2013 – Lamb Watch – First Arrivals!

Last week one of our Suffolks produced the first two lambs of the season!  A boy (the brown one) and a girl.  Both lambs are doing well, and definitely enjoying a frolic or two.

Several of the other ewes are looking heavy, but none has popped since.  I’d expect the rest of the Suffolks to produce in the next week or two, and then the Mules.  Still, it’s good news that Muga was clearly doing his job last September time.

Suffolk and two lambs Pretty ewe lamb at about 6 hours old!

Moving sheep around

We needed to move the Borerays out of the thin field and in to the big field.  This is because we’re about to dig the trenches for a ground source heat pump.  This magic device will use the heat in the ground to give us hot water and a warm house all through the winter (hopefully) but requires us to dig 700m of trench about 1.2m deep.  Now I’m sure the Borerays are clever enough to avoid trenches, but then I wouldn’t want to risk it, especially if they were spooked, and they certainly wont enjoy having a digger in their field.

The problem is that the big field had Muga in it, as well as the adult ewes.  We need to make sure Muga and Haan are kept separate as they will fight, especially at this time of the year, and with their horns it could have a very bad outcome.  Also in that field are Wrath and Avarice, and we needed to keep them in that field to avoid them deciding to camp out near our house to moo loudly for dinner.  While it wouldn’t bother us too much, it’s not great for our immediate neighbours.  Surprisingly, keeping them in the larger field seems to result in less mooing, possibly because they can’t see us as much.  So I had to persuade the sheep through, without being so persuasive that the cows followed.

A bucket of ruminant mix was the ticket.  I shook it and they call came through!  Hurrah thought I, but just as I was about to close the gate Lafite ran back through.  I don’t know why!  I couldn’t chase her back through, and she didn’t seem willing to come even when I backed away.  I’d also run out of feed for them.  I trudged back to the animal restaurant, loaded up with a new bucket load, and headed back out.  I was not going to be beaten by a recalcitrant Soay!

Shaking the bucket resulted in virtually all the sheep mobbing me, which was good, as it included Lafite.  In fact the only exceptions were the Suffolks who were still enjoying the remains of the first bucket I’d spread out.  Muga took the opportunity to show he loved me, by putting his head on one side and wiggling his tongue at me!  It seems to work when he does that to the ewes, but I had to explain how we just weren’t the right match, I mean there’s a species barrier and everything.  Anyway, after that heart to heart, I had to quickly jog across to close the gate, and part one was complete!  I’d left the cows in the field, and also the Soay OAPs – I figure they would rather stay where they are, and I’m sure they’ll be mutually ignored by the Borerays.

Now I just needed to get the Borerays in.  I took a bucket and they followed me the whole length of the field.  Unfortunately they weren’t quite ready to come through the gate, and were further put off when the cows decided that enough was enough and they wanted part of the feed action.  Still, I think I might get the Borerays through next time…

Update – Alpacas

Algy and Verdigris continue to be fairly low maintenance.  Well except for Algy and his lust for our ewes.  He’s particularly keen on the Suffolks, and they really don’t appreciate the attention.  I’ll look out and see the whole flock running, and a twenty or thirty yards is Algy running with his head down, focused on one of the Suffolk ewes.

Verdigris is either more subtle, or doesn’t fancy the sheep as I’ve never seen him do anything similar.

We had them both sheared, which is always a rather industrial process as they have to be tied down to keep them in place.  They really don’t like being man-handled!  We sold their fleece on eBay, as whole fleeces.  Unfortunately the bidding didn’t not reach the frenzy we’d anticipated, and we had underestimated the cost of postage!  This meant we actually lost money on the fleeces.  The nice lady who bought the fleece noticed and was kind enough to make a donation which at least covered the cost of postage.  We’ve never done well with selling the fleece.  I’m sure there must be a better way…

We’ve decided that the alpacas need to find a new home, as part of our animal reduction plan.  On the one hand they are relatively low maintenance, but on the other they don’t do a lot, and they do stress the sheep.  So we’re trying to sell them.  I have high hopes!

Sheep Planning

So every year we get to this time of the year and think that we need to separate out the lambs, and move the ewes and Muga around and really get things ready for him to start covering them.  And every year we continue to think about it until around October time, when it’s a little late to do anything about it.

To be fair last year we also had the added excitement of a partially castrated lamb covering the few ewes I did manage to separate out (and I have every hope that this wont recur this year!).

This year, for the first time, not only did we think about it, but we actually did it!  First we caught all the sheep together.  Now as many previous posts have asserted, this isn’t always an entirely easy thing to do.  However we have a new technique.  First of all we get the lambs used to coming into the two fenced areas next to the animal restaurant over a couple of days. Then on the day we need to catch them we close the gates on them while they’re all eating away, and shepherd them into one of the two areas.

This is where we’ve added a new technique to our arsenal.  We get a while bunch of sheep hurdles and create a line across the area, and make sure they;re all on one side.  And then we walk the line of hurdles until we have them in a nice tight area.  It takes a while, but it works brilliantly, and keeps them fairly calm while we’re doing it.

The other challenge with separating the ewes from the lambs, is that the ewes will follow us, and the feed bucket, without trouble.  The lambs however are a lot less excited about it.  So today when we separated them out, we left all the lambs (and the OAPs) in the area surrounded by the hurdles, and separated out the ewes and Muga.  We then led them into the other field by simply carrying a bucket of feed in front of them.  It was then easy to close the gate, and the separation was complete!

Muga is now in with three Mules, four Suffolks, three Soays, and Luke’s sister.

All of the lambs, both last years, and this years, and the OAPs are now in the home field, with the cows and the Alpacas.  This means I should be able to catch them when it’s time for them to go on holiday, or if I manage to sell some more.  Which is great!

Waiting for lambs

We’ve always had a bit of a break in our lambing cycle.  First the Mules and Suffolks pop, and then we wait for a bit and then the Soays pop.  As it happens each year I’m guessing it’s something to do with the breed.  Maybe the longer days and nights up on the island of Soay mean they wait for later in the year before being in season, though clearly it doesn’t stop the rams!  Given that the Borerays have also not yet popped (assuming they are actually pregnant), I would guess this means they are the same sort of cycle as the Soays.

Some of the Soay ewes are really starting to look heavy, so I suspect it’s not going to be that long before we start our second wave of lambing!

Didn’t get any good pictures of the Soays this morning, but got some nice misty shots of the Borerays (and friends), of which this is my favourite:

 

The IN thing

We’ve kept sheep for about five years now, and had four seasons of newborn lambs.  Beofre this year I don’t think I’d ever seen a lamb sitting on it’s mother.  Maybe I’ve just forgotten it, but I can’t see how.  I’ve mentioned that the Boreray/Suffolk lamb occasionally sits on her mother, but I thought it was just her.  But no, I’ve now seen it a couple more times and managed to get a picture of one of the Soay/Mule lambs sitting on her mother:

This was taken with my iphone, as trying to get a zoom shot with my Nikon is what seems to have broken Nikon (the lens is being awkward, permanently).  Unfortunately with all my messing around with my image capturing equipment I failed to capture the moment when both lambs were standing on their mum, until the first one was nudged off.

Still, given it appears to be this season’s excitement I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity!

More bad news

We lost another lamb yesterday.  It was the second lamb of the Boreray/Suffolk triplets born on Tuesday.  He seemed a little slow in the morning, and I was thinking that I’d take him some lambs milk in the afternoon to see if that helped.  I checked up on him before lunch and he seemed fine.  After lunch he was dead.

I’m really starting to think there may be an issue with the Boreray breeding.  Hopefully the Mules in there are pregnant, and we’ll see something positive out of them, and obviously the Boreray ewes as well.

We’ve never lost three lambs during a season before and it’s rather upsetting.

Sheep Mothering instincts – Mules vs Suffolks

There’s a definite difference between the mothering instincts of the Mules, and of the Suffolks.  The Mules are excellent mothers, and the Suffolks, well, they’re a little more lassez-faire.

When the lambs are first born the Mule ewes are very protective of them, and often won’t move more than twenty or thirty feet away from where they gave birth for at least the first day or so.  It means I tend to have to take food out to them, which can be interesting as when a scrum develops.  Normally the ewe I’m trying to give the extra food to backs away, and then I try and get throw some more to her.  Now I try and distract the others before going out to the new mother.  As the lambs get older the Mule ewes allow them a little more room, and then after a week or two the lambs can reign free and the Mule only looks up now and again to see where they are.  If the lambs are bleating the Mule ewe will stop what she’s doing, even if she’s eating lovely ruminant mix, and look around to make sure she knows why the lamb is making a fuss.  When their lambs start to suckle they almost always stop what they are doing and let them.

The Suffolks have more of a keep-up-with-me-or-else kind of philosophy.  Even when the lamb is barely just been born when it comes to food time the ewes will come to the normal feeding area and dive in.  Even if this means their lambs are left behind, or, sometimes worse, they tag along and get knocked around by the others.  They’ll also ignore the bleating of their lambs while they dive in for the food.  Often when their lambs start to suckle they’ll walk forward to knock them off, especially if there’s the potential of some food.

To be fair, some Suffolks are more motherly than others, and some Mules are less so, but the differences between the breeds are surprisingly wide.

RIP New Lamb

And the spectrum swings back towards death.  One of the Boreray/Suffolk cross triplets was dead this morning when I went out to feed them.  He (all three were boys) had looked a little weak last night during feeding, but was up on his feet and following his mum around, so there seemed no need to intervene.  This morning he was curled up lifelessly next to his brother.

That means we have twelve lambs so far, six ewe lambs and six ram lambs, for a certain symmetry.

It also means that we’ve lost forty percent of our Boreray/Suffolk cross lambs.  I’m wondering if part of the reason the Boreary is so rare is that the lambs die.  I’m going to have to see if there is any information out there about that, though I certainly haven’t seen anything.  Hopefully these two were just unfortunate coincidence, and the rest of Haan’s progeny will be stronger.