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Life, death, and lambing


  12:39:50 am, by Karen   , 852 words  
Categories: Journal

Life, death, and lambing

As is so often the case with sheep, joy and sadness intermingle. This year our oldest and favorite ewe, Penny, lambed first. I never do guess correctly who is going to lamb first. Last year I was sure it would be Liadan, and it ended up being Niamh. This year, I knew that Penny, Liadan, and Niamh were in a race for first place, but didn't think it would be Penny. They always keep me guessing.

Anyway, on March 30 in the evening I noted that Penny was closer to lambing, but when I went out for a last check at 12:30am, nothing seemed to be going on, so I went to bed. At 6:30am I woke up and trekked out to the paddock to see what was happening. There was Penny, with a tiny lamb at her side, and she was giving Aileen some good knocks as Aileen appeared to be trying to get around Penny to the lamb. Penny wasn't having any of that and kept herself between Aileen and her baby.

I got through the gates and walked up toward Penny, wondering if she had singled again like last year. Except for her first breeding as an ewe lamb, she's always twinned, up until last spring, but I thought that was probably because she was not in great shape the fall before, due to nursing a lamb on poor pasture. I thought maybe she had just had another single this year. I started to look for the afterbirth, and as I turned my head to the right, there was the small still form of a white lamb laying on the ground. This lamb was slightly bigger, and nothing apparently wrong with it, but it was dead. It looked like it had been cleaned off, but there was a lot of hay and manure on it, and the head was twisted back under the body as if it had been tossed around.

Penny saw me looking at the lamb and came over, nickering. She knows she had two, but one is gone, and she is now mostly concerned with the living one. I started wondering if Aileen had had anything to do with the dead lamb. It's not nice to contemplate but it seemed possible that she, a two year old who'd never lambed before and herself the daughter of an ewe who was a bully, had attacked this lamb and killed it while Penny was in labor delivering the twin.

I took the dead lamb, and removed the pelt, and there seemed to be an inordinate amount of blood under the skin in the neck and chest region. I then did a very quick necropsy to see if the lamb had nursed at all. Penny is very good at getting her lambs up and nursing quickly. If this lamb had been born healthy, it would likely have nursed before she started giving birth to the second lamb (and actually, I don't know which was born first). If it had been very weak or stillborn however, it would not have been able to nurse. As it turned out, I could see no evidence of colostrum in its digestive system. So although I still don't totally trust Aileen, and we are keeping her separated for the time being, it seems less likely that she had anything to do with the death of the lamb. Lambs that are slow getting up are often pawed at by their mothers to try to encourage them. That might explain the blood under the skin, and the fact that there was dirt, hay and manure on top of the lamb even though it looked like she had licked it clean.

Two years ago, Penny also had twins with one born dead. I hope that it is not something wrong with her, but I suppose if she twins again next year and it happens again, then we'll have to consider the possibility that while she can carry two to term, for some reason one is dying just before birth. I'm not sure why that would happen.

So that is probably enough of the sad part. Let's get on to the happy part. The surviving lamb is a black grey ram, who weighed almost 7lbs at birth (a normal size), and he was born the day before the nasty April Fool's Day snowstorm we just had. So he's spent his first 36 hours pretty much confined by his mother to the hoophouse. She's a smart girl, that one, and didn't bring him out at all once the snow started falling late last night.

And here are the photos!

You can't see his horn buds, but they are there, and the white flashing shows he will be a grey. This means that his sire carries grey under his white pattern, which is good to know.

No one lambed during the snow storm which was a relief. Now they have a clear weekend and hopefully either Niamh or Liadan or both will lamb soon, then it will probably be at least another week before any of the other three have their turn.

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Sharing ideas from our small farm in NH, where we raise Icelandic sheep and assorted poultry. We are members of ISBONA (Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America) and the CLRC (Canadian Livestock Records Corporation). We also participate in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program (NH54). Contact us at karen [at] birchtreefarm [dot] com. Please also visit the farm website at Birchtree Farm.
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