Chronicles of a yarn farmer, shepherdess, and fiber geek!

Chronicles of a yarn farmer, shepherdess, and fiber geek!

March 10, 2010

Lamb Lessons

Curious lamb
To sum up this year’s BFL lambing activity, I have to say we are pleased. There were a few blips along the way, but overall it was good. In six days we had 21 live BFL lambs hit the ground and those same 21 are now running around and creating a ruckus. I think what really helped this year, especially because lambing started mid February, was a combination of heat lamps, lamb coats, and tube feeding (when needed). I know, some people don’t bother and figure the lambs will have to “sink or swim” from the get-go, but considering the time of year I’m going to do whatever it takes to get them off to a good start. Now, that doesn’t mean I dote and hover over their every move. No, I leave that up to the moms, but if I don’t see lambs nursing after a couple of barn checks, they get a tube feeding (with the colostrum I nursed out when I striped the teats soon after birth…if I end up not using it, it goes in the freezer).

The quads

I tube feed initially instead of bottle feeding so the lamb gets a “meal” without interfering with its desire to find the udder and latch on. It seems like the energy the lamb gets from the tube feeding helps them continue their search for the teat. Obviously some need the boost, but some do. I often wonder if the February lambs that were slow to nurse were born in May, would they get up and move quicker and easier? I venture to say….probably. So if a lamb is "slow-on-the-get-go", is it the breed or the environment that we’re imposing on them? I also get a sense that a bottle too soon may confuse them and reduce their search for mom’s teat. I mean, with a bottle their sucking instinct has been satisfied (for the moment) and their belly is full, so why bother…nap time. But by tubing, they still have the sucking instinct that hasn’t been satisfied so the search continues. I know, I may be way off base here, but that’s what I’ve concluded from my observations and from the few bottle lambs I have.


As for the lamb that we found in the dark corner of the barn…it was obvious that being the first born (twins) he was up and searching for the udder and wanted to nurse, mom was busy delivering another lamb and the spaces on the gate for that stall were too big. In his udder search he basically went right through one of the spaces in the gate and kept on searching. To me that shows he was up and wanted to nurse and was pretty intent on accomplishing this. He was still quite active after his nearly two-hour ordeal. Once we got him back to mom and he latched on the bond was nearly instant. Lesson: new gate.

I think they realize a bark is different than a bleat.

I learned another good lesson this year, albeit the hard way, which will make me check the lamb’s temp before I tube feed. I was setting up to tube feed a triplet and noticed its sibling was acting a little cold but standing near me like she was hungry. I was tubing one so figured I’ll just tube her as well, that way I could hopefully get a decent night’s sleep and function half way normal at work the next day. As soon as I tube fed her, she laid under the heat lamp within a minute or so. Before I packed up to go back to the house, I went back to the stall and nudged her just to make sure she was o.k. She didn’t get up; when I lifted her to stand she flopped back down on the straw. Oh boy, I had myself a problem.

Hanging out in the creep area.

I spent the rest of the night (except the two hours that I did sleep on the couch) bringing her back. Apparently she was cold and I didn’t realize how cold. I tube fed her, probably too much, when she really didn’t have the energy to take it. So she decided to check out. I took her up to the house and made a make-shift warming box (after a few other feeble attempts with a hair drier then the warm water/plastic bag trick) where she stayed curled up for a good couple of hours. Every time I checked her temp was going up even though she was still unresponsive. A determined bleat woke me up about 4:30 a.m. and she was back out with mom and sibs within the hour. Needless to say I made it through the day at work on a wing and prayer. Lesson: check temp and learn to do an intra peritoneal injection.

As for the ewes and their mothering ability…out of nine BFL ewes we have one that is noticeably not as attentive as the other eight (who are exceptional…very attentive, lots of ewe/lamb dialog going on, and lots of milk). One is a new mom and before I started my usual observations, the lambs were nursing and a strong bond had formed. At this point all ewes and lambs are together with access to the barn and of course lambs have their creep area (see pic).

Creep area. Access from both sides plus the front gate.

I think the only thing we may consider for next year is spacing out the breeding groups so they don’t all lamb in the same week. Whew….that’s a circus.

As for our new Lincoln Longwool lambs…they were up and nursing in a flash. I did put coats on them just because it was January 31st when they hit the ground.

Our next upcoming activity is kidding for our two Angora goats; any time after April 4th.


Somerhill said...

I think you are right on target on a number of points, Carol. There is a lot more work involved in lambing in February with temps below freezing, than lambing in the spring with days in the 50-60s and lows in the 30s-40s. Hypothermia sets in rapidly in those cold temperatures.
Even March and April have their challenges. Then you have damp weather and fluctuating temperatures to deal with. Pneumonia is a lamb killer in that kind of weather, and navel ill is more prevalent.
But lambing in May can be a challenge, too. Fly strike is a possibility, and worm loads can skyrocket in the young lambs.
All in all, I still prefer lambing later once the weather has moderated enough that except on cold rainy days, we can let the ewes lamb out in the clean grass and bond with their lambs in peace and privacy. They usually stay in the birthing area for a few hours until the lambs have had time to eat and sleep for a few hours. Some families will stay in the same spot for a whole day before she moves the lambs.
Everyone has to make their own decision on what works best for them. :^) And every year is a new learning experience, isn't it?

wardfarms said...

Super photos and a job well done. You and Steve are really an asset to the breed! Thanks for sharing.

Beth said...

Sooo Cute and all I could think was FLEECES!!!!

Potosi Sheep Farm said...

Great blog! Love your pictures. Lisa said it all. Everyone has their own way of lambing.Seems like your style works great for you. Your lambs are beautiful and healthy. Looking forward to meeting you.