, but I was rather suspicious of Beauty. Sure enough, when I checked about an hour later, Beauty was at the back of the pasture with a little lamb. I put the lamb in a sling and brought them across the pasture, through the flock (where the aroused great interest among last year's ewe lambs) and up to a jug in the barn. It's awful cold and windy out--I may end up having to put a sweater on this little one. Here are some not so great photos of the newest addition to the flock. Check out her awesome little Persian lamb pelt. She's definitely a keeper!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oh my goodness this one's cute!

I had a little karakul ram lamb born last night who has quite an interesting color scheme. So I shot some quick photos this morning. It's a shame he's a ram, but I do have some unrelated ewe lambs, so I may leave him intact and see what sorts of colors he throws next year!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Persian lamb on the hoof (and a pretty busy weekend!)

Okay, first I have to say that taking pictures of black lambs inside a barn doesn't make for very good pictures, but since I have been remiss in the picture-taking department lately, I grabbed my camera and went out at lunch time and snapped a few.

But let me back up a minute. Saturday was a very busy day. Laura's ewe lamb apparently did get bred that day she squeezed through the gate and got in with the ram. And here's a lesson in why you might not want to breed a ewe lamb (she won't be a year old till April)--on Friday evening we noticed she was prolapsing (vaginal prolapse). It was still at a stage where if she stoood the prolapse was retracted, but I figured I better bring her up into a jug so at least we could keep things cleaner. I called Laura and told her if she wanted to come out Saturday morning and help with the ewe to come on--Mary and I were planning to tag all my untagged sheep and then work on the ewe lamb.

So we filled her up with all sorts of meds and cleaned her up the best we could. Then we got out the baling twine and trussed her up. We didn't use a prolapse spoon--just followed the directions in Ron Parker's The Sheep Book. So far everything is staying in place.

We decided to run into Asheboro for lunch and to visit the Clinique counter at Belk. Without changing clothes. You can imagine the looks we three "hayseeds" got as we bellied up to the Clinique counter....

But, wait, the fun didn't stop there! We had also managed to get ourselves roped into Donkey Basketball that evening, a benefit for the FFA and a local fire department. Mary and I spent much of the day blaming Laura for this. Mary "hosts" an FFA student, who had asked Mary to participate, and Mary had--sensibly--declined. Then one night the three of us went to dinner and got a little, shall we say, full of ourselves. We discussed how we had all grown up on horseback, so how hard could it be to ride a donkey? (You're probably thinking right now about the saying, "What's the last thing you often hear from a redneck? Hey, watch this!") Laura declared, "A girl's gotta show her wild side!" and next thing you know, we'd all volunteered for donkey basketball.

So the big night was here and we were, to put it mildly, a bit nervous. Poor Mary looked like she'd seen a ghost by the time we were done being instructed in the rules of the game. Fortunately for us, the emcee didn't put the women on the wild donkeys at first (what you chose to do later was your choice). So what I learned is that donkey basketball isn't so much about playing basketball as it is about trying to get a donkey to cooperate in any way. I started out with a donkey who was very sweet but didn't want to move, and especially didn't want to move away from Mary's donkey. I mean it was all I could do to squeeze myself in between them so I could mount. Not that it mattered. If your donkey won't move (except maybe to follow its friend) you're pretty limited in what you're going to do on the basketball court.

Later in the game, one of the fellas on our team was riding one of the smaller donkeys. The guy was so tall his feet dragged the ground. And the donkey was behaving! So when his rider called for relief, I donned my charming football helmet (did I mention that style was not to be considered?) and relieved my teammate of his little tan donkey. Oh yes! What a good donkey! As the ball went sailing by down the court toward our basket, I was actually able to lead my donkey at a good clip down the court and got possession of the ball. Then came the hitch. You can't shoot a basket from anywhere but on a donkey's back. So ball under arm, all the while fighting off two volunteer firefighters who were trying to steal it, I attempted to mount my donkey. The little hellion bucked each time I put my leg over his back. What happened to the nice donkey my teammate was riding all over??? I hit the deck a couple of times, but never lost my grip on the ball. I was looking around desperately for a teammate to pass the ball to, but they were all at the other end of the court in a slow-motion crawl to come my way. FINALLY, a teammate comes flying by on an out-of-control little donkey and I throw him the ball. He shoots! No good. Oh well, you can't say we didn't try!

So what did I learn from donkey basketball? It's all about having fun. When someone describes a donkey as gentle, it's a euphemism for "so stubborn it's not about to move, period." A perky donkey is one that's going to toss you ass over teakettle and then refuse to be caught without the help of legions of your teammates. In the end we had a lot of fun. And, yes, there is video. I just have to get it onto my computer and from there onto something like YouTube. So readers, you will just have to wait to view the action!

Persian Lamb
Of course the moment we decide to leave the farm, a ewe decides it's the appropriate time to have a lamb. The ewe in question is a first-timer karakul named Chocolate Chip. When we got back from dinner around 10, I shined the spotlight out into the pasture to see two ewes scrapping over a lamb! We got out there with a lamb sling, and I checked backsides on both ewes to make sure who was the mom. Jimmy took the lamb in the sling and started to head toward the barn, trying to get Chocolate Chip to follow him. But Hazel really wanted that lamb! She kept running in front of Jimmy and generally being a real nuisance, which caused Chocolate Chip to run back to the flock. (It's difficult to get new moms to follow a lamb under the best of circumstances, and these circumstances were less than ideal.)

So I went and got Twist and had her bring the entire flock up to the gate, where I was able to sort of Chocolate Chip and shove her through the gate with Jimmy and the lamb. Once we got them jugged, she settled down and went to taking care of her little ram lamb.

I used Twist to again bring the flock up and pulled out an open ewe lamb, Cinnamon, to go in the jug next to Chocolate Chip so she'd have some company. We then made sure that the lamb's umbilical cord was sprayed with strong iodine, gave him a squirt of nutri-drench, fed and watered mom, and left them to bond. I give a lot of credit to Chocolate Chip for standing off Hazel. They must have been fighting over the lamb for some time, because he was almost completely dry by the time we got home and found him.

Here's Chocolate Chip and her lamb:

Last night Jimmy went out to check the sheep in the pasture shortly before midnight. He said he noticed two sets of eyes that were way too close to the ground to be anything other than lambs, and sure enough, we had a set of twins out there. These were born to Amelia, an experienced ewe, which might be why Hazel didn't bother her (I was concerned that if Hazel kept trying to steal lambs I was going to have to separate her from the rest of the pregnant sheep in her own paddock.)

I couldn't get any decent pictures of either lamb, really. The ram lamb has a white poll like his mother, and the ewe lamb is completely black.

Here's the proud papa, Josias (on the left) and his wether buddy Fido, who is also his son. Fido is the result of breeding Josias to a Scottish blackface ewe. He got his name when he was sent to live at Tony and Mary's place where he was the oddball among their flock of tunis lambs. Tony kept joking about how he looked like some sort of mutt out there among the tunis and a name was born.

I can't really show any decent pictures of the jugs. You can see the wooden panels we made in the photos of the ewes and lambs. Here's a picture of the barn from the back.

This used to be a stable with open stalls for the horses. We closed it in partially so we could enclose sheep in the stalls and then added the panels to divide each 10 x 10 stall into three jugs: two 5 x 5 and one 10 x 5. The stall to the far right is connected to the ram paddock and is where Josias and Fido can get out of the weather. If we get short on space, though, the two boys will have to move to a different paddock so we can divide their stall for use by ewes and lambs too.

The completely enclosed section in the center is what I call the tack room, though it's no longer used for tack. I keep most of my sheep supplies there, as well as feed for the chickens, sheep feed, etc.

The stall on the middle left is how I can walk through from the yard. I store hay there for feeding the boys and any ewes that are jugged. Here's a picture of the stall on the far left. The ewe in front is Laura's number 90 and the one you can just see in the jug next to her is the ewe lamb with the prolapse. Number 90 is there just to keep the ewe lamb company and will be moved out when we have need of the jug.

I like the open design of the barn. It allows for light and good air flow but provides protection from the wind and the elements, which is really all the lambs need in our climate.

And on a completely unrelated note, remember the PIF entry where I talked about the hand-knit sweaters our friend LouAnn gave us? The one pictured below isn't the one I originally chose, it's the one Mary chose. But mine had a border collie in a working crouch on a red background with the sheep below on a black background. Mary looks gorgeous red and I do not, so we switched. Anyway, I think it's a lovely sweater and I will get much enjoyment out of it.

And I think this particular entry takes the record for excessive length, and it's time to go feed and check the ewes, so until next time....

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jugs Ready, Now Hurry Up! Sheep...

Yesterday evening we finally finished the jugs. I have six ready to go, three in each stall. We decided last night that we really needed an extra horizontal board on each panel (Lark who is roughly the same size as a lamb, could go through the larger space we'd left), so Jimmy ripped those out and we added them on (he cut extra to take to Tony as well, since if our panels would allow escapees, theirs would too). Now I think all panels are lamb (and ewe) proof. Six jugs should be enough, but if not, I can always move Josias and Fido out of their paddock and into a different one so we can use their stall for extra space if needed. We're right on the edge of some winter weather tonight, so it wouldn't surprise me if we got a few lambs by tomorrow morning--although they all ate like pigs at the bunks this morning. I'm planning to move the ewes who have really bagged up into the paddock with the stalls and lambing jugs this afternoon so they can find shelter in the barn if the bad weather (namely freezing rain) hits us (the main pasture uses only trees and the "lay of the land" as shelter from bad weather).

We won't use heat lamps in the barn. I used them the first year and it scared me to death, even though we hung then high to avoid contact with either sheep or straw. I guess the most recent reports of barn fires convinced me to give them up altogether. If someone needs warming, I'll use a heating pad or a warming box, but I'm really hoping I don't have to resort to any of the above!

I really need to get some pictures up--maybe I'll have time this weekend to do that.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A PIF Thank You to Becky!

The other day I got home from the vet with my sick kitty (Si is 14 years old and not well, but that's a story for another time). I opened the mailbox to find a package that puzzled me. It was something soft, but I thought to myself, "I haven't ordered anything lately." So I ripped it open, and what did I find inside? Some absolutely gorgeous hand-spun yarn! Not only was it beautifully spun, but it came in my favorite color, green!

And as PIFs tend to work, I was going out with a bunch of girlfriends that night for our semiregular "Girl's Night Out," and so was able to pay my lovely gift forward right away. My neighbor Mary, who knits, and who had just given me a wonderful scarf, came by the house to pick me up. I made Becky's beautiful yarn a gift to Mary, who was absolutely thrilled!

Another friend of ours, LouAnn, was also in the truck. After I had handed Mary her gift, LouAnn turned around and handed me a bag and said, "Choose one that you like." I opened the bag and inside were several hand-knit sweaters, made by a dear friend of LouAnn's and her husband Henry. This friend Kay just passed away from cancer last year. Kay Thomas lived in England, and she and her husband John have had a long friendship with LouAnn Coulter and Henry Kuykendall. Kay knitted sweaters with sheep and border collie themes and had given several to LouAnn, and this was what LouAnn was sharing with us. I chose a sweater that featured a border collie on the chest, with the lower half of the sweater a repeating sheep pattern. I was torn between that one and another that had simply a portrait of a dog on it--her husband John's most famous border collie, International Supreme (1977) winner Craig, but in the end chose the one that also had sheep.

The interesting connection here is that Henry and LouAnn have line bred their dogs back to John Thomas' Craig and Don. My best working dog and the other dogs I have that I like so much workingwise all go back through Henry's lines to Don (and hence Craig). So that connection--my dogs to John's dogs through Henry's lines--makes the sweater that much more special to me.

So thank you, Becky. Your PIF game started a cascade of gift-giving that will likely continue on into the future, for I have no doubt that when Mary uses your yarn, whatever she makes will end up being given as a gift to someone dear to her. And that's what pay it forward is all about, isn't it?

Getting Close!

Today we spent the day making wooden panels for lambing jugs. Jimmy broke his finger yesterday while loading logs on a trailer with his cousin Josh, so he was relegated to the saw, while Mary, Tony, and I did the drilling. It didn't take too long to make 16 five-foot panels, 40" tall, with all of us working as a team.

Tomorrow early we'll head up to Mary and Tony's for the new pasture (well soon to be pasture) rock and stick clearing operation. We have a couple of FFA kids coming, and Laura too, and hope that we'll be able to finish it tomorrow. Jimmy will have to drive the tractor since he can't really pick up rocks and sticks with a broken finger and stitches in that finger and another. (What a mess!)

Once we're done there, Laura and I will retag the ewes who are missing theirs so that when they lamb I can keep accurate records (especially of which lamb belongs to which ewe!). We'll set up the jugs in the stalls in the barn if we have time. If not, I'll try to get to that early in the week. Lambs could start coming by Friday, and I have quite a few ewes who are already well bagged up, so we're counting the days now. Jimmy has been reading up on lambing (he was raised on a farm, but never had sheep) so he can be ready to help if needed. I'm hoping my luck holds out and I have another trouble-free lambing year.

The anticipation is getting to me now. This is such an exciting time of the year. I can't wait to have a bunch of lambs racing around the pasture and just being adorable!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Stepping back in time

I went with Laura to Robin's to work the youngsters yesterday. The day was extremely windy--to the point where they had "red flag" warnings out (which means, don't even throw a cigarette out the car window for fear of starting a fire). I was sad to see as we crossed over Falls Lake that despite the rain we've gotten in the past month or two that the lakebed was still mostly dry. That doesn't bode well for the coming growing season....

But back to the wind. I got home around 4:30 to find that we had no electricity. So I hurried to get all the chores--inside and outside--done before dark. Then I got out one of my antique kerosene lambs (now with lamp oil instead of kerosene) and lit it as the sun went down. I sat on the couch for a while, reading by the light of that lamp, and it brought back memories of my childhood.

We were on a farm in the country, and our electric lines were a spur off the main line, serving just our property and the farm behind us. Whenever the lights went out, we were always among the last to have service restored since our line only "fed" two families. Kerosene lamps were a mainstay during thunderstorm season, and also for the occasional winter storm that would knock the power out. I can remember doing homework by kerosene lamplight on many occasions. It's not easy to see in such low light, but it's better than no light at all, and has more charm and lasting power than any flashlight.

But reading by kerosene lamp does tend to make me sleepy. I don't know if it's the warmth that comes off the glass chimney, the soft quality of light that casts shadows on the page, or the strain of trying to read small print in low light, but last night it happened to me again. I kept checking my watch and thinking "It's way too early to think about bed." But eventually I couldn't resist any longer, so I picked up my lamp and headed for the bedroom. It was just 8 o'clock, but really there isn't much one can do in the dark, and I was running low on lamp oil anyway, so I decided to take the "early to bed" option and crawl beneath the covers.

I did set the alarm for midnight, though, because I figured there was no way the dogs were going to adjust to such an abrupt change in their routine (normal bedtime is 2-3 hours later). The "early to rise" part just comes naturally when you're early to bed, and so I was up bright and early this morning, back in the electric world (the power had returned around midnight). I have to admit, though, that it's something of an adventure to be without power (as long as you're not in the middle of a raging hurricane or blizzard), and spending some time that way can be a good reminder of what life was like in the past, before electricity in every house--back when days on the farm really were tied to the actual length of the day. It's sort of a cozy and insulated-from-the-world feeling, and even out here in the country, the stars seem even more glorious without the light pollution from the inevitable street light in every barnyard.

Oh, and the book I was reading? Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. It's the story of the love affair between Mamah Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright (both of whom were married to someone else) in the early 1900s after Wright had built a home for Mamah and her husband Edwin. It's fiction, a historical novel, but the author has tried to stay as close to the facts as she can. Obviously one can't know the whole story since the main characters are long dead, and of course that's where the fiction part of historical fiction comes in. This is Horan's first work, and so far I am quite taken with it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Musings (thinking of lambs really)

I guess I need to be a better blogger, but I since I write for a living it kind of leaves me a little hollow by the end of the day and I find I have little creativity left for my blog. Sometimes I'm just all written out!

I had a call from my friend Darci, who was telling me about her new lambs. Apparently the mother is a first timer and Darci feels the lambs are a bit too small and weak looking. I think she's going to give them a boost with a little Nutri-drench and some fortified B complex. Her story reminds me of when I first got sheep. I bought a tunis flock from someone who was going through a divorce. I couldn't afford them all, so I got two friends to go in with me.

The sheep had been pastured with two different rams, a tunis and a corriedale. Between my neighbor and I, we had most of the flock, but of course had no idea when they would start lambing. As it became evident which sheep were pregnant, we separated them out from the nonbred sheep. One evening in the middle of lambing, Joy and I headed out from her house to check on things when I noticed a little white lamb in the "open sheep" pasture. My first thought was "How did that lamb get over there?" My next thought was "Oh my goodness, one of those young ewes has lambed!" To compound things, she was a first-timer and so a little ditzy when it came to getting her to follow her baby out of that pasture and into the paddock with the moms. We finally got her and the lamb up, but of course she had not been crutched and had a mess of unkempt wool we had to do something with. So there Joy and I were in this little chicken house turned lambing jug, crutching a new mama by the light of a heat lamp. I wouldn't recommend it. :) But we did finally get her cleaned up enough that we thought the lamb would be able to find something other than a dirty wool tag to nurse on, made sure she had milk, and called it a night. That little lamb was named Button, as in "cute as a...."

I am getting impatient waiting for my own lambs, but it will be another two weeks at the earliest. Many of the girls are starting to bag up. It's been pretty wet here, which has made mud in areas of the pasture, which has in turn left me with some lame sheep. One of my projects for this afternoon is to go spread lime around the stock tank and mineral feeders to help dry out feet and prevent/end any scald that's going on. I even moved their round bale to the upper side of the pasture since it stays drier there. Now they have to walk to the lower part of the pasture to get to the feed bunks and bed down, and to the upper part for hay, water, and minerals. I'm hoping that's keeping them moving enough, because Laura's hair sheep are FAT! I don't want to try to separate them out and cut them back now for fear of pregnancy toxemia, so I'm hoping the extra walking will help keep them fit for birthing.

As for the dogs, they are just patiently waiting for a chance to get out and work. I have one ewe who's a bit thin and I need to pull her and a couple of the older girls so I can make sure they get a bit extra. I hate to do it because they are never happy separated from the main flock, even when they have their own little group, but I think it will be better for them. Anyway, once I pull out those that need extra TLC, I can do some training on the pups with the rest of the flock.

We had a couple of record-breaking days here, with temperatures in the 70s. It felt like spring, and maybe I'm even feeling a bit of spring fever. I should be doing things like getting my lambing records ready, cleaning house, training dogs, but all I really want to do is nap. Well, I did hear on NPR the other day that people who nap for 45 minutes in the afternoon actually perform better cognitively than people who don't. That's all the excuse I need!

And since this hasn't been the most interesting blog entry I've ever created (okay, so there's just a few for comparison), I'll end with a bunch of pictures of working border collies and sheep.

Twist (my right-hand man, er, dog and one of my open trial dogs):

Kat (my other open trial dog and all around cutie!)

Lark just turned 2 on January 31. This is one of my favorite pictures of her. I'm setting up a shed, and she's waiting for me to call her through the sheep.

Phoebe, who is Twist's daugher and will be two on Bastille Day this year. The sire is Roy Johnson's Sonny, who won the 2007 National Cattledog Finals.

And last but not least, Phoebe's littermate Pipit (Pip for short).
And how about some sheep as well?