Downsizing

After serious consideration of several factors, I made the decision this winter to downsize and have sold most of the breeding ewes along with the lambs. The remaining ewes will either be sold or eventually find their way into the freezer. I had already downsized the goats, putting the wethers in the freezer earlier this year, selling Nutmeg’s three doelings and most recently selling a doe in milk (Nougat) along with a dry goat (Thyme). Currently I only have three Nigerian Dwarf does. Although I had no plans to downsize my flock of chickens, the Mexican Grey Wolf which passed through the area took care of that for me.

When the Unlikely Occurs

My chickens are free to roam the property and over the years my chicken population has waxed and waned depending upon the predators in the area. A couple of summers ago I finally finished the last of the perimeter fencing and my coyote sightings fell significantly (as did my chicken losses). However, a short while ago I started losing chickens again. The occasional loss is something I accept as a consequence of my choice to let my chickens range, but when I lost four chickens in one day it was apparent I had a serious problem with predators again.

A few days ago I had finished morning chores and was back in the house for another cup of coffee. I was sitting at the computer in the breakfast room which has windows to the east, south and west. The south view is of the horse corral and sheep and goat pens. Lately the chickens have taken to congregating under a tree between the greenhouse and the animal pens. The chickens suddenly started squawking and the dogs went ballistic. All of the animals, horse, sheep and goats. were bunched up in the center of their respective corral/pens which was unusual behavior. I jumped up and opened the door and Tuck and Kip went tearing out, along the side deck, and to the chicken coop behind the house. Unfortunately, the problem was actually straight ahead — as a large animal ran past and disappeared into the wooded area to the east. I only got a glimpse but my thought was that it was the biggest coyote I had seen to date and was in exceptional condition.

Later that same day, the sequence played out again. Only this time the animal ran from the south past the windows to the east so I got a much better look as it went by. My impression was that it was not a coyote but a wolf based on the size and the shape of the head and ears. I have not had a wolf (that I’m aware of) on my property since the very first year I was here but evidently some of the Mexican Grey Wolves which were re-introduced into New Mexico in 1998 have wandered to the very edges of their range. While I was trying to convince myself I had been wrong and it was just a very large, well fed coyote, based upon the local newspaper there have been four confirmed sightings of Mexican Grey Wolves between San Antonio and Sevilleta and I am about halfway between those two locations, so I am now reasonably sure it was indeed a wolf.

While this comparison doesn’t show it, there is a substantial size difference between the two and my unwanted visitor was much larger than the coyotes in my area which are generally in the 35-40 lb range.

The chickens have been cooped for the past few days and while the dogs have let me know the wolf has scoped out the chicken coop I haven’t seen it again myself. I am hopeful it will continue its journey on now that the ‘diner’ has been closed.

And the 2017 Lambing Season Ends

I went out this morning to find one of the two remaining bred ewes had delivered twins at some point late last night or early this morning. Both were clean and dry and had been up to nurse. Later this morning, the last ewe decided it was time, though she didn’t actually manage to lamb until after noon. She also gave me twins.

So the statistics for the 2017 lambing season are:

14 bred ewes
10 ewes bred by Red ram: 5 singles; 3 sets twins; 2 sets triplets – total 17 lambs (10 ram lambs; 7 ewe lambs)
4 ewes bred by White ram: 1 single; 2 set twins; 1 set triplets – total 8 lambs (6 ram lambs; 2 ewe lambs)

I lost one of the first set of triplets, a ewe lamb, so have 24 lambs on the ground: 16 ram lambs and 8 ewe lambs. I’m still watching the smallest of the last set of triplets as he hasn’t reached 6 lbs yet but so far he is alive and the ewe appears to have sufficient milk for all three lambs.

Addendum (03/13/2017): Not unexpectedly, I lost the smallest of the most recent set of triplets.

 

Not finished yet . . .

After the fiasco in 2015, we made some changes to our usual breeding practices. Prior to the lambing season of 2015, my mentor would use his ram and a month later he would deliver the ram to me. This had worked well for several years but when it transpired that the ram hadn’t done his job and neither of us had many lambs the spring of 2015, he decided to go to a two ram system. He would keep one ram (Ram #1) and deliver the second (Ram #2) to me. When he picked up the Ram #2 a month later he would leave Ram #1 hoping that any ewes that hadn’t been bred by Ram #2 would be covered by Ram #1. Last year all my lambs were born in a time frame indicating that Ram #2 had bred them. This year, however, we switched the order and I started with Ram #1. The timing indicates that he didn’t breed all my ewes and that three, probably four, ewes had been bred by Ram #2.

Sunday afternoon my sheep mentor came down to help me castrate and ear tag. We didn’t do the single ram lamb born Sunday morning and one ram lamb will need to be banded once his testicles drop. Before he left we discussed one ewe that was still pregnant and we both agreed it looked like she would lamb that evening.

Monday morning she still hadn’t lambed.

Tuesday came and went. Wednesday I wasn’t home and I was sure I’d come back to new lambs but when I got home the ewe was still as pregnant as she had been when I left that morning.

Thursday I was heading out for a quick run into town and made a stop at the sheep pen before I left. The ewe was cleaning off a very, very tiny white lamb.

Given the size of the lamb (and the fact that another water sac was hanging out of the ewe) I was pretty sure more were coming (this ewe has typically given me twins and her mother gave me triplets this year.) Sure enough I waited around and after a bit . . ..

This was a much larger lamb and while the possibility of a third existed, the ewe didn’t seem to be having issues and I needed to get back to work so I made my run into town. I got back a short time later and checked on the ewe and her lambs. Sure enough, the ewe, like her mom, gave me triplets.

Interestingly, the two ewes were bred by different rams. I was a little concerned about the size of the smallest lamb as he was only 4.75 lbs and generally lambs under 6 lbs don’t fare well, but all three lambs were alive and well this morning. Lamb no. 1 was a ram lamb – 4.75 lbs; Lamb no. 2 was a brown ram lamb – 8 lbs; and Lamb no. 3 was again white and also a ram – 6.5 lbs.

This year I have had three sets of triplets which is a record. I lost one lamb out of the first set but the triplets from the second set are thriving. I still have two more ewes left to lamb and both are older ewes so it will be interesting to see what those two ewes deliver.

Life and Death

The other morning a yearling ewe (born in the spring of 2016) started to lamb. It soon became apparent that she was too small (or the lamb was too large) and that she was in trouble. However, since she was confused about the whole process, she wouldn’t allow me close enough to assist. As I was trying to move the ewe into the lambing jugs, the littlest triplet darted underneath her and started nursing – evidently aware that the ewe was other occupied and unlikely to chase her off. I moved the lamb off but she quickly returned, not so willing to give up a free meal. Luckily for me, the farrier was there and willing to lend a hand. Between the two of us, we managed to get the ewe into a lambing jug where we could close her in (and the littlest lamb out) and I ran to the house for gloves. The lamb was presenting correctly – two front hooves and a nose – but not progressing. There was so little space inside the ewe I was taking it on faith that there was only one lamb and it wasn’t tangled with a second one. By the time I finally was able to get a front leg (the elbow had caught on the pelvic ring) straightened out, the lamb’s tongue was hanging out and turning blue. While I was convinced I was going to lose the lamb, I wanted to save the ewe if possible so I continued to work until the second leg was straightened out. Even though the head looked like it wasn’t going to fit, finally with effort on both our parts, the head finally emerged. At that point I let the ewe finish the job and the rest of the lamb came out. I was pleasantly surprised to find the lamb still alive. Once the ewe had a few minutes to rest up, she did start to clean the lamb. A couple of hours later I went out to check and the lamb was up and nursing. A ram lamb weighing 12 lbs which is large for a Katahdin and especially large for a first time ewe.

So while the season had definitely gotten off to a very slow start, it was progressing well until . . . . When I went out to feed last night I found a lamb, the largest of the original set of triplets, next to the fence, dead. I couldn’t find any apparent cause of death. The ewe didn’t have enough milk for three lambs which is why I’ve been supplementing the smallest lamb, but I hadn’t seen any signs from the other two lambs that they weren’t getting enough milk. All of the lambs had been running around earlier in the day playing chase games and all, including this one, had appeared to be fine. My guess is that she ran into the fence and hit a fence post, breaking her neck.

Bummer Lamb

My first set of triplets was born on Sunday, February 5th. The smallest ewe lamb wasn’t getting enough milk from her dam so I have been supplementing her feeding with a bottle. She had learned she could sneak some extra food from the ewe I had put in the lambing jugs after the ewe twinned on the 12th, but then on February 14th another ewe had triplets and I turned out the two ewes and their five lambs from the lambing jugs, cleaned the jugs and moved the new mom and her three into the lambing jugs. When I went out late that night to check on the lambs and ewes, I found the one ewe with two of the triplets but not the littlest lamb. I finally found her with the other ewe and her twins. However, with the wide open spaces of the working pen, the ewe was finding it easier to get away from the lamb when she tried to nurse and with the dropping temperatures I had visions of the littlest lamb freezing over night. I had lost a triplet the previous year in such a situation when it had gotten separated from its dam and the other lambs. So I brought the littlest lamb in for the night and bedded her down in a dog crate in my bedroom. She turned out to be easier to both crate and house train than many puppies that I’ve raised. Every night since then she has been spending the night in a crate and then going out during the day to spend time with her mom (and any other ewe she can nurse off of) and the lambs. With one exception, she waits to pee in the morning until after I put her outside and she happily follows me back to the sheep pens. She has adapted quite well to her new life.

Two weeks old

Two weeks old

She is growing well on the goat milk and is a similar size to the two triplets the dam is still nursing.

A little ingenuity

Today was cold and bleak. The snow from last night soon melted with the rain of this morning. It rained off and on all day and the mud was deeper every time I went out. When I fed this morning the smallest triplet seemed to have a full stomach so I didn’t offer a bottle. I checked sheep throughout the day, expecting more ewes to lamb, and each time I checked on the ewes and lambs in the lambing jug. [The lambing jugs are set up so that I can create small pens to segregate new moms and their lamb(s) but since the two ewes I put in the jugs were both experienced and taking care of their lambs, I went ahead and opened up the jugs so that the entire space was available to the two ewes (and their combined five lambs)]. Each time I checked, the littlest triplet didn’t appear to be hungry. The bottle I took out a short while ago was the first bottle I gave her today. When I first went out she didn’t come running as usual and as I watched she went to the ewe that was not her dam and started nursing. She actually nursed for a short while before the ewe realized it wasn’t one of her lambs and walked away. At that point the lamb came over for her bottle. I had figured she was nursing off her dam and getting some milk at night, but I guess the little one has found a new way to supplement her own feeding without requiring a bottle.

The rain is supposed to continue through tomorrow so I’m hoping the ewes who haven’t lambed will hold off until things dry out a bit and I can turn the ewes/lambs in the jugs out to make room.

Temperatures dropping. . .

and so, of course, are lambs. We’ve had several days of beautiful (t-shirt) weather and no lambs. We did get a few rain drops this afternoon but other than being cloudy and grey, today was fairly warm. No lambs. Just about dark one of my ewes started showing signs of being in labor. I just went out to check on her and found her cleaning off her second lamb. Both appear to be of good size so am debating whether to leave them alone or try to shepherd the ewe into the lambing jugs.

ADDENDUM: Shortly after writing the above post it started raining so I trekked out to the barn for hay and set up a lambing jug for the new mom and her twins. See the comments for that story. The temperatures kept dropping however and by the time I did my night check only a couple of hours later it was snowing. It has warmed up (raining again) so much of the snow is now gone and I didn’t lose any lambs overnight. Today promises to be a dismal day so more lambs can be expected.

A slow start. . .

Once lambing started on the 1st I was expecting a ewe to lamb every day or every other day. However, nine days into lambing only four ewes had lambed. Finally, late Thursday afternoon, an older ewe went into labor. Here she is with her lamb. She only had a single but it was 13.5 lbs.

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Since then, no new lambs. However, rain is predicted for tomorrow and as sheep prefer to lamb in bad weather, if we do get rain I expect at least one more ewe to lamb.