Last weekend the lambing season of our larger group of ewes began. We breed a small group of ewes early so that we can have a few lambs available for our visitors at Shearing Day. But the bulk of the flock starts lambing in early April. Generally it's a bit warmer by then, although yesterday we had snow...
These are the ladies in waiting. (Note: It's hard to get good photos in our dark barn backlit by sunlight.) This is the group that The Farmer is scanning each time he goes out to check for lambs. He looks and he listens. There is a special "baaaa" that we only hear from the ewes during labor and delivery and for the first few days of the lambs' lives. When we hear that, we look harder. We look for a ewe standing or laying off by herself, or one who has her head turned back to look at her stomach. We look for lambs already born. If someone is in active delivery, we don't move her until she's finished and the lamb is cleaned off.
The Farmer will pick up any lambs and back out of the pen slowly. The ewe will follow nervously and the family group will be placed in a "jug"--a special bonding pen that houses just one ewe and her lambs. Sometimes she will have her second (or third) lamb in this jug.
Once the lambs are born and cleaned off, they get up pretty quickly, and they have their first meal. This is the most important meal of their lives. Colostrum (first milk) gives warmth, energy and immunity that can mean the difference between life and death.
Once the lambs are a few days old, they and their mothers are moved into a mingling pen consisting of 3 or 4 family units. It takes a little while to sort out which lambs go with which mothers. The ewes know their lambs by smell (note the ewe sniffing a lamb), and the babies know their mothers by the sound of their voice. Anytime we combine family units or move them, there is a LOT of noise and commotion.
Occasionally the lambs are able to wiggle out of the mingling pen. Each pen's lambs are marked with a non-toxic mark (red in this photo) to tell The Farmer which pen they belong in. Eventually, the family units will be moved to larger mingling pens, and once the pastures are ready, they will all go outside for the summer.
It's a busy time of year, but one of The Farmer's favorite times. There is such joy when birth goes well, and it's a delight to watch the lambs grow and explore.