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Stalking Lambs

Posted 4/8/2011 9:20am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Our first lamb arrived last week, just a few hours after Roy and I expanded their paddock to give the ewes a little more space.  Since then we've been averaging around four to six lambs daily.  Every morning and evening, one of us, usually I, walk through the sheep pasture with pockets full of ear tags, pens, paper, a tagging "gun" and a pair of binoculars around my neck.   the intention is to keep record of ewes who have lambed, the number of lambs they have, the gender of the lambs etc. and to tag the lamb's ears so we know which ewe they have come from.   We've been dabbling in keeping a small registered flock alongside our commercial ewes but we are beginning to question whether or not registered sheep are worth it.  We like mothers who are calm, keep their lambs close to them, and raise a set of twins year after year.   Being registered does not guarantee any of those qualities, but it does mean we can ask a higher price if we were to sell breeding stock.  All the same, registration requires good record keeping and good record keeping and "low input" does not always work well together.   Tagging lambs born on pasture can be stressful -- especially for those moms we want to stay calm.   And for the farmer, it has the potential to be both humiliating, and occasionally very gratifying.   Why humiliating?   You'd think a reasonably well-coordinated adult human could outsmart, or at least, out run, a wobbly lamb that is a mere hours old.   Not so.  Those little buggers are unbelievably quick.  I've been face down in the pasture more than once.   Face in grass gives one good perspective.  Is it really necessary for me to be stalking this poor, scared. newborn, while its mom stomps at me and give me the evil ovine eye?   Probably not.  Sheep may not have a lot going for them but they manage survival without sharp teeth or claws or sophisticated forms of communication and record keeping. So perhaps like them, we ought to play to our strengths, like standing at at distance with powerful binoculars to observe the ewe with her newborns.   Good mother?  Healthy lambs?  Record that number.  The problem is when the mom is exceptional and she has ewe lambs,  we want to tag those little ewes because they are who we select for.   We've considered hitting the little ewe lambs with a dot or two or spray paint then tagging them when we run them through the chute in a month or two, but I really wonder if any spray paint will stay on that long.   For now I continue to step into the pasture morning and evening, armed to the teeth with my record-keeping supplies, but with just a little less gumption for stalking.