Waiting for grass! Lambs and spring go together. The long winter melts into long sunny days encouraging native grasses to grow. The ewes gaze longingly towards their pastures and escape to them if possible before the grass is long enough to endure grazing. This morning a group of 14, very pregnant ewes, rejected their hay bales and broke through a gate. As these sheep were very wide and heavy with multiple lambs, running down the middle of the road could have been comical if the need to stop them before they reached the main highway was not the top priority. They stopped on their own–standing bewildered at the entrance to their favorite pasture blocked by high snow banks. After a brief few days of growing grass, May 2nd brought another heavy, 12 inch snow storm. The ewes returned, more quietly to their birthing areas with stories to tell about the lack of grass in their favorite places. The sheep’s ever longing need to find greener grass on the other side of the fence is often cited in myths and stories and we find this to be a true characteristic. The grass is late this year in Wisconsin. This is difficult and disappointing for all of us.
Newborn lambs are delightful and we all eagerly await each birth. This ewe has 4 newborn lambs to watch over. She checks them repeatedly as if counting to be sure she has all 4 and that they all get to suckle in their turn. Some ewes are satisfied with 1 lamb and forget they are responsible for other siblings. Some lambs follow anything that moves and easily become separated from their mothers as she tends to the other siblings. A lamb bleating plaintively and approaching ewes are likely to be butted. Rescue by the farmer and confinement of the ewe and lambs for a couple of days to help them bond is often the best solution.
Having multiple lambs is a challenge for everyone. The feed ratio has be closely watched to make certain the ewe has the proper energy and protein to birth healthy lambs. Frequently a lamb is a problem birth and while the ewe struggles with birthing issues the first newborn wanders off or is stolen by a soon to give birth nanny attracted to the sounds and smells of newborns. The nanny can steal a lamb and confuse it’s own mother but when it’s own lambs are born often rejects the adopted lamb in favor of its own.
In the photograph to the right, the second lamb entered the birth canal head first with the two front legs tucked back. This makes it almost impossible for the lamb to be born without assistance as the shoulders lock behind the pelvic bones. The head needs to be carefully pushed back into the birth canal, the front legs located and pulled forward, and then the ewe assisted in quickly delivering. The lamb may be compromised if the birth is delayed.
Spring is always an exciting and busy time on the farm–but also exhausting. Green grass is waited for impatiently by all of us.