Friday, March 4, 2016

Nine

Went outside to check on the last ewe and found her and two lambs in the field at 2AM. I thought, all right! Twins! And ran over with a towel over my arm to check on the two already nursing on mom. Soon as I arrived I saw another lamb, still, on the ground in a small ditch. I rushed to it and saw it curled up, legs tucked under it and mouth open. My heart sank and I went to inspect it. I picked it up and heard the slightest whimper of life. I wrapped it in a towel and brought it inside straight away - torn between its dire needs and the needs of the two other lambs trying to nurse with ice forming on their tails and damp bodies. She cried a little louder as I brought her inside the farmhouse by a small little heater in my bathroom. I rubbed her body down with the towel to dry her off and she started to cry a little louder. Hope filled me and I saw her begin to breath stronger, her small lungs filling up with air again in the warm place. I sat with her long as I dared, knowing the kids on the hill were literally freezing and far from the warmth of the pole barn with the other mothers and little ones. So since she was breathing and in a warmer place I knew she would either slowly fade away or recover. She was probably an hour old.

I went up the hill and got the other babies into the shed. As I got them and the Romney situated Split Ear's little ones ran up to me looking for a bottle. I knew I had better get one up the hill soon, since I doubted she was producing much milk at all. Worried about the ewe in the bathroom, I went back inside to gather some bottles and check on her, get some food into her. But when I went back into the bathroom just ten minutes later, she had passed away. She didn't make it. I sat with the small, lifeless, body for a short while. It was heartbreaking. Had I not fallen asleep, had it been a few days earlier, had it been just an hour earlier I got up...

I went back up the hillside to bottle feed, and when I went in the barn the Romney was gone. Shit. She had probably went back out into the fields to look for her third, which was dead in my bathroom. But her little ones were inside, trying to nurse from Split Ear, which is a losing game even if you are her offspring. I bottle fed Elijah and Shoshanna, Split Ear's little ones, and not sure when or where the Romney was I bottle fed the two surviving lambs who were under the heat lamp and strong as oxen. I didn't know if I was making two more bottle babies but I wasn't losing three lambs tonight. I fed them and then came back into the farmhouse to get the torch beam.

I wasn't dressed right. I had on tights, shearling slipper boots, a long-sleeved tee shirt and a cotton sweatshirt. The adrenaline of the lamb in the bathroom, the bottle needs of the newborns, the whole thing had distracted me from being cold but now I was very cold. I was also very tired.

It was time to go back up the hill and either get that Ewe back with her newborns or bring in the babies as house lambs, either way how cold and tired I was did not matter. The sacrifice lost to a few hours of sleep was already on the bathroom floor. I was too focused on the work to feel anything beside that hollow feeling of realistic loss. But in all of this, there was a sigh lamving season was over. Whatever happened next, there were no more lambs on the way.

Nine lambs total made it. Four rams, five ewes. One lost.

UPDATE 4AM: I am worried. The two newborns from the Romney that survived are in the barn, fed a bottle, under a heat lamp. But their mother will not let them nurse or even be by them. She is looking for the lost baby and sleeping where she gave birth. I tried walking out into the field with the babies and luring her back to the lamb's barn but she only stays a few moments and then leaves again. Trying to save that lamb may be the reason she is abandoning these two new ones. I didn't think the urge to find the lost lamb would overpower the need to care for the living ones. Before I bring them inside I am keeping them where she last saw them and hoping she returns to nurse them. Her bag is so big I worry if she doesn't, she'll get mastitis. I am heading back up there to give them a little more colostrum replacement and make sure they are okay.

UPDATE 2 4:30AM: I took the dead lamb outside to the field where the mother was looking, hoping that if she realizes it is gone for good she returns willingly to her survivors. Got the idea from Patty, who I was talking to on Facebook. She's in the hospital with her son, who is getting over a dangerous bout with the flu. She was able to think straight and I hope it works. I'll keep you guys posted. I am very tired but worried to go to sleep in case those little ones in limbo need me. They were just given warm colostrum replacer and are on fresh hay under the heat lamp. I'll go take a picture because it gets me back up there to check on the gang. The other five lambs from last night were all in a pile sleeping together.

14 Comments:

Blogger Chelsea Tarver said...

My heart breaks for you right now, Jenna. It's hard not to blame yourself, but you are only one human... and you've been superwoman lately as it is. I know telling you not to blane yourself won't make you do it any less, but have compassion for your poor exhausted body. Sometimes even the spirit is too much for the vessel.

March 4, 2016 at 4:04 AM  
Blogger Runamuk Acres said...

Loss on the farm is never easy. Try to take find some solace in the fact that you're giving it all you've got and sometimes this stuff just happens. Best to you Jenna!

March 4, 2016 at 5:44 AM  
Blogger DarcC said...

Hang in there darling. I hope Patty's idea does the trick and she bonds with the other two. Here's to a solid nights sleep tonight, it will do wonders for you.

March 4, 2016 at 5:58 AM  
Blogger English sheep gal said...

Congrats on all your lambs, sorry to read about the lost triplet, but great job getting the others situated, fed and warm. So pleased you can get more sleep now, and have the ewe lambs you were hoping for as replacements, and ram lambs for meat or to sell as breeding stock.

In your sleep deprived state, it must seem hard to focus on the successful lambings, and only focus on one lost triplet, but going over all the 'what if's' wont change the outcome, and you've experienced losses at lambing time before.

When I helped on a sheep farm in the UK, the ewes lambed inside a barn, the outer wall of the barn was set up with 'jugs' or individual stalls, each ewe, as it lambed, went into it's own jug with just its own lamb(s) for a few days, for easy monitoring, to make sure ewe and lambs were bonding, and to enable the farmer to give extra assistance where needed, eg tube feeding v weak lambs, or helping others who were having trouble latching on find their ewes teat, giving bottles to smaller triplets etc. These were not a fancy set up - most of the dividing walls were made from reused pallets, held together with baling twine. After a few days both ewes and lambs had their ID number spray painted on their sides, and were transported to the fields in the trailer for life outdoors. The numbers helped reunite lambs that became separated.

I wonder if you have room to set something like this up, for the ones you feel you need to watch the closest. Or the ewes you are concerned aren't bonding with their lambs.

Can't wait to see lots of lamb pics and videos!

March 4, 2016 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

English Sheep Gal, I am well aware of this system and have used such pens before. I don't have a lambing barn set up that large, i have a shed on the hill for the 7 sheep. It's a smaller system. The money I have right now needs to go to other places more urgent right now, or I would build a lambing barn.

March 4, 2016 at 7:10 AM  
Blogger Sam Sheehan said...

Forgive me for being callous, English sheep girl, but as heart breaking as a loss is, I don't think lambing jugs are a good idea, especially for the black faces. It's coddling and anthropomorphic. By tenderly catering to sheep who make shit mothers, and continuing to breed them and their lambs who are also likely to be shit mothers we create a sink hole where you end up having to coddle the whole flock because they're all shitty parents. The black faces are a rare, rugged heritage breed. They would lamb out in the heather on a hillside with minimal assistance. I think that as an ambassador for the breed, with purebred stock it's important to step back and keep in mind the traditional traits of the breed, and strive to improve or maintain those traits, rather than just produce as many lambs as possible, or baby the ones who are here. Personally I would cull a sheep like split ear who is known not to produce milk, and maybe try breeding her ewe lambs, but be willing to ditch them too if they have the same issues...
Jenna- I am not picking on your breeding practices, I think you are striking a nice balance of compassion and laissez faire. I know at this point you're working with limited resources (sheep) and doing all you can to create a thriving vital herd. A few bottle babies is just fine when you have the time for them, but could you imagine what it would be like if all 9 of them needed that level of care!? Yikes

March 4, 2016 at 7:45 AM  
Blogger Mary Schroeder said...

Tough choices in the cold morning. Great lambing season otherwise. Thank you for sharing!

March 4, 2016 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger crashdown said...

I'm a big believer in jugs--I can't imagine lambing without them. It's not "coddling"--it's just practical. Jenna, you can make jugs with just t-posts and cattle panels; it would barely cost you anything, and you should certainly be able to set up a couple of jugs in a barn large enough to fit seven sheep. I hope you'll consider doing that next year. That said, we aggressively cull bad mothers, because there's no reason to make lambing any more difficult than it already is. I'd certainly cull Split Ear, and I'd also cull the Romney: refusing to take care of their offspring gets our ewes one-way tickets to the butcher.

March 4, 2016 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger hart said...

It's interesting that the humans thing, to let the mother spend time with the dead lamb, also turned out to be the right thing. Hope the other continue to thrive.

March 4, 2016 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Imagine you will fly... said...

Jenna, I guess you have to milk the mother sheep! I know it's not that easy and convenient as milking goats, but she will get mastitis if the little ones don't drink. I used to have milk sheep (East Friesian). You need someone help to hold her because she is not used to being milked. Best of course if she will accept her lambs...
good luck.

March 4, 2016 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Jen B-K said...

We use a kidding pen (I guess you call those jugs for sheep) for our does (goats)....it is not coddling or anthropomorphic...it is safe and practical. If a doe kids out to pasture all the blood and placenta will attract coyote, bobcats etc. (I'm in TX). Yes, the girls hate being cooped, but I've seen the coyotes around here take down a newborn calf, so a kid?!? Forget it. I'm not projecting my human emotions on my goats, I'm keeping them safe.

Since your weather is like my coyote, then someday maybe you will build some jugs, but for now GOOD WORK, Sister. This is the hardest shit I've ever done and losing a kid in an overnight kidding that I missed because I simply had to rest....well, yea, that SUCKS hard, but Girl, you are doing your best and your best is ENOUGH.

PS. I'm going to keep my mouth shut regarding the breeding and culling process....homesteading requirements are different from one homestead to the next....just saying since it seems the naysayers are weighing in.....

March 4, 2016 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

Lots of love from out west. It's one of the hardest parts of being an animal lover in general, never mind a procurer of babies like yourself. Nine isn't bad for one year, though! Hope the rest of your week goes better.

March 4, 2016 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger polly said...

Brava! Kudos on what you were able to do, and for being human. Who will ever know what is, and *isn't*, in our control. I'd trust you any day (or 3am night) with my animals.

I like the practical and compassionate responses here - there's always a lot to learn as we develop our individual needs.

Now, also without meaning to sound callous, can we get to celebrating what's also going on? These guys can smell comfort and fear, and I feel there's so much to celebrate and be grateful for. Not to mention more challenges to brace for...

March 4, 2016 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Jo said...

Great job Jenna. As any farmer knows loss is as much a part of farming as life. No one should judge, they need to walk in your shoes.

March 5, 2016 at 7:26 AM  

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