This has been a momentous week for the lambs. Yesterday all nineteen lambs were ear-tagged and weighed and the males were all banded, with the exception of one which I’ll have to do in about a week. The first lambs were born on March 3 which made them just over three weeks old. The youngest lambs were born March 18/19 which made them a week old. My smallest lambs were 10 lbs and the largest 15 lbs which is a decent weight gain given the low birth weights this year.
This afternoon I turned the ewes and all the lambs out to pasture for the first time. This is not my usual routine. In past years I’ve lambed during the month of February and not put the lambs out on pasture until sometime in April. This is the first time I’ve put lambs out this young. The only pasture I have that is suitably fenced for such small lambs is very sparse right now (and if we don’t get rain soon, may not grow at all this year) and to get to that pasture, the sheep must travel through a section of wooded area from their pen to the driveway, down the driveway and then into the pasture.
Just the ewes would not have been a problem. My working dog, Tuck, is well versed in moving sheep out to the various pastures I have fenced. However, I have never before had him work the ewes with such young lambs. The ewes tend to be very protective of their lambs and dislike the dogs in close proximity. And of course, the lambs know nothing about gates so several who weren’t right behind their moms couldn’t figure out how to get out of the pen, or got stuck in the corner behind the gate. The more the lambs cried the more agitated the ewes got and the harder it was for Tuck to keep order.
I finally got all the lambs out of the pen and into the working arena where the ewes were milling. I let everyone settle down and then opened the gate out of the working arena and asked Tuck to bring up the sheep. It initially looked to be a smooth process but then as the ewes went through the gate into the wooded area, about half the lambs panicked and either ran back toward their pen or got stuck on the wrong side of the gate. Tuck and I finally gave up on moving the lambs by themselves and went to look for the ewes and remaining lambs. Without a dog behind them the ewes had all drifted this way and that and were scattered amongst the trees. Tuck gathered them up and pushed them back to the working arena. I assembled ewes and lambs again and gave it a second attempt. This time the lambs stuck closer and all got through the gate. Then it was just a matter of Tuck putting enough pressure on the sheep to keep them moving forward without putting too much pressure on the lambs, causing them to scatter and the ewes to be very, very unhappy with him. We had another slight problem going through the second gate onto the drive when four lambs split off. Tuck was able to push one back through the gate and the other three were small enough to fit through the fence and join the sheep. So a task that normally would take Tuck and me about five minutes took us closer to half an hour but finally the sheep were all in the pasture.
I kept an eye on them throughout the afternoon and decided after a couple of hours to bring them in as the wind was kicking up again. So Tuck and I duly went off down the drive to the pasture gate. It was a pretty simple task to bring all the ewes and lambs to the gate so I was thinking it was going to be an easy task to get them back down the drive and to their pen. Every time I think something is going to be easy, it turns out not to be. Tuck had evidently decided that ignoring the lambs was the better move, so when the ewes started through the pasture gate he didn’t apply any pressure on the lambs and only ten of the 19 lambs followed the ewes onto the drive. Of course, the ewes immediately headed down the drive and the lambs left in the pasture turned and ran back along the fence in the same direction, bleating piteously. The ewes made it all the way back to the wooded area before a few realized their lambs weren’t with them and then the ewes started bleating and running around.
After several abortive attempts by Tuck to group all the lambs and push them back to the pasture gate I finally gave up and called him to me. We walked back through the gate, down the drive and I had him collect up all the ewes and lambs and put them in their pen. I then sorted off four of the ewes missing lambs and had Tuck take them back through the working pen, through the trees and down the drive back to the pasture. Reunited, the lambs stuck very close to the ewes and Tuck was able to turn everyone back again and take everyone home. Moving sheep back from pasture at the end of the day took us an hour and a half instead of five minutes.