Thursday, February 28, 2013


If you pick up a copy of Hobby Farm Home this month, you will find my words in it!  This lovely magazine published an essay I wrote on our first lambing season.  It is very appropriate that the issue came out just as we started lambing this year.  It is the March/April issue so it should be on shelves for a while.  Unfortunately, it seems that this magazine is not sold everywhere.  I've seen it in our local Farm King as well as Farm and Fleet and our local Walmart.  My parents could not find it in their suburban Barnes and Noble. You may be able to find it in your local library (my librarian plug).

I wasn't paid for the essay, but it still feels good to have something published in a magazine!  And it makes me feel like maybe someday I could write for magazines or (ohmygoodness) publish a book!  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Farming Together

Sheep must know about weekends.  They seem to leave all the excitement for days when we can be there, together, to help them out if they need it.  All of our lambs this season were born between Thursdays and Sundays.

 Last Friday, Joey called me about half an hour before I closed the library for the weekend to say another lamb had just been born, this time to Scarlett, and it was another girl.  Scarlett was born on our farm in our first year of lambing, three seasons ago.  This is her second lamb.  Last year, she had a little difficulty and we assisted in pulling out her lamb.  This year, Joey got home from work, checked on the sheep and didn't notice anything amiss, went inside for about 15 minutes and then came back out to find a new lamb.  It really is amazing every time you discover a new life in the barnyard. In 15 births, we've witnessed the very end of two of them.  The rest have just appeared, miraculously, without any need for help.

Scarlett and her lamb were moved to the garage pen to keep warm overnight.  On Saturday morning, Joey and I had plans to go into town to pick up a few things at the hardware store and some groceries.  As I was putting my coat on and grabbing my shopping bags, Joey texted me from outside, "Another girl."  

Molly's daughter, Grace, had given us one more girl, bringing the total up to 5 girl lambs and no boy lambs this year.  This was Grace's first lamb so we moved Scarlett and her lamb out of the garage and back into the barnyard and tried to coax Grace into following her baby to the garage.  After getting all the way to the garage door and then running back to the pasture gate through the yard, we finally got her to follow us carrying the lamb into the garage.  She was a little bewildered with her new surroundings and quite upset at being separated from the other sheep.  We realized this was the first time she had been apart from her own mother, Molly.  She "baa-ed" loudly from inside the garage and the other sheep could be heard from across the yard.  Finally, we calmed her down with some hay and then focused on watching the lamb take her first wobbly steps towards mom's milk.  After we were convinced both were doing o.k. we left to run our errands.

We got back home around 3 pm and were planning on leaving for a dinner party with some of Joey's college friends about 4 pm.  We checked on Grace and her baby and they seemed to be getting along fine.  We looked in on the other four lambs in the barnyard and noticed that one of the twins was still looking kind of small and hunched over.  We decided we would give her a bottle when we returned from the dinner party.  

We returned home that evening around 9 pm and Joey made a bottle and took it outside for the twin lamb.  He came in about 5 minutes later, the lamb limp in his arms, and said, "She's not going to make it."  I cried out, and my mind raced, trying to understand.  How did she get that bad in a few hours?  My stomach sank.  

Joey sat down on the living room floor with her in his arms.  He had already tried to give her some milk but she wouldn't swallow.  I started crying because it was obvious there was nothing we could do for her anymore, and we were helpless to do anything but hold her and watch her die.  We didn't know how long it would take, but we couldn't think of a way to end her misery. Joey told me to go upstairs, that he didn't want me to have to watch.  But I couldn't leave.  If I wanted to raise sheep, and be a good farmer, I couldn't abandon the lamb.  Even though all I could do was sit there in agony, it is my duty as a shepherdess to love and respect my animals, especially in their last minutes of life.  Joey knelt over her in his lap, almost shielding her limp body, trying to protect her from pain and rubbed her side.  And then she was gone.  And I felt relief.  She was not suffering.  Joey closed her eyes and held her a little longer.

The hardest thing is that we cannot know what really happened, or if something else was wrong with her that we couldn't fix.  It's hard not to feel guilt that we didn't do enough for her or anger that her mother did not have enough milk or love for her.  We are planning on selling Margaret this year, not out of disappointment, but because she has given us two sets of twins and both times, only one has survived.  We now have four more ewes for our flock.

On Saturday afternoon, when we were driving to the hardware store, I was telling Joey that I thought it would be hard to be a farmer alone.  This was just after we wrestled a protesting sheep into standing still while the other tried to get her wet lamb under her to find milk.  He told me one person could do all the work.  I said, I guess so, but I wouldn't want to.  Later that night, we were shown that it is easier to shoulder the hardships of farming together.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Portrait of a Farmer, At Night

This little lamb slept on Joey's chest for two hours last night.  Joey fell asleep as well.  I had to take his boots off his feet.  When he rolled onto his back and stretched across the couch, the lamb curled up on his chest and kept on sleeping.  The scene reminded me of the children's book, The Sleeping House.  Curled up in the half-dark of the living room were a farmer, a lamb, and two dogs.  I read my book on the other couch with Daisy curled at my feet and fell asleep until 10:15 pm.  When we all woke up, the lamb stretched and let out a "baa" and she went back to her mom and sister for the night.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Day Three for the Twins

The twin lambs are still hanging in there.  Joey has been giving both a bottle before work and when he gets home to supplement their mother's milk.  The one that we had in the house Sunday for extra care seems to be doing better than her sister now.  Her name is Winky.  On Sunday, when the twins were born, she had both eyes closed.  By the time we brought her inside because she was so chilled and lethargic, she only had one eye open and the other was closed.  It didn't look like anything was wrong with either eye, and it didn't seem like her eyelashes were bothering her closed eye.  By the end of the night on Sunday, after she had warmed up in the house, her right eye was still not open so we figured she may not open it but she didn't seem to be having any problems.  Yesterday, it looked like she was starting to be able to open the eyelid a crack and this morning it is now completely open!  But her name is still Winky.  

Her sister, who is the smaller of the two, but had more energy on the first day, I dubbed Pinky last night.  She has been taking the bottle and trying to drink from her mother, but she is still very thin.  Last night, she looked so hunched up and cold we decided to take her inside the house for a little bit of the treatment her sister got on Sunday.  Joey held her in his lap and I warmed her with a low setting on the hair dryer.  We tried to give her a little more from the bottle and let her walk around the house for awhile.  Then Joey bundled her up in his coat to take back to her mother for the night.

Yesterday, we let Molly and her January lamb out of their lambing pen in the barn and into the pasture area where they can go in and out of the barn.  Last night, the two other ewes were eating outside of the barn, Molly was laying down in the doorway of the barn and her baby was asleep under the heat lamp inside the barn.  She is doing really well and Molly is a good mother.  

I got a few quick photos of Margaret and the twins this morning before rushing off to work.  Here they are in the makeshift garage lambing pen.  Winky is in front and Pinky is going to look for milk.  Margaret is wearing straw on her head for some reason.

Here's Winky with her right eye open this morning.  She is looking so much better than when we brought her inside on Sunday.  We think she will be o.k. but hopefully she won't bully her sister and take more milk since she is the bigger of the two.

Pinky is behind Margaret, trying to get some milk.  Joey gave her some more milk replacer at 2 am last night and again this morning, but she is still looking rather frail.  You can tell Margaret is not happy I am peeking in at her.  She has quite an attitude.  

When I peeked into the garage this morning, the twins were cuddled up together under the heat lamp, but I couldn't get a picture before Margaret started stomping at me and woke them up.  Hopefully they continue to eat and keep each other warm.  I will keep you updated on their progress.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Missing Church Again

Yesterday morning, despite a slight meltdown (on my part, can I blame hormones?) about laundry and not having any clean clothes that fit me anymore, Joey and I were determined to make to church on time.  Since our church is about 20 minutes away, we never quite seem to get the timing right.  But here's the thing about timing: it's a mysterious thing.

The night before, we put Margaret the ewe into a makeshift pen in the barn because she was looking like she was ready to lamb and we didn't want her to lamb outside.  The next morning, we checked on the January lamb and Margaret to see if she was still doing ok.  The January lamb was lively and warm and there was still no progress from Margaret.  So we went inside to get cleaned up for church.  And after scrambling around in a ridiculous search for something to wear (seriously, I literally had no clean pants, no tights without runs, and I almost had to wear sweatpants to church), I finally found a long skirt that covered my runny tights and was just putting some shoes on when Joey decided to check the sheep one more time.

He came back in and said, "either you're going to church without me, or we're not going to make it, because Margaret just had twins."  Talk about timing.  The two lambs were born minutes before and were still soaking wet.  So I went back inside and put those sweatpants on.  We definitely weren't going to make it to church.

Because it was so cold, and Margaret would have two lambs to keep warm and fed, we decided to make a pen in our garage where we store our hay since it is warmer than the barn.  We moved around the bins of feed and covered the cement floor with straw and then picked up the lambs and hoped mom would follow her babies across the yard and into the garage.  With each of us carrying a wet lamb close to the ground, Margaret followed right along into the new pen.  Usually we like to wait 20 minutes or so after birth and watch the ewe and lambs and make sure they are finding milk and drinking.  Unfortunately, Margaret is a very grumpy ewe and likes to stomp her foot and shy away from anyone in the presence of her babies, even if it means actually ignoring her babies.  Two years ago, she had twins and one died about a week after birth.   Despite our attempts to bottle feed, the lamb refused a bottle so we assumed she was getting milk from mom but it seems like Margaret just doesn't produce enough milk for twins.

Neither lamb seemed to be finding the milk and one wasn't even showing interest.  Joey got in with Margaret and tried to strip her teats of any waxy plugs that would prevent the milk and couldn't clear one of the teats.  We tried to get the one that seemed interested into the right place, but Margaret is so skittish we couldn't hold her in place.  The other twin just curled up on the straw and didn't move.  I went inside and got towels to dry the lambs off more since Margaret was not cleaning them off anymore.  We figured we would have to bottle feed at least one of the lambs, so I decided to go into town to the Farm King to pick up powdered colostrum, milk replacer, a new bottle, and another heat lamp.  Joey stayed home and monitored the lambs and mama, going in the house every once in a while, hoping Margaret was being neglectful because he was there in her space.

At the store, I decided to pick up a space heater as well.  When I got home, I could see that one lamb was not doing as well as it's twin.  Two hours after birth, this one was still pretty wet and was looking very chilled and lethargic.  I told Joey that we needed to bring that one inside if it was going to get warm.  I brought the space heater inside and set it up in the living room.  Joey held the lamb on his lap and I used the hair dryer on a low heat setting to gently dry the lamb some more.  Then we put her in a laundry basket lined with a towel in front of the space heater.

Of course, the dogs were very interested in this little creature, but were very gentle with their sniffing and sticking their heads in the laundry basket.  Jip soon became the lamb's watchdog and wouldn't leave the lamb's side.  After warming up, we made the lamb a bottle of colostrum.  She was reluctant to drink from the bottle, but she got a little.  And then she was transformed from the listless, frozen lamb into the loudest thing on four legs.  We let her walk around the living room and in the kitchen while I cooked, knocking around on wobbly knees and little hooves, bawling at the top of her lungs.  We kept trying with the bottle and she got a little bit here and there, but mostly she was loud.  Then Joey had his meltdown of the day, declared he wasn't ready for parenthood and went outside to escape the loud din of the house.

After I got the food I was preparing into the oven, I sat down on the kitchen floor, scooped up the lamb and held it close in my lap.  Almost immediately, it quieted down and then fell asleep.  When Joey came back in, we had been on the floor for about 15 minutes.  When I was sure she was asleep, I put her back into her basket and then tiptoed away.  We spent the next hour whispering and trying the keep the dog from sticking her face in the basket and waking the lamb.  We got another glimpse at parenthood called "don't wake the baby."  By the time we were ready to sit down and eat (and watch the superbowl) the lamb was waking up again.  I decided she could spend a little time with her real mother now that she was warm and had a little food in her.  So back to the garage she went.

And she did fine.  Joey went out later and discovered her drinking from her mother.  And we were exhausted for the rest of the evening.  After making sure they were warm before going to bed, we decided that we would supplement bottle feedings to both twins twice a day to add to the milk they are getting from Margaret because it seems that she probably doesn't produce enough for the both of them to thrive.  And we'll just see how it goes.  It is best for all parties for the lambs to stay with their mother and each other, even if we have to help out a little.  And now we'll have to evaluate whether we are going to keep Margaret for another lambing season since her disposition seems to hinder her mothering skills. 

So we didn't make it to church yesterday, but I think God understands.  

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.