Lambing

To Wean or not to Wean

Observing a mother and her new born is a heavenly site.  We respond  based purely on emotions,  whether we've actually "mothered" or not.   At the moment you lay your eyes on this site all the world around is a blur and all that matters is the true love that halos around them.  It is such a pure connection that under no circumstances one should want to come between them, right?

 

A lot of the methods used in sheep farming  are about "management" of the flock.  The larger the number your trying to manage the harder it is to keep "order".  Orderliness becomes a goal for efficiency.  Efficiency adds to profits.  Follow me?  This is a slippery slope.

Weaning is one of those "management" tools.  According to reference books,  lambs should be removed from their mothers at 8-10 weeks old.  The reasons are mainly that the needs of the lambs for maximum market potential are different then the mamma's.    Growth of the lambs requires richer, higher protein grasses or grains which the mamma's don't need.  The only way to accomplish such a task is to separate them.  The other argument we found (didn't read it in a reference book) to support weaning  is the mothers will give and give until they are basically spent.  We find the heat of the summer, coupled with the very selfless nature of mom's takes everything out of them and begins to compromise their own health.

For these reasons one might wean.  

 

Wean:accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.

 

Now that I've given you a bit of knowledge about weaning I'd like to share our journey with this decision.

We began this farm knowing we would make choices about the care of our animals based on our experiences, not just because everyone said so. Many topics of care and handling were researched and we found enough disparaging information that we felt strongly our decision to observe first was a worthy one.

Many of our farming practices were established by observing,  educating ourselves, then we'd established our way.  Weaning the lambs was one really challenging task.  Now 8 years later, after going back and forth, this year, we're not weaning again.  The first three years we didn't wean.  I wish I could tell you why we decided to wean the 4th year but I'm betting we succumb to the "text" book ways.  Most other shepherds around us weaned which made us question our decision even more.  Our farm was growing and as often happens after you've immersed yourself in something you loose some of your "curiosity" or better yet, the luxury of time to remember to be curious and ask questions.

So, we spent a few years weaning.  It is a very difficult task, not physically challenging, just heartbreaking really.  They cry and baa for easily 48 hours.  The mothers also.  Eventually they all settle in but gosh it never felt right.  As often I'm guided on this farm, if it goes against nature my heart cannot find peace with it...this is one of those lessons.  

With most industrial farming models, maximum growth of the lambs became the  shepherds primary goal in order to get those lambs to market fast and efficiently.  Is fast and efficient our ultimate goal.  Those that know this farm know our answer to this question is NO.  We strongly believe you sacrifice so much in order to achieve those fast/efficient goals.  It is this very reason that so many breeds of livestock are in danger of being lost for good...they don't meet these industrial models!

In summary, we've have some of the best looking, healthiest lambs ever, happily growing on mothers milk...there must have been some divine wisdom in that!

 

 


Who's the boss?

Farm animals are portrayed to most people through children's books.  We all have an image of what they each should look like, usually cute and huggable right?  You'd be surprised how many folks know what a lamb is but don't know what a sheep is.  Many don't have a clue that a lamb is a baby sheep.


There is a lot about sheep folks don't know.  For one, did you know there are over 200 different breeds of sheep worldwide.  The difference can be dramatic.  Some sheep have wool, some don't.  Some sheep have horns, some don't.  Some sheep have no horns, some have 2 horns, some have 4.

Wild looking you say?



  This is a perfect example of the 4 horned genetics in the breed we raise, the Navajo Churro.  The 4 horn genetics are not unique to the Navajo Churro. There are other breeds that carry the gene.



What has fascinated us about these sheep with 4 horns is watching their personality develop.  
They must navigate their way a bit differently.  
They are different then the other sheep.
It's almost as if as wee ones they have a special crown on their heads and they know not why. Eventually they grow into them and understand and respect them.

The horns are so dramatic and cannot be ignored by you or the other sheep.    
We've concluded by observing these guys early on in their life, 

...they learn to own these horns. 


I wonder, is there a message from mother nature?

It has been said, it's our very differences that make us stronger.


As we prepare for our new lamb crop this year we feel sure we will welcome at least one ram lamb with four horns.

As a final note of interest I read somewhere that the Navajo culture prized the multi-horn sheep as a spiritual gift, while the South American cultures believed them to be a "devil" spirit and eliminated them from a flock.  

April. Did I miss it?

Where does the time go?  We always hear folks ask that.  If I didn't have so many notes all over the calender for April 2013 I'd swear something happened to that whole month.  Like a whirl wind, come and poof...gone!
Shearing Day over 100 visitors
Fact is April is a very busy time for us.  When April appears we have usually just finished shearing all of our sheep and wool is everywhere.  We always hope our Shearing Day event will reduce the numbers of fleeces we have to deal with as folks in attendance buy them right off the sheep.  We do have fewer but we still face what seems like a mountain of wool!
 Yes, I must admit, the quantity of fleeces can be overwhelming and it takes me longer then it should getting round to sorting through them deciding which will go for yarn, roving or which will be kept to sell as raw wool. Several of them will be too full of vegetation, some matted, or not the quality you'd want to sell to someone in any form.  So, what to do with each bag of wool?  As I have them stored under a shed roof for now it's a BIG task that smacks me in the face each and every time I walk out the front door of our house.  Guess I should have picked a better place to put them?  Maybe if I didn't have to see them they'd disappear like April.  
Mi Sueno


Yes, April is also a BIG month for lambing.  In the fall we put the ram in the pasture with the ewes for 60 days.  That's much longer then most farms would leave the ram with the ewes but our primary ram, Mi Sueno, has my husband speaking for him...get my drift?  The primary downside of leaving Mi Sueno in with the 28 girls longer could be that our lambing might take longer.  Mi Sueno is not a romancer, he's a, he's a, how should I put it?  Wham bam kind of ram?  How do we really know that...lambing was DONE in less then 30 days.

Anyway, basically 149 days from 1st exposure to the ram you start preparing for the possibility of lambs.  Over time you learn tell tale signs and you get used to your girls.
Soon Please!
March 29th was the 1st possible day, no lambs.  March 30th, nothing.  Then on April 1st the lambing began with one ewe and twins.  Within a few hours the lambs take on personalities and we're able to assure them the nursery will be full very shortly. 





As the days progressed we were gathering sometimes 6-8 lambs per day.  Mind you, were a small operation! Each lamb happily greats the new one(s).  Each mom is different, some very protective, others experienced and calm others know they have a responsibility and they'll give off their lamb specific bleat to let the wee one know where they are but other then producing milk and feeding it they're kind of like..."What?  I'm over here!"  Regardless, It's an amazing process to behold.  I am sure some would accuse me of being too imaginative with this whole process.  Maybe I am to some degree but mostly I'd disagree.  Each of these animals is unique, with personalities and feelings.
This year we were blessed with 37 beautiful lambs and only one didn't make it.  Sad fact, they say 10% loss isn't unreasonable. So, as farming goes we'd have to chalk it up to a very good year even with the loss. For those that follow us on Facebook you know about our loss, it was a very tough day.  After 6.5 hours of hard labor she gave birth to the biggest lamb we've ever had on our farm.  A real beauty!  We checked the mom for milk and made sure they had bonded and a few other aftercare protocols.  They were both exhausted!  He didn't make it through the night.  You beat yourself up, what could I have done, what didn't I do/see...this the hardest part about farming to me.  We face a lot of life and death realities around here.  From the raccoon eating our chickens to the lamb that struggles to be born only to pass before his romp through the green pastures.  We often cry but mostly we carry a heaviness for awhile.  Then we find ourselves standing on the fence line watching 36 lambs jump and play without a care in the world.  They gather in a bunch, all of them, and like a swarm of bees they run, kicking up their heels, happy to be alive!

That's where April went!


Triplets

These harsh realities of nature are not easy yet we know we are in a close relationship with Mother Nature and knowing her we feel grounded. 



Nature reaches out to us with welcoming arms, and bids us enjoy her beauty; but we dread her silence and rush into the crowded cities, there to huddle like sheep fleeing from a ferocious wolf.   Kahlil Gibran