Thursday, October 28, 2010

A package arrived yesterday. Inside was a collection of items I understood and would certainly need, but have never used. Things like brass ear tags and rubberband-ammunitioned tail dockers. Supplies like lamb jackets, iodine, rubber gloves, buckets, sprays, and a flock management guide that will force me into record keeping (a habit I need to get into if I plan on making any sort of business out of this farm), and other odds and ends. Unpacking that box was what made the idea of lambing very, very, real to me. More real than it's been so far. There is something damn substantial about the doing of a thing, when you are holding the tools in your hands to do it. If you could follow that last sentence and understand this, you've been reading this blog a while. Thank you.

Farming is bringing back to my life the excitement I felt as a child and the passion that forced me through college. I realized when I was out in the working world; a place of utility bills, rent, health-insurance claims and used-car salesmen—that all the old ritual was gone. The magic of childhood had vanished, and the rights of passage were over. No more waiting up for Santa or Graduation ceremonies. My cookie and cap-and-gown days were behind me. But farming! Farming takes our hands and shows us new holidays, new rituals, new and exciting rights of passage. Or rather, old ones that we are reclaiming. Rights as old as civilization, as genuine as any human experience can be. The work of hay, lambs, gardens, and geese: this is the original work of people. It is a lifestyle that sustains us, perhaps the only lifestyle that actually keeps you alive. Perhaps when society lost much of this work is when we started making up ceremonies to fill in all the white space. People with loaded hay trucks can see their effort and know their worth. They don't need sheet cakes with their names in cursive.

This winter will be Shepherding School at my farm. I am collecting all the literature I can to learn as much as I can retain for this flock, for this farm. I am going to subscribe to SHEEP! magazine, and keep piles of how-to and husbandry manuals stocked everywhere from the foot of my bed to the bathroom. Between the literature, sheep herding lessons, and surrounding myself with shepherds: this could be a crash course education. I'm also reaching out to some local farms here, hoping that early lambing operations might let me help or watch. Any and all experiences are welcome.

It seems like a long road from opening that package to the day I'll be using the supplies inside it. When I ordered the box from the livestock supply company, I forgot to mention what numbers I wanted on the tags. Shortly after I hit send on the order my cell phone rang and I was asked what sequence I wanted the tags to be numbered. Apparently, if you've been doing this a long time, or have a lot of stock, you can go from 1 to 1,000 on the lamb tags.

"Let's start at one," was my reply.

19 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth said...

You sound so excited, so filled with passion for your sheep. It is just wonderful to read.

October 28, 2010 at 4:20 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

I think we miss those rituals when we separate ourselves from the seasons. Even as a backyard gardener, I live each season as a rebirth, a new beginning. Kind of like I used to feel about the start of a new semester when I was teaching. It's through the turning of the seasons that we keep in touch with the cycle of life and death that defines us as living beings.

October 28, 2010 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger E said...

Be aware that just as parent to be can stock up on baby stuff prior to baby that they never use you can pick up an awful lot of sheep stuff.

Of course, its a trade off if you need something for a later night emergency.

For lambing we use: scissors to cut umbilical cord, iodine to dip umbilical cord, old towels to dry off new lambs, a baby bottle if a lamb needs extra feeding, ear tags. That's it.

Handy to have around the farm: antibiotics with syringe for infections, wound powder, shears, dewormer, headlamp. Good fences and a dry barn. Experienced people to ask - good to see you've got lots!

Tail docker - never needed one (our sheep have short tails), castrator never needed one (rams are slaughtered before they mature), lamb jacket (our sheep are born in April - little need for jackets).

We picked our breed for these and other qualities.

October 28, 2010 at 5:16 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Just veteran shepherd tip -- tags usually identify the year and the number of the lamb born within that year. Like 11-001 and so on. First lamb of 2011.

Happy lambing:)

October 28, 2010 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

E, you're right. I probably don't need all that I got, but as a first-timer I would rather be over-prepared! Where are you located? What kind of sheep do you raise? Are you a homesteader, farmer, etc?

I do know my lambs need their tails docked, and since they are siblings: all males need to be wethers. Depending on the survival rate: some boys may stay for fiber if I lose or don't get enough ewe lambs.

Wow. Just talking about this is exciting.

October 28, 2010 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I CAN'T WAIT until you post pictures of your first lambs! There's no more exciting and exhausting day.

Like E, we learned quickly to time all of our birthing and hatching in warmer weather to minimize the use of jackets, heat lamps, heaters, etc. The warmer the weather, the easier it is on all of us (and our electric bill...*ahem*).

October 28, 2010 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Oh yeah, we also have lots of gear and supplies that we've never used, but well, you never know. I haven't needed that calf-puller yet, but someday I might. ;-)

October 28, 2010 at 7:04 PM  
Blogger Tami said...

I think your right on by possibly "overpreparing". :-) Lambing can be easy peasy but boy can it turn. The first ewe I bred I followed all the "rules". I purchased a ewe that had lambed 3 times. Twins every time. Okay. Good record. What did she give me? Triplets. Had to help lamb the first 2. You never know. Read girl read. Do you have someone that you can call at 1 in the morning to walk you through whatever situation? Fortunately I did. It didn't matter that I had read or had a book sitting next to me that showed me how to push the lambs head back in and feel for a leg, I needed an experienced persons voice talking me through step by step. You can so do this Jenna.

October 28, 2010 at 7:27 PM  
Blogger Conny said...

Yaay, very excited for you! It will be good to hear of your lambing adventures. Such fun (and hard work, yes) and worth it!

October 28, 2010 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger Kathi_Mishek said...

Jenna, this past weekend, I attended a Growing Power weekend in Minnesota. There were about 50 of us learning how to build hoophouses from scratch and creating aquaponics ("fish in a barrel".) The person (stranger) sitting across from me introduced herself and we got to talking, about our favorite books, our favorite movies and then - amazingly - your blog. She started describing it and I had to interrupt her - "that's Cold Antler Farm!" We both cackled with glee. Two strangers, bonding over our delight in discovering our common love for your blog. Keep going - know you have a bunch of folks up Nord' here rooting for you!

October 28, 2010 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

Jenna, sometimes you write things and I get goosebumps on my arms and have to read them aloud to the hapless individual sitting next to me. This time, the person next to me happened to be a good friend who asked for me to send her a link so she can start reading your blog...

Rituals are perhaps the most human experience of life possible, at once intrinsically mundane and aetherically spiritual.

October 28, 2010 at 9:04 PM  
OpenID thatsthelife said...

this is my favourite post in a long while, and I've been following you for years.

Congratulations Jenna, you've been dreaming about this for ages.

By the way, why do farmers dock lambs' tails? (With an elastic - ouch! I've read about castration and de-horning with elastics too.)

October 28, 2010 at 11:49 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Oh, Jenna, you are such a superb writer. I admire lots of things about you, but you are so good at writing this blog, sometimes I just have to stop and appreciate how beautifully you shared some everyday life happening. All the best to an excellent shepherd in the making. Mimi

October 29, 2010 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

you've probably already seen her site, but another blog i read is http://www.farmgirlfare.com/. Susan owns meat sheep (not fiber) but she breeds hers and shares lambing stories and pictures. i'm sure she's a wealth of information.

October 29, 2010 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger E said...

and hoof trimmers!

October 29, 2010 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger E said...

Why castrate even if they are siblings? Are you planning on keeping them to sexual maturity?
Then you would have to castrate regardless of reasons (wool, bigger lambs for meat) because they will likely fight. And bleeding heads are not a pretty sight.

October 29, 2010 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger twistie said...

"But farming! Farming takes our hands and shows us new holidays, new rituals, new and exciting rights of passage. Or rather, old ones that we are reclaiming. Rights as old as civilization, as genuine as any human experience can be. The work of hay, lambs, gardens, and geese: this is the original work of people. It is a lifestyle that sustains us, perhaps the only lifestyle that actually keeps you alive. Perhaps when society lost much of this work is when we started making up ceremonies to fill in all the white space. People with loaded hay trucks can see their effort and know their worth."

Jenna, how is it that you manage to get inside my head and write so beautifully and poeticly in such a way that describes EXACTLY how I feel without being able to articluate it and we've never met! I occasionally post what I consider to be a good quote on my blog, quotes from Winston Churchill, Joel Salatin, Wendel Berry, John Adams etc, and now I'll the above section,(with credit to you of course!) I love that quote! I read it last night and was covered in goosebumps! Farming for me is very much like the anticipation of things to come like Santa as a child, and enjoying the moments as they unfold here on my farm. This is another favorite post of mine from your blog. Well written Jenna, thank you for sharing it.

October 29, 2010 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger katiegirl said...

Yay for impending lambing season! Read all you can, but remember, you learn the most from actually doing it. It all sounds so very overwhelming when you're reading all these different things about lambing, but it really isn't usually that difficult. You'll find that most of it comes with instict (for both you and the ewe!).

I agree on others about supplies. It's good to have things on hand should you need it, but hopefully you won't have to use it. And I skip towels all together. The ewe is the one that's supposed to clean the lambs! ;-) My ewes were just bred in September/October, so I have to wait a loooong time (feels like forever) for lambs.

October 29, 2010 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger bookjunky said...

My advice is band your ram lambs early and often. Then make sure it takes!! We banded late and didn't follow up on all of them. We have a lot of little rams to contend with here. Clusterfuck about sums it up, if you'll pardon the language.

We had zero problems lambing. With an unimproved breed your need to intercede should be minimal.

October 30, 2010 at 1:25 AM  

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