This week marks a major milestone.
We’ve graduated in the eyes of several of our mentors. We’re no longer rookies, newbies, or city girls.
It all began when one of our neighbor’s house burned. We were on scene very early and got the only pictures for the fire investigator. Another neighbor is the real hero as he broke down doors to see if anyone was inside. Thankfully, no one was home. He also turned off the main propane supply valve.
Something we may never have mentioned last year, was that one of our mentors, “Flip” the guy who shears our sheep, and is the source for our breeding stock, told us “we’re smarter than he thought” when we told him we’d gotten rid of our horses.
This past week, we’ve been “apprenticing” at another sheep ranch. We get “paid” in dogies or bummers. Pedro, the shepherd, and his wife Rosa, care for 500 head of sheep. This year, more than 400 chose to lamb within 10 days. And that was after 20 cows dropped their calves within 15 days.
Needless to say, Pedro is bushed!
So, we were over there to see how we could help. He still had about 100 ewes to lamb, and nearly 1000 lambs to care for. His barns are bulging, and all the outside pens are full. He has so many lambs, he got permission from his boss to turn 250 ewes and their lambs into the alfalfa circles, where the new growth is only up about an inch.
When we got there, he was trying to get lambs moved, lambs watered, lambs banded and marked, jugs and pens cleaned, everyone fed and watered, and still observe the still pregnant ewes. Oh, and Rosa (his wife) is caring for 15 little dogie ewe lambs.
That’s where we came in… we could watch the pregnant ewes, and let Pedro know if there was a problem. Now, you need to understand. Pedro has 35 years experience. He is a US Citizen, and speaks pretty good English and better Spanish. His wife speaks only Spanish. I had 3 years of high school Spanish 50 years ago, and Cindy speaks no Spanish.
So, we’re standing there watching the ewes when we realize one is in trouble… where’s Pedro? The first person we can find is Rosa. She calmly walks to the ewe, grabs a hind leg and lifts it up until the ewe falls over. I could see where this was going and moved to help. We had a lamb with one leg back instead of both legs forward. I got the privilege of re-positioning the lamb and pulling it, cleaning it’s sac of the mouth and getting it to the mama ewe. Within minutes, she had two more lambs. She was so exhausted it took both Cindy and me to lift the ewe to her feet about 20 minutes later.
Pedro was astonished that we would step in and help like that. He has now declared us “shepherds”. What an awesome feeling. It’s been a long 5 years since Pedro had to come help us with a ewe in trouble. I still remember him asking “where’s your straw”, and having Cindy wonder why he needed a straw. We hadn’t prepared a proper bed for the ewe or her lambs.
Of course, obtaining the NRCS grant has elevated us in the eyes of our neighbors. No one here has ever considered something like that. While at the fire, the Fire Chief said he’d heard we got the grant. His son was on the approval board, and couldn’t help but brag to his dad about it.
While things have stayed under control here, I’ve been active on the Local Harvest forum. We’ve had a number of discussions, some a little intense. I’ve maintained my demeanor and have been able to help diffuse a few arguments. Those are always over “organic” and certification, or CSA and some of the new marketing/sales schemes calling themselves “CSA’s” and whether or not they should use a different designation.
As a result, I received a very nice complement from another mentor.
“You haven’t been a rookie for a long time
That really meant a lot to me, as I’ve considered Lucy one of my online mentors for several years.
Now that we’ve graduated, we really have to live up to all this… no resting on our laurels.
After a warm winter, with very little precipitation, either rain or snow, right at the start of lambing season, winter has returned.
Our season began prematurely when the gal who gave us quads last year, had a nearly full-sized, but underdeveloped baby, followed by another clearly aborted. Next up is a really wooly gal, who had a single boy. He’s a big boy, but being a single, he will be a market lamb.
Another ewe we bought last year had twins with our help. I had to lightly pull on the head as it was fully exposed, with one foot. For whatever reason, the ewe just wasn’t pushing effectively. By grasping the head at the back of the neck, I was able to apply enough pressure that when she contracted, the lamb remained in position, rather than slipping back into the birth canal. Shortly after that little fellow was born, she dropped a little girl. Yippee! Twins!
Things went fairly well, except that Mama never dropped her milk. Both Cindy and I massaged her bag, cleared the teats of wax, worked for better than 30 minutes trying to get colostrum, and got nothing. Sigh.
We tried this several times through the day and into the late evening, with Cindy in her Dr. Denton’s and farm boots… no pictures of that. We finally had no choice but to supplement with a lamb milk preparation. We managed to get a couple ounces into each lamb, and they quieted down. Fortunately, Mama had them in one of the small sheds, so they were well protected from the windy weather.
Next morning I had the duty, as Bev and Cindy had to go to St. George. You gotta’ picture this…
I go out to feed a little early. I’m hoping to encourage the pregnant ewes to eat, and displace the room for their lambs, thus having their lambs during the day. As I round the corner to the sheep pen, here’s the charcoal mama standing outside the shed with both babies. They’re practically screaming… really hungry.
I quickly toss 4 flakes of alfalfa into the upright two-sided feeder, and then 3 flakes into the smaller fence-line feeder, and proceed to climb over that feeder. Now, I really hate to admit this, but I am obese. That makes me pretty rolly-polly. Thankfully I keep my balance even though I’m carrying a 20oz pop bottle with nipple and about 12 oz of lamb formula.
I work my way to the south shed, taking care not to upset the other ewes any more than necessary. Once there, I plop myself on the ground. My knees are already bruised from the night before and just won’t take the hard ground. So, here I am, sitting on the bare ground (well, maybe some sheep droppings, too), and trying to work the two lambs around to be fed.
Finally, I’ve got one, I think it’s the boy that I helped. I have him in great position and get the bottle in his mouth. All of a sudden, Mama ewe takes a couple steps back, and Wham! butts me hard in my left arm, nearly rolling me over. This fun goes on as I finish feeding the little guy, and grab for the little girl.
Then the two-way goes off! It’s Cindy wanting to make sure everything is going ok… sure, here I am, trying to feed a hungry lamb, with Mama beating the daylights out of me… Things are going great!
I know, you asked, why don’t I just get up and take a baby with me? When you’re fat like I am, getting up is a bit more of a project. I have to hang on to something with both hands and pull myself up. Somehow hanging onto an upset ewe didn’t seem like a good option.
My back already hurts, now my knees are bruised, and my left arm is taking a beating. One time, she goes for my head and I duck just in time, finding my head buried in her chest… but the baby is still nursing. Now, I can see Mama’s bag is still full, even though there is plenty of evidence that the babies have been working on the teats. I can see where this is going… exactly where we didn’t want to go this year… but we’re well prepared.
Cindy and Bev finally get home and we make the decision to bring the little boy into the house. He’s chilled. While he is still alive, his core is chilled. We give him to Mom to warm while she’s in her recliner. In the meantime, we create a pen out of a big (as in 24 inches high and maybe 30×24). We line it with newspaper and then fresh straw.
The little guy has diarrhea, not a good sign. No matter what we do to warm him, it doesn’t look good. Our faithful young Border Collie does everything she can think of, too… even laying down with her head on top of his body. Laying on the bathroom floor, wrapped in several towels, he succumbs.
Facing a snow storm on Tuesday, we decide to bring the little girl in the house BEFORE she gets chilled. Sure, we could continue feeding her out in the pen, but with Mama and her attitude, the very windy weather, and prediction of snow, she’s now inside… with the run of the house.
She’s not eating well, but we’re getting a little Nutri-Drench down her along with placing little bubble of saline solution under her skin. That’s a technique Cindy learned many years ago when she would rehabilitate orphaned squirrels, raccoons, and other critters for the Ohio DNR. Four of the six dogs are taking turns looking after her.
Now we’re still waiting on at least 8 more ewes and four goats to have their babies, as the snow flies and the north wind blows… gonna be a long season.
As I’ve said before, Mom, Bev, and Cindy are from an island in Lake Erie. Both Bev and Cindy were police officers, and many years ago, Mom owned a fish business on the mainland. Bev had also grown up on family farms with some sheep and harness horses. When they decided to move to Beryl, it was going to life-changing… just how life-changing was yet to be discovered.
Shari moved here from Oregon. She at least had some “agri-business” background, having grown up in the Portland suburbs, and later in western Washington County, where she raised rabbits commercially and also owned a USDA-inspected rabbit processing facility. She joined the party in Utah in late 2006, shortly after the others acquired their first lambs.
Around here, most folks have livestock of some sort. They either have chickens, sheep, goats, cows or horses. Only a few are truly retirees, who may simply own a dog or two. Even they tend to have gardens.
It was a neighbor, Dixie, who brought us our first lamb. Mom named him Taco. A little later, he was joined by Paco and Wooly. As told in other stories, these little guys began their lives in the house and then in the backyard. After they cleared the yard of all the weeds, they were moved to their own pen, and thus began the saga of the Four Country Gals raising sheep.
One day in late fall, they found Taco dead, no real cause ever known, but they remembered later he would often choke on his bottle milk, sending it spraying out his nose. Obviously something wasn’t right with him. The girls hauled him out to the border of the property and gave him up to the coyotes, eagles, and other varmints, as the ground was frozen and they couldn’t bury him.
That left Paco and Wooly. They really had no idea what they were going to do with them, other than get a kick out of their antics. Shortly, a ewe lamb became available (from Dixie). Since the other lambs had all been neutered, the plan was that they would sell the remaining two boys and keep the ewe lamb to breed the next year.
Bev and Cindy were working for a gentleman farmer several miles up the road. He agreed to purchase the lambs and have them custom butchered for his freezer. That took care of that!
Not wanting to leave Chiquita (the first ewe lamb) alone, they also acquired “Merino” a black merino/polypay cross. She was quite a little sweetheart.
Now the winter of 2006 going into 2007 was extremely cold and very snowy. It seems like the temp stayed below freezing for better than two months. We very dutifully cared for our little sheep and the horses. That meant making trips to Enterprise every 2 weeks for baled alfalfa. We loaded the hay onto the Avalanche, and then home to unload it into the barn and sometimes another small trailer for the sheep. No small feat for us in the cold and snow.
In early March, Dixie called and suggested we join her to help with getting her sheep ready for lambing. “Sure, we’ll be there. What should we wear, and what should we bring?”
We were told to dress warmly as we’d be out for several hours, and would possibly get muddy and wet if the pen ground thawed. Gloves and hats were a definite. If we had some coveralls, those would be very handy as would good boots.
I remember that sometime around 9:30 AM, we piled into the Avalanche and drove over to Dixie’s, about a mile by road. We pulled in and were greeted by the dogs and then Dixie. She filled us in on exactly what we’d be doing. We had to move the pregnant sheep (and the younger ewe lambs) to a small pen, leaving the ram by himself.
Now, rams are never to be trusted. They are especially dangerous to women. Seems as though they think of us as ewes, something to be bred, not respected. So, here we are… all three of us (Bev, Cindy, and myself) out in this 1/4 acre pasture working to move the ewes to a small pen, without having the ram join them. None of us had ever moved sheep. We had no idea where to stand, how to move, when to put pressure in certain directions.
What a roundup!
We spent several minutes working the sheep into the right formation to get through the gate, only to have them bolt away. All this time, we had to worry about that ram. Finally, Dixie said, “Let’s bring the ram into the pen, and we’ll deal with him from there.”.
Now, that’s comforting. The ram is going to be in the small pen, where we’re cutting out ewes and checking to see if they’re pregnant. Oh, this is going to be fun… watch your backside while watching your hips, knees, and anything else they can hit you with, as they all run by.
The plan was that the three of us would capture a ewe and put it on the ground on it’s back. That way, Dixie could check it for imminent lambing, and trim the excess wool away from it’s teats, a process called “crutching”. Of course, we’d be holding the ewe down… and the ewe wouldn’t be happy.
To capture a ewe, we had lassos (great!… none of us had used those). The pen was almost small enough to walk right into the flock. Dixie tossed some hay for them to eat and showed us how she would sneak up behind one and very quickly grab a hind leg and hang on.
You should have seen us trying to sneak up on a ewe, grab a leg and hang on. First off, two of us are packing enough weight for another person, and really are pretty slow. Finally, what seemed work as a form of “dogging”.
Bev and I would sort of corner a ewe, and then flush her down a fence line, where Cindy would throw herself onto the ewe, tackling it and taking it to the ground by rolling it over onto herself. Not a pretty site, but relatively effective.
We’d get to laughing so hard, it was really difficult to keep cornering ewes. Remember, that darn ram was in that pen, too. The ewe’s would circle around him, protecting hm. That was fine as long as there were still 7 or 8 ewes. Once we depleted that stock, we were really in danger.
Time out to get the ram moved back to his pasture. We’d been processing the ewes and then coercing them into a pen to the right. Any ewe lamb that wasn’t pregnant was returned to the pasture on the left side, where the ram would be going. Did you know sheep could leap nearly 3 feet off the ground while running full speed? Neither did we. Time out to hold our sides laughing again.
Some of the ewes were so tired and traumatized that we had to nearly carry/drag them to their new home. What they didn’t know was that we were in nearly the same condition. It was a race to see who would give up first.
Surprise, once the ewe round up was over, we turned our attention to lambs which had been born in the last week. Dixie figured this would be good training for us, so off to the lambing area, where she presented Bev with a little lamb.
Instructions were to turn the lambs belly towards her, and raise the little guy up so she could inspect his little balls (scrotum). She had this device that looked really wicked. She slipped a fat little rubber band onto the end prongs and grabbed the little guy’s balls, gently releasing the band. Ouch!
Then Bev had to reposition the little guy and do the same with his tail. By now, this little fellow was not a happy camper. All he wanted was down… but no, Dixie still had to give him a shot of vaccine, called CD/T. That’s supposed to help with “overeating disease”, scours, and tetanus.
I guess we probably went through a half-dozen lambs before Dixie said we’re done.
Remember I said we turned the ewe lambs aka “springers” back into the same pasture with the ram? The reason was that the Polypay breed is supposed to breed twice a year. That said, Dixie recommended we bring both Chiquita and Merino over to be bred by her ram.
The only trick was how to get the girls from our place to hers. Let’s just walk them across the desert. No matter there’s 6 or so inches of snow on the ground. I know enough math to know that the long side of the triangle is generally shorter than the two sides, if those two sides are nearly equal. Ok, but how we gonna do this?
Easy, we put a dog (choke) collar and lead on Chiquita and led her. Merino just kind of romped along with us. I couldn’t believe my eyes… and neither could Dixie.
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