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First Lambs

Posted 3/4/2010 12:01pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

The sun is definately arriving earlier, staying later, and shinning brighter each day and I feel my engery level rising as its intensity increases.   I've enjoyed this past season's wintery weather though, in fact to my mind, this is the way winters are supposed to be;  hard enough to make us really appreciate spring when it arrives.   The evidence for spring's iminent arrival is mounting.  Our daffodils and snowdrops are pushing through the soil and ... we had our first lambs!

The story of our first lambs is bittersweet but I will tell you anyway.  It demonstrates how on the farm, like in life, everything thing is connected, every action has a reaction.   Last Thursday, during the calm before the storm, I went out to push the hay forward in the feeders and discovered a young yearling ewe had a lamb.  We were concerned about early lambs from our young ewes because last summer, after being weened from the ewes, they were kept together with the ram lambs for about a month.  If you recall, our old way of lambing gave us a wide age-range of lambs because our lambing season was so long.  Clearly some of our lambs were reaching sexual maturity before they were separated.  The lamb I discovered was cleaned and cared for; its mother was attentive but very skittish.   I tried to coax her down to the barn by leading with the little lamb.  She'd come to the gate then dash back to join the flock.  I needed Mac's help but x-rays have shown he has a torn ligament on his right hind ankle and he is restricted from any activity for a month.   This was mid-afternoon and the sun was actually shining, but high winds and snow were predicted overnight.  We've always been told that as long as lamb is clean, dry, drinking, and cared for it can withstand extreme weather conditions.  Roy was working late so I called him and we decided to leave the lamb with the flock.  My attempts at moving the lamb were unsuccessful and just increasing stress to the lamb and the mother.

That night none of us slept very well.  The wind roared, girls woke up, and we all worried about the new lamb -- I felt more than a little guilty -- how could it ever survive this?  At six the next morning I took walk around the pen staying far enough away from the sheep so as not to disturb them.  They lay with a thin blanket of snow on their wool, chewing their cuds, and staring calmly at me.  I didn't see the lamb anywhere.

By mid-morning the wind had subsided and the sheep were up and moving around.  I kept watching for a sign of the lamb but couldn't see it.  Finally I decided to face the hard truth and go look for it's frozen little body.  When I crossed the fence into the paddock, all the sheep stood up and started moving around and there in the midst of them was the new lamb.  It had snow hanging from its wool, but it looked healthly and lively and I was thrilled!!  If it survived that wretched night I thought it could survive anything. 

I was wrong though. The next morning, after a calm, normal, winter night, Roy found it dead among the sheep.   Was the cummulative affect of the cold and snow too much?  Did its young mother forget about it, as occasionally seems to happen with first-time moms? Or was there something else wrong that we couldn't detect?  I don't know.  But when these things happen, and they do, we look back at the actions that led to this result and in this case it all goes back to that long lambing season we are finally trying to change.  Hopefully next spring we won't have this story to tell.

The good news is Monday we had another surprise lamb.  So far it is doing just fine!