Monday, March 24, 2008

Baa Baa Black Sheep (and White Sheep)

The Chronicles of Sheep Breeding & Lambing - Volume I

Lambs were made for Spring. It's just the way that nature intended it. The ewes come into heat in the fall, just in time to have babies in the Spring. They have a 5 month gestation period
( a bit longer than both the goat and my friend, Janet.)

We have our own horny ram here at the Rube Farm and his balls seriously are the size of your head. His name is Sidney. He's a porn star. And he plays his role well. We just let him live alongside all the ewes and their babies and he's generally a pretty happy studmuffin. He has a sore back foot right now- in his sebaceous gland. The sore foot, along with the foot and a half of mud out there, is slowing him down a bit. And, I guess he's getting pretty old. I actually don't have a fucking clue what the shelf life of a ram is, or what the average length of a sheep's lifespan is.

We haven't got to that point yet. But, I guess if it's anything remotely close to a human's, he could be 70 and still rocking the van. or rocking the ewe, I guess, in this case.

Here's Sid here.... admittedly, this pic was taken 2 years ago and he was looking pretty damn good. (Once my new camera arrives this week, I'll take an updated picture of him (and his balls) for you.)

Okay, so Sid knocks 'em up. (and, let me tell you, the process isn't a pretty one. There is not one part of the lewd act that could be considered even mildly enjoyable for the poor girl. All animal sex is like this, you know. It's interesting that we female humans have accepted the challenge of making sex a good and desireable experience for us, when clearly nature intended otherwise.)
We have 8 ewes that are all of breeding age that got pregnant this year. Because Sid lives with them, we're not sure exactly when he planted his seed, so we have to closely watch for the signs and symptoms of their pregnancies.

You can start seeing the ewe get bigger and, depending how many she's carrying in there, she might get comically large, and quite uncomfortable in the final month. In the few weeks before she lambs, she will "bag up", which means that her udders will start to fill in a bit, particularly if she's done this before. In the day or two prior to birth, her udders will be bigger than you ever imagined they could be - like, 'HOLY FREAKIN' CRAP' big. THAT is an udder!

Her vulva also starts to swell in the days leading up to the birth and becomes a dark/bright reddy purply colour. It's still a strange thing to me when B.Rube comes in from outside and announces that a ewe's vulva is getting bigger, but that it still isn't getting darker, or when I call B.Rube at work solely to inform him that a ewe's vulva is pretty swollen and that there's some cervical discharge coming out. In any case... we watch them closely for the signs. Just before their labour starts, they tend to stock up a bit on grain or hay, and then stop eating. A disinterest in food is usually a good indicator that she's going to 'go', especially after eating so much for so long. She'll also go off on her own, looking for a good spot to have the babies.

Depending on the situation, we may try to get the ewe in the barn at this point, so she'll have them there. You can tell when a contraction goes through the ewe, cuz she lifts her head into the air, looking to the skies and stretching out. Sometimes they'll bbbaaaaaa, but they're usually very quiet and calm during labour. ( we could take a lesson or two.)

It is pretty necessary that we be around during labour. Most of our births here happen unassisted, but we have had to intervene to deliver babies before, so we are always ready.

We also have to participate immediately after birth, by helping to dry off the babies, to clear any mucous (in some instances) and to cleanly cut the umbilical cord and dip it into iodine to prevent navel ill. It is SUPER important for lambs to get their mama's colostrum (that initial milk in there, for those of who haven't experienced pregnancy and birth yourself). It is thick and creamy and FULL of crucial antibodies that the babies need to survive. So, an important job of ours is to make sure that the baby is attached and drinking within the first 30 minutes of life. and as the next days unfold.

This season was our 3rd. We have 10 babies - 3 boys and 7 girls. We have one single, 3 sets of twins and one set of triplets. We lost 5 - 2 sets of twins and one of a twin. I hate the losses. I celebrate the successes.

I'm bottle feeding two of the triplets - I'll tell you more about that later......


Anonymous said...

Gotta love those udders -- eh!

Magnolia said...

After our's nice to put a face to the name...Sidney that is...

You are terrific J.Rube!!! I don't think I could do it. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh Spring! Love the pics and the fascinating info. I give you a lot of credit--I'm sure those losses are tough.

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