Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 3-5

oh, little apple blossoms...
I fear you will never become apples

March came in like a lion, bringing high winds and “meteorological Spring” (March 1 is Spring according to weather folk)…and ironically some of the coldest temperatures we’ve experienced in a while, along with snow flurries. Go figure.

sunshine at the mailbox
snow flurries at the house on the hill

While the change in weather brought some much-needed moisture, of course that was followed by WIND. We were spared any catastrophic effects (there were reports of tornadoes, downed trees and power outages around the state) except for one of the big trees out front.

White pines are not known for their strength and every time we get a big windstorm, we lose at least a few branches. This time the wind twisted the top out of one tree and as it fell to the ground, it stripped the branches off the tree next to it, leaving a big heap in the front paddock. The sheep will appreciate all the tasty pine needles when they go out on pasture later this month. Once they eat their fill, we will haul the big branches to the burn pile at the creek. We keep saying we need to have a big bonfire with the all the kids…maybe this will be the year…

In past years, we’ve had the hoophouses full of greens by this point. It’s looking pretty barren down there right now and it's going to be pretty slim pickin’s for Opening Day of the Market on April 1st. 

this is seriously depressing...

Not only has the weather been uncooperative, we’ve been fighting rats. Seriously, rats. Who would have expected THAT? They’ve tunneled in from outside and chewed holes in every single water-line, not to mention eating some of the greens. (honestly...rats that want to "eat healthy"?) The Boss went on the war-path, setting all sorts of traps. They seem to be working, so we will try planting some stuff in the upcoming week and see what happens. (fingers crossed)
damaged t-tape (irrigation line)

We have to get the hoophouse issue solved, not just because our livelihood depends on vegetable sales, but it’s also time to start more seeds and I’m running out of room in the greenhouses. But, we couldn’t take the chance with the cold snap damaging the tiny transplants, so they stayed put for a bit longer. Despite 20* as an overnight low, the little seedlings stayed warm and toasty in the greenhouse under cover. 
the thermometer read 70* even though it was 20* outside

It looks like the weather has moderated, so guess what’s on the agenda for the upcoming week…?

And, lamb-watch continues. (I’m really beginning to wish I hadn’t bred the ewe lambs…this is taking FOREVER)

I had seen some indications of early labor at chore time, so I went back around 2 am for another check.   I saw some little feet and figured everything was “copasetic” ...and things would move quickly from that point.

 I was wrong.

Lambing season has been somewhat “challenging” this year. I do not exaggerate when I say nothing has gone quite like I thought it would. Nothing.

…and this night was going to prove to be the rule rather than the exception.

the aftermath
the Boss said I probably shouldn't include this photo...

When I tell the tragic stories, I hope you don’t think that’s what happens every single time. Don’t get the idea that we have nothing but problems, because the successes far out-number the losses.  I don’t tell these stories so you’ll think we’re stupid or in need of further information. Nor, do I share as a way to “humble-brag” when we’ve overcome serious difficulties. And, I most definitely do not tell you so you’ll feel sorry for us or get the impression that this life is just too hard and miserable.

No, I tell them because we need to know the “rest of the story” (remember that Paul Harvey series?)

Often those pretty pictures on social media are reached only after we’ve either slogged through the slough of despond or traversed the valley of the shadow or trekked hill difficulty. Occasionally it has been a combination or something far more sinister, The getting there is sometimes the most important part of the story. That’s my real reason for sharing.

By recording the hard times, we come to a greater appreciation of the blessings. And, that encourages a spirit of gratefulness.


Well…now…that sounded far too much like the beginning of a sermon…sorry…

...back to my story…

After a quick trip to the house for fresh batteries for my rapidly dimming headlamp, I settled in to wait and watch.

There was an old ewe who kept bothering the mother-to-be. For some reason, this particular sheep has become hyper-focused on newborns. So much so that we had to lock her in a stall alone so she would leave the last lamb alone and allow the mother to care for it. She was acting up again, so in my head I started composing a blog post about this “dingbat doula sheep” as I waited. My reverie was cut short when her actions became so disruptive to the other ewe that I had to bop the ovine nursemaid in the nose with the flashlight and run her out of the barn. I finally gave the whole bunch some hay in hopes of reducing the chaos. Thankfully, things calmed down after that.

Mother-to-be was struggling. Something wasn’t right, but there was no way to check her without some sort of assistance (and doula-sheep was clearly not a good candidate). So, it was off to the house to wake the Boss. I truly hated to do this, but…no one promised shepherding would be restful.

When we got back, she was on her side, stretched prostate and motionless. Not a good sign at all. The Boss got her back on her feet and held her steady so I could investigate the situation. What I found certainly didn’t bode well…for any of us.

Those little feet…weren’t so little. And, they weren’t front feet like they should be. They were rather large back feet, with a little lamb tail tucked in between. The lamb was coming backwards. Except it was too big to come on its own. It was pretty well wedged in the birth canal. I think I swore at that point. (there would be a fair amount of bad words said in the interim)

Since it was mis-presented, it was up to me to re-position it. As I attempted to manipulate it, I realized it was very long and one of its front feet was tucked up underneath it. I got the foot straightened out, but, I couldn’t do anything about the size and the other front foot kept hanging up on mama sheep’s pelvic bone. I jiggled it, massaged it…tried everything I could…I even tried pushing the entire lamb back in and starting over. (I have had success with all of these maneuvers in the past) I worked for at least an hour.  Mama sheep collapsed on the floor, bleeding profusely. Now I was stuck with my arm inside the sheep, lying on my back, staring at the cobwebs on the barn ceiling by the light of my headlamp and one thought became perfectly clear.

It wasn’t coming out. Nope. No way.

It was time to make a judgement call…the decision that I hate to make. It was obvious that the sheep was going to die. There was not even a remote chance of recovery. More than likely the lamb was already dead. But, mama-sheep was obviously suffering and in pain, we couldn’t let it go on any longer. She would have to be put down.

As I came to this realization, I could feel a small, steady heartbeat under my hand that was still deep inside the ewe. The lamb was alive! I shared this information with the Boss.

We looked at each other. Even though mama-sheep would die (and it was just a matter of WHEN, not IF) we would have to try to save the lamb.

After the Boss put her down, I cut into her, performing a hasty (rather haphazard) post-mortem C-section, and pulled the lamb out. He was not particularly huge (about 10 pounds) but he was quite long (about 21 inches from head to tail) …and he showed almost no will to live. (considering the trauma he had been through for the past two hours, this was no real surprise) We rubbed him off, gave him a dose of colostrum gel and a shot of Bo-se (this is a mineral supplement that we give all lambs shortly after birth). But, he had absolutely no strength. A newborn lamb should be trying to stand and nurse within moments of birth and he was just lying there, moaning slightly. When I tried to rouse him, he stayed limp and nearly motionless. Since he had so little sucking reflex, I didn’t even try to give him any milk.
new-born lamb
delivered by post-mortem Cesarean section

Convinced the entire event was going to be a failure, I was completely worn out and totally bummed. I left the lamb under a heat lamp covered with a towel. His motionless form and pathetic little moans offered no hope of a miracle. I figured we would bury him in the morning with the ewe. The Boss tried to cheer me up, saying “you know you did everything you could…”

But, still.

We had put an enormous amount of effort into that failed birth experience. (I was about to discover muscles I didn’t even know I had!) And, it was going to be a total loss. Two hours from my initial trip to the barn, I was washing the blood, birth goo and sheep poop out of my hair. (the shower even needed cleaning afterwards) We both fell into exhausted sleep and all too soon it was morning again.

I slipped down to the barn, hoping to see some sign of life. But, no. Nothing.

Choretime meant bottles for the bigger lambs, so I was getting them situated at the lamb bar when I thought I heard/saw something.

Across the barn, from under the blanket in the jug pen, came a little sound. The blanket moved slightly and a little lamb face peeked out. BAA!

“Lazarus” had returned from the dead.

I couldn’t believe it. The Boss couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem possible.

He couldn’t stand properly. I couldn’t tell if I had somehow injured his rear legs irreparably in the traumatic delivery sequence. He had to have his head held to even attempt to drink the bottle. But, he was indeed alive. And, he was HUNGRY!

That was Wednesday.
He doesn't look like much
(but, Tess enjoyed the heatlamp)

Now, he’s trying to run. He knows that his food is coming when he hears my voice and he bunts the bottle and latches on with no assistance and drains every drop. He’s gained weight and is up over 13 pounds and will probably join the flock once the weather warms up.
"Lazarus" 3-4-17

I can honestly say…I certainly didn’t expect THAT! (thankfully, in a good way this time)

The rest of the week passed in a haze of exhaustion, sore muscles and lamb bottle preparation.

working lambs

I know we did some other farm stuff (I did get the farm taxes completed AND filed…YAY) but, I’m hard-pressed to remember what else. We vaccinated lambs again and made a trip to town for rat-proofing materials…and the Boss got the trailer vent repaired and put new mats in his truck. This meant more than one trip to Mountain Valley Truck and Trailer  Thanks, K & V!

Here’s hoping the upcoming week is just a little less dramatic…make that a LOT less dramatic!

Have a Happy Sunday! 

after Tess' lamb-sitting gig
she' taking it easy!

Thanks for stopping by. Come back and “visit” again real soon.



  1. What a week! I am so happy that all your efforts in saving "Lazarus" ended with success.
    And RATS! what a horror. I hope you are gaining ground on that front. I had no idea they would chew through the water lines like that.
    I wish you a better week and milder weather. It is sunny but very cold and windy in CT this morning.

  2. Oh my Barb - being a shepherd is hard, yet rewarding work! I too had issues with a ewe - she had a bad hernia that "exploded" into her mammary glands - basically her belly was dragging the ground after she miraculously gave birth to twins. Sadly, one was dead at birth - but we have one little firecracker ewe lamb we are bottle feeding. She is our pride and joy and we thank her momma every day for giving her life. The vet came to put the ewe down the day after she had given birth. He said in all his years, he had never seen anything like it. Hope things begin to calm down you soon! God Bless!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tracy!
      Sorry I'm just now getting around to responding...
      Yikes! It's always a little un-nerving when the vet says they've never seen anything like whatever you're experiencing at the time. I'm glad you were able to save the lamb.

  3. Hi Barb - another update - just had to help one of my ewes give birth last night. The lamb's head was sticking out and the ewe just could not get him fully expelled. I checked to see where his legs were - but, then I just grabbed the lamb by his head and pulled. Momma shreiked and the lamb plopped out. I thought for sure he was dead - but he started moving his mouth and tongue - trying to breathe!! Thank the Lord - he was alive. About 45 minutes later - a pair of hooves was stuck in the birth canal - went in to help again - lamb was breach. I pulled her out and wiped her face and gave her to momma to clean. Both lambs were OK today - momma is still traumatized, but she is nursing them now that we have them jugged. God Bless!

    1. Goodness! You've had a time.
      Hope the new family thrives after such an ordeal.
      It's always something, isn't it?
      Take care!

  4. Hi Barb - well... my last seasoned ewe gave birth yesterday - another major issue. After being in labor for most of the day - I decided to go in and "help". I found a pair of hooves and started pulling. Could not find the head. Pulled and pulled - lamb was stuck tight. Momma was really struggling. Time to call the vet again! He came and gave her an epidural and pulled the stuck one out - it was dead. He pulled another one out - also dead - he found a third lamb and pulled her out - thank the Lord - she popped up her head and tried to look at us! We quickly got her cleaned up and once momma was feeling better - we gave her to momma and momma started cleaning her and soon was up and nursing her. I have to say this has been the most trying year for sheep so far! I was so thankful the vet was near and we were able to save my good ewe and her little ewe lamb. The dead ones were HUGE! My ram is also big - about 200 pounds. Only 3 more yearlings left to lamb - please pray for us! God Bless!!