Thursday, April 30, 2009

The First Green Grass

One day it rains; the next day is sunny. Then it rains again. Sometimes it rains two days in a row. But it doesn't stay sunny two days in a row. No...that would be just too pleasant for a Minnesota April.
I'm grateful the shearing happened when it did. There really haven't been good opportunities since then. It also let me get a good look at the condition of the flock. This is the first year I am genuinely pleased with every one's condition. The lactating ewes are not even thin. They look great. And the unbred ewe lambs, such as Lyneth, are absolutely svelte. I will be honest: it took excellent 2nd cutting alfalfa, whole corn/oats, and molasses during the last 2 months to get to this point. I also fed premium alfalfa during breeding season, and good grass/alfalfa mix hay during the winter. Add to this a high quality custom mineral and extra Sel-Plex (chelated selenium yeast). Finally, the flock is in good health and has no observable mineral deficiencies. It seems like I have to feed so much more than other shepherds to get the same results. But I've seen my flock suffering from nutritional problems...if this is what it takes to raise Shetlands here, than so be it. I will just be happy I found solutions to my problems.
While the grass is just coming in, I am letting the ewe/lamb flock out of the barn pen so they can wander far and wide. Of course, they absolutely love this and they cover every inch of the farm several times each afternoon. They are getting a lot of exercise and they seem so mentally content. I think having access to this "natural environment" helps the dams convey good skills to the lambs. After a few hours of following their dams and imitating their behaviors, the babies find a sunny spot and rest while the ewes continue to eat. The oldest lambs are already chewing their cud. The youngest usually fall asleep.
Here is a photo of one of the oldest twins: Vianne. Her fleece and conformation continue to impress me as she grows. Her full sisters from last year (Lyneth & Nhu) look fantastic as yearlings so I have great hopes for Vianne and her twin Niav.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rai Min Lambs

Rai Min gave us a pair of ram lambs last night around 11:30 pm. I called the musket, Roux and I named the grey, Rigg.
Both lambs have spotting, which surprised me. Roux has ultra-crimp to his tail, with a thin halo of black hair on his back half. His brother from last year-Ris-had the same thing and it fell out as he grew. Rigg has a uniform coat of curly fleece.
I have no idea yet how these fleeces feel since the lambs are still a bit damp. Unless something is wrong, I try to stay out of the jug for the first 24 hours. Of course, I make sure the navels are dipped and the lambs have nursed right away. And I check their bellies after a few hours to see if they have eaten much. But after that I try to just observe over the wall and let the new family bond.
I have no familiarity with other sheep maybe they all do this...and I've seen what mineral deficiencies can do to lambs as well...but when Shetlands are healthy, their lambs are amazingly vigorous. They leap right up and suck as soon as they hit the ground. And if they can't leap yet, they just reach up and grab on. These two boys were butting each other out of the way at the milk station before they were even 20 minutes old. What a relief this year to have such healthy births!
Mama and boys were good and full this morning when I checked. All I added was some fresh straw to their pen and some good alfalfa for the ewe. It is 32 degrees, windy and wet here today. Awful lambing weather. I am eternally grateful for the nice little barn Clancy and the boys built me. The inner-most jug has high solid walls so there is lots of privacy and windbreak for lambing and babies. Stay warm, little fellows!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shearing Accomplished!

Today is cold and wet. But yesterday was hot, dry, and sunny...perfect for shearing sheep.
Since Clancy had surgery on his knee in February, I knew I would need other help on shearing day. My dear friend, Gail, agreed to help me out and we planned for a day at the end of her lambing season. Susan, from the recent fiber guild visit also wanted to be here for the big event. Even though I always feel apprehensive about shearing day, I was relieved that I wouldn't be on my own.
As it turns out, Gail, Susan, and Susan's friend Brett, were amazing and beyond capable. The day went more smoothly than I had even hoped for. I felt downright spoiled with so much help at hand.
Gail totally assisted Byron, the shearer. Gail, you are the best!
Byron did an excellent job once again. I am so thankful for his willingness to share his expertise. In this photo he is shearing Dolce, my emsket ewe.
Susan skirted every single fleece to my specifications, and she did a knock out job of it! Here she is skirting Nhu, a black katmoget ewe lamb fleece.
And Brett took photos of us all and every step of the process. He also ran fleece back and forth, hefted equipment, and tried his hand at shearing! Each photo here is taken by Brett. It was so convenient to have a record of the day without having to lug around the camera myself.
This last shot is of some of the ewes with me in front, writing a sheep name down on a tag to go in the bag with it's wool.
Thank you, again, to each of you who helped make it a great day.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Seeing White

Just by chance, I caught all five of the white lambs together for a photo. At least within my flock, there is amazing variation between the lambs with the white pattern. From left to right:
Bence-bright white, uniform crimp, black nose, black eye-liner.
Dan-ivory white, silky straight hair, grey nose, pink eye-liner.
Darla Gay-milk white, fluffy ringlets, pink nose, pink eye-liner.
Qdy-milk white, uniform crimp, brown nose, distinct brown-tipped ears.
Vianne-grey white, tight uniform crimp, distinct extra-tiny fluke tail with a tuft of tan hair at the tip.
I used to wonder how my friend with Suffolk crosses could tell her lambs apart. They all looked the same to me. I don't wonder anymore. Each of these little woolballs is totally different if one looks close enough. Once they have become distinct to the eye, their personalities start to show through:
Like magnets the two ram lambs, Dan and Bence, have found each other and prefer to play together. They play rougher with each other than they are allowed to with the girls. Bence likes to pose and be admired. Dan likes to eat.
Darla likes to hang out with Vianne and Niav. She likes to run with them. They like to lead the lamb races. Niav is the instigator. Vianne is the princess.
And Qdy still really loves her mommy. Almost all of my pictures of her have Delyth right beside her. That's OK. She's the baby of the flock. Her half brown ears remind me of the rabbits at the fair-I don't know what breed. She looks like a bunny among lambs out in the pasture. CUTE!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Qdy Pie

The sun came out for a while today so I let the lambs out of the barn with their dams. The older two sets of twins had seen the great outdoors before but it was the first time for Bence and Qdy. Of course they loved it and they tried very hard to keep up with the bigger, week-old lambs.
I took 169 photos trying to capture all the sweet popcorn out in the pasture. About 6 of those pictures are worth sharing. The rest are of blurry lambs zooming past the lens. Oh well.
Here is Qdy springing into action. She is just a love. I picked her up to snuggle when I put the girls back in the barn tonight. She soaked it up: didn't even wiggle to get down. What a little gift-that doesn't happen very often. As soon as I put her down she curled up in a ball of sleep with her brother. Playing popcorn is exhausting.

Twin Set Number Three

I finally had a chance today to get photos of the latest set of twins: Delyth X Unicorn.
First up is Bence. I really like this little man. He's only three days old and he stands out amongst the other four white lambs. As a newborn, he has good structure and fleece. He also is a lustrous blue-tinted white like his sire. He is a full brother to Boston Lake Bam from the '08 lamb crop.
Then there is little in cutie and Judy. Delyth belongs to my son and he reserves the right to name lambs from her. I think Qdy was inspired by the new restaurant in town that has gluten-free food: Qdoba. Qdy has brown-tipped ears and a brown nose. The rest of her spots are from the molasses that mama likes to lick. Messy stuff, that molasses.
Lastly, I thought I'd include a photo of Rai Min. She's bound to pop soon. Let her choose a warm sunny day. Please!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Delyth Lambs

I saw Delyth bred last fall and marked down the date. She was due Wed/Thu.
She lambed this morning.
When I started chores at 8:15am, I noticed her water had broke. I put her in her own jug with high walls so no one could bother her. Around 9am I heard her push. I peaked in and there was a white Unicorn lamb. Everything was going well so I left her for an hour. Lamb number two was up and about when I checked on her again.
Lovely lambs: a ewe and a ram. I post more about them tomorrow. Good job, Delyth.


Four awesome ladies from the local fiber artists' guild came out to the farm to visit this afternoon. We looked at the ewe pen and the rams first. Then we visited the lambing shed.
Niav, Vianne, Darla, and Dan were cuddled and smooched from ear to ear and photographed probably a hundred times. After the ladies released the babies back to their mamas, the lambs put on their bouncy show for us. Oh! They really are so cute!
Of course, I forgot to bring out my camera to take pictures. I was too busy enjoying the company of so many wonderful women that are enthusiastic about life, the natural world, and FIBER.
It was so fun to have you visit, gals! Come again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Introduction to the Big Wide World

Mom makes sure that all is safe.
"Follow me."
"Who is that across the pasture?"
First "Hello."
"I did it!" says Darla.

Tax Day Lambs

Darla Gay
and Dan.
Dolce X Unicorn lambs born very early in the morning on April 15.
I have always given Dolce's lambs "D" names. When I looked at my trusty lamb-names list, none of them seemed right for this little ewe lamb. Clancy and I thought of the name Darla Gay simultaneously. It is the name my mother was going to name me when I was born, before she decided on her old favorite "Sabrina" at the last minute.
It seemed inevitable. I've always thought my life would have been a lot different if my name had been Darla Gay. I have also always felt there was a Darla Gay waiting for a life somewhere out there in the universe. In the back of my mind I am always vaguely aware of her.
So here she is, for better or worse, a beautiful white lamb out of my friendliest ewe. Miss Darla Gay

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Off The Ground...


Easter Lambs

Meet Vianne...
and Niav...
Anna Belle X Bombarde lambs from Easter Sunday.
They had a splendid time exploring outside in the sunshine today. It is so funny watching them learn how to run and hop. I got a couple of mid-air photos that I'll share later.
Dolce lambed at 1am this morning. I had set the alarm to ring at 2am, but I was wide awake by 1:20am so I went out to check on the girls. Sure enough, two little white lambies sired by Unicorn. Poor Dolce was distracted by all the other ewes that wanted her lambs. She had done a good job of cleaning them off, though. Clancy helped me move the little family to the lambing barn and before we left them both babies had filled their tummies. Dolce's lambs are always the most vigorous at birth. They are born ready. She had a ramling and a eweling this year. This is the first time she's given me a ram lamb.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Clancy and I decided this would be the year we tried to get away for our anniversary. In February we celebrated 15 years of marriage. But February is the busiest month for me at work, so we planned our trip for that brief lull between the end of my seasonal employment and the beginning of lambing...
Only 1 hour south of us, Park Rapids seemed like the perfect place to go. It is such a neat little town and we didn't have to spend much time in the car to get there-maximizing the 30 hours we had allowed for our trip. I know that is brief, but our schedules were full.
We stayed at the Red Bridge Inn, a lovely old B&B on the Fish Hook River. Since it was off season, we were able to book the best room. The jacuzzi melted away all our stress. Our room was right over the water.
All we could see was river, shoreline, migrating waterfowl, and the sweet little bridge the Inn is named after.
We had a wonderful stay.
Then it was back home Saturday night to join in on Easter with the family. I was running a bit late Sunday morning when I ran out to do my chores...
There was Anna Belle with two wet little lambs out in the ewe pen! By the time we got mama and babies settled in the barn, it was too late to make services. Turns out I had miscalculated the due date for the flock. I used an online lambing calculator instead of counting out 146 days. The first possible date for lambs was Friday, not next Wednesday. If I had known that, I would have never went on that vacation. Ignorance is Bliss. Praise be to God that everything turned out all right. And thank you to Anna Belle for holding them in until I got back. That was very considerate of her.
Anna Belle gave me another pair of ewe lambs this year: one white, one katmoget. I am so grateful for these two pretty little girls. They are both strong and healthy. No sign of mineral or selenium deficiency either: a total turn around from last year's birthing. I'm hoping the other girls come in as easily.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Horn Trim

I have been uninspired about posting lately. Mostly it's because I've been super busy. There is also mud and snow everywhere. Winter is old and seems to have no intention of leaving. Water is flowing across our road in three places so I know things are melting somewhere. But the ground is still quite covered in crusty snow.
Today was supposed to be my shearing date. I postponed it last week as it was obvious no amount of warm weather was going to give me bare dry ground...even on a hill top. We've rescheduled for the last Saturday in April and I'm praying the blizzards don't sweep in late like they did last year.
Lambing officially starts next Wednesday April 15. I am NOT ready. The girls are still in their winter pen. I always move them to new ground for lambing but the ground has been too frozen to put the electronet up by the lambing barn. The upper Dutch doors on the lambing shed need to be hung as well. Last year the barn wasn't quite finished and I worried about babies when the cold windy weather blew in. Clancy should be able to get that job done in just a quick hour.
The CD&T shots were given to the pregnant girls at the right time. The lambs and rams still need theirs but that can happen anytime. We trimmed hooves on the bred girls the same day they got their shots. We just trimmed ewe lambs hooves tonight. Toes were long but everyone has healthy feet otherwise.
Bombarde also had his right horn trimmed a couple weeks back. That was harder to do than I expected. Clancy held him and I used that wire back and forth. It did a fine job of cutting through the horn once I got a groove started. The photo above is a before shot. Clancy wants to file down the side of the horn that runs along the cheek even a bit more. I expect that will be a bit of work. This type of job actually goes fast, but it requires a whole lot of fierce, concentrated energy from the human to get done. Bombarde is a half-polled ram. If I didn't know so much about him, and value his conformation and fleece so highly, he would be an example of bad horns on a Shetland. His one and only male offspring from last year had nice widespread horns.
Here's hoping for small scurs on one of his ramlings this year. The ewes can hold off for a bit longer, though. I'm patient. There is lots to get done before lambs hit the ground.